The team meeting lasted about half an hour, Thursday midday, after a practice at the University of British Columbia that itself lasted about half an hour. Coaches spoke. Players spoke. On exiting, the body language was positive.
“It wasn’t a come-to-Jesus meeting,” said Vancouver Canucks assistant coach Glen Gulutzan. “It was 26 grown men having an honest meeting, about what they feel. It was very positive, a moving-forward mood. You need that in this league.”
Come Friday night at Rogers Arena, against a weak opponent, the Vancouver Canucks finally broke through, ending a five-game losing streak and a drought of goal scoring with a thumping 6-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The badly needed win – the Canucks began the night six points out of a playoff position in the Western Conference – lifts Vancouver to 12-8-4.
While the team remains four points out of eighth in the competitive West, Vancouver is hardly a lost cause, given the team is also five points out of first place in the Pacific Division – which perfectly illustrates how ferociously tight and tough the West is this year.
The team should have piled up more points in the past week, said captain Henrik Sedin, and the two on Friday were welcome.
"We need them badly," said Sedin.
It has been a weird season for the Canucks, one wholly bifurcated, often game by game. On nights in which the Canucks pot two or more goals, the team is almost perfect, 12-0-3. But the other nights, more a third of the total, the Canucks score only one, and the team is terrible, 0-8-1. That’s a lot of games with one goal, leaving many to fret and worry and claw their skin during this difficult November, when the Canucks seemed to be unable to even buy a victory.
A panoply of hockey gods finally smiled on the Canucks Friday night. Not at first, though, and it looked like another little disaster in the making. Columbus opened the scoring, as winger Matt Calvert walked by a hapless Zack Kassian at the blue line and managed to slide the Blue Jackets’ first shot of the game past Roberto Luongo, who so strangely has been vulnerable on first shots this season.
The first frame ended with game tied at one, as Daniel Sedin sniped a goal from in close to beat Sergei Bobrovsky with 16 seconds left in the period. It was the only thing on the scoreboard the Canucks could point to for the veritable firing range they had aimed at Bobrovsky, putting 30 shots towards the goal in the first, compared with just six by Columbus. The gap was massive and probability suggested the scoreboard would tilt farther in Vancouver’s favour – though it hadn’t in a string of games during the losing streak.
The turn came midway through the second. Kassian skated into the offensive zone after receiving a long pass from Brad Richardson and let a relatively soft wrist shot go from the faceoff dot. The puck managed to finagle its way through Bobrovksy. The onslaught was on. Two minutes later, the Canucks had two more, for three markers in a span of 130 seconds. As the Canucks celebrated, it was another bad night for Bobrovsky, who is not demonstrating any sort of Vezina-calibre form and has to be causing ripples of worry for Team Russia, with the Sochi Winter Olympics less than three months away.
The pressure remains pinned on Vancouver like an anvil. The Canucks on Saturday night welcome the Chicago Blackhawks, Stanley Cup champions and current No. 1 team in the National Hockey League. Luongo, presumably, will get the call to play again, even after he played Friday. Coach John Tortorella, knowing Friday was essentially a must-win, went with his starter, a gamble given that it means Tortorella either uses a somewhat-tired Luongo again against the Blackhawks, or alternately gambles with rookie Eddie Lack.
Luongo was ready to get right back in the crease. This season has been about re-establishing his bona fides as a big-time goaltender. He relishes the shot at Chicago.
"I'm a professional athlete," said Luongo of his fitness to play again (though long-time statistics show a notably drop-off in goaltenders in their second game in two nights). "I should be fit enough to play two in a row."
Then come the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, the end of the long, nearly two weeks, six-game home stand. There will be no relief for anyone in the West this year.
The Canucks try to maintain their focus. The losing streak is over. At the team meeting, the players and coaches knew that in most of the games during the skid, they had played well enough to win, driving play. Goals were harder to come by. The meeting’s main message was don’t get desperate, keep the focus on details. “Don’t let those things slip,” said Gulutzan in an interview Thursday afternoon following the meeting, “because the results are there.”