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Henrik Sedin puts Canucks' struggles in perspective

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- Canucks captain Henrik Sedin was doing his best Alfred E. Newman after his team's first consecutive regulation losses in four months: What -- me worry?

Sedin downplayed the losses, a 1-2-2 run, and the ongoing struggles of both the power play and the top line he centers alongside twin brother Daniel.

The rest of Vancouver may be panicked over a man-advantage unit that has one goal in seven games and a success rate below 10 percent the last two months, or seeing the Sedins, who combined for the last two NHL scoring titles, manage just 1 assist between them the last six games, but Henrik isn't.

"It feels like we're the least-worried guys in the city," Henrik said after practice Wednesday before exercising the option to skip Thursday's morning skate.

As several teammates suggested Thursday, there might be panic if it was April 8 instead of March 8. There is still more than a month to prepare for the playoffs, but there are things that need fixing, including a power play that led the League by a wide margin after going 4-for-11 during a big 4-3 win in Boston back on Jan. 10, but is just 8-for-68 in the 25 games since then.

That drought has also played a role in the Sedins' slide. In addition to his first six-game pointless skid since 2003, Henrik is pointless in 10 of the last 13, while twin brother Daniel has been blanked in nine of those same contests over the last month. And while history and head coach Alain Vigneault suggested it was just a blip and nothing to worry about, a lot of fans in Vancouver clearly are.

"We just have to execute a little bit better," said Alexandre Burrows, the Sedins' regular linemate at even strength. "I think teams are desperate, they play five guys in front of their net and we just have to create more and be more assertive with the puck and make sure we get to the net with traffic there."

Beyond the Sedins, there are other areas of concern that pre-date the current two-game skid and 1-2-2 stretch. The Canucks were 13-1-3 before that, but nine wins came in overtime and shootouts, and stellar goaltending often masked the defensive breakdowns that finally came to roost during a 5-3 loss to Buffalo on Saturday and a 5-2 loss to Dallas on Tuesday filled with odd-man rushes.

"We're certainly not as sharp as we need to be," defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "It's simple things -- bad passes, poor defensive coverage -- that should be more of an automatic thing by now. Some of those are mental mistakes, maybe a little bit of lack of execution out there, and we need to be better at that."

Part of the problem may be simply matching the other team's intensity.

Both the Sabres and Stars -- and the Jets on Thursday -- are fighting for their playoff lives, while the Canucks have a 16-point cushion atop the Northwest Division and are practically guaranteed a top-two seed with a 13-point gap on the top Pacific Division team. The only question is securing the top spot in the West and chasing a second straight Presidents' Trophy.

"It's tough, we've seen it the last five-six games, teams that are working hard for playoff spots," said backup goalie Cory Schneider, who starts against the Jets. "But we should be able to match that, no problem. We're a team that knows how to play our 'A' game and ratchet up the intensity when we have to, and I think these are the type of games we are going to be playing from here on out and into the playoffs, so we better get comfortable playing desperate teams."

Vigneault even spoke publicly this week about experimenting with his lines over the final 15 games to get a better feel for his options come playoff time. The tinkering will continue with a reunited all-American second line and new third pairing against the Jets, but the coaches and players met beforehand to talk about the need to stay focused for each game.

"Sure, we're not in a battle to make the playoffs, but we need to take pride in how we play and do the right things," Hamhuis said. "If we don't, if we get lazy or start making bad habits, that's not the way you want to go into a postseason."

That said, Hamhuis didn't disagree with his captain's assessment from the day before that it might not be a bad thing to lose now instead of a month from now, if only because it forces the team to assess its shortcomings, especially after being able to get away with them, and win despite of them, earlier this season.

"Sometimes losing is a good thing," Hamhuis said. "When you go through adversity and tough times, that's when you get stronger and it certainly highlights some of the areas in our game that aren't where they need to be, execution being one of them and focus being another. Some of our plays that should be routine aren't right now, and you realize that when you start losing games."

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