VANCOUVER - A chair came out of the stands to take a couple of shifts during the Vancouver Canucks practice Tuesday.
Truth be told, the chair didn't play that badly. It didn't get out of position, blocked a few shots and probably had a better plus-minus than some of the players.
While the chair left some of the Canuck players scratching their heads ,it was an example of the Vancouver coaching staff searching for ways to improve an NHL team that has struggled to win faceoffs, has suffered too many defensive breakdowns and is third in the Western Conference for goals allowed.
During a drill, the chair was placed about four metres inside the blue-line. The idea was for the Canuck defencemen to keep their heads up, try to shoot around the obstacle, and get some pucks on net.
"I don't think I've seen that one," said defenceman Aaron Miller, a 13-year veteran. "I really wanted to hit it."
Goaltender Roberto Luongo shrugged.
"I skated with a chair once when I was five," he said.
Miller understood what the coaches wanted.
"We have to work on getting our shots through," he said. "We've had too many shots blocks.
"Those are the measures the coaches are taking. I guess every little tool you can use to try and make yourself better is fine with me."
Coach Alain Vigneault was asked if the chair experiment was a success.
"I'll tell you after the next game," he grinned. "That, like other areas of our game, we need to improve on and get better."
A 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks Monday night left Vancouver with a 3-3-0 record. A team that is built on playing solid defence has given up 21 goals this season and has seen its penalty kill sink to 15th in the league.
Luongo has already faced 165 shots this season. Only Martin Gerber in Ottawa has faced more.
Defensive breakdowns and bad decisions have resulted in turnovers in the Vancouver zone. That means Luongo has to be almost perfect for the Canucks to win.
"That's what being a goalie is all about," said Luongo. "I can't worry about the breakdowns happening in front of me. My job is to make sure that when a breakdown occurs I'm ready to make a save."
Of the Canucks who have played four or more games, only Alex Burrows and Jeff Cowan are plus-1.
"We can't just rely on Roberto making save after save," said Canuck captain Markus Naslund, who has two goals and is minus-4. "We have to be strong in front of him and limit the chances and stay out of the penalty box to keep the score down."
Vigneault said better defence will result in more goals for the Canucks.
"Playing good defence enables us to make good offensive chances," he said.
Faceoffs are another area of concern. The Canucks are ranked near the bottom of the league in winning draws.
"Such a big key to winning games now is puck possession," said Naslund. "It starts with faceoffs and protecting the puck, not throwing it away."
Defenceman Willie Mitchell agreed there is lots of room for improvement but cautioned the season is still early. Last year the Canucks struggled until Christmas, then went on a tear in the New Year to win the Northwest Division.
"Last night we had a game where we fell apart after they got a little momentum," said Mitchell. "Next time a team gets one (goal) on us . . . we are going to handle that situation better."
Vancouver received some good news when the league informed the team forward Matt Cooke's game misconduct Monday for leaving the bench has been erased. Reviews showed Cooke was already on the ice when a melee broke out with about 28 seconds left in the third period.
"I knew it was non-issue," said Cooke. "I didn't go out on the ice to get into an altercation."
Cooke said the Canucks have the talent to play better. They just have to use it.
"I don't know if it's so much defence as it is communicating and making sure the effort is there," he said. "Making sure the intensity is where it's supposed to be for the entire 60 minutes."
The Canucks face the Los Angels Kings at home Friday, then begin a four-game road trip with stops in Columbus, Carolina, Detroit and Washington.
Vigneault said the team is close to playing the way he wants it.
"I don't think we're that far away," he said. "We've had moments in games where we haven't looked as sharp."