In his 20s, Alex Burrows would get in terrible funks – “really, really down” – when he would pepper pucks at opponents’ nets but couldn’t connect for goals.
“It was no good,” the 32-year-old Vancouver Canucks winger recalled. “You just dwell on it, dwell on it.”
There is plenty to dwell on in Vancouver, where the NHL team is on a four-game losing skid – scoring just a single goal in each of those four losses. What compounds the frustration is the Canucks are failing to score, and win, while they drive play, outperforming the opposition.
The one thing the team is trying not to do is dwell.
“Every year, I go through some sort of slump,” said Burrows, who missed a dozen games after an injury on opening night and has no goals in the 10 games he has played. “I’m getting grade-A chances. I’ve learned you just keep shooting.”
The struggles leave the Canucks stuck in ninth place in the competitive Western Conference, as the team enjoys a long stretch of almost two weeks (and six games) at home. The third game of the span is set for Tuesday, against the Florida Panthers.
Scoring slumps occur regularly, for most teams, but in this case, given the situation in the West, there is additional urgency, even though the season is at the quarter-pole mark.
There is a distinct enough trend. The Canucks have scored one goal in 40 per cent of their games, losing every one (0-8-1). When they score two or more, the team is near-perfect (11-0-2).
Last Sunday, against the visiting Dallas Stars, the Canucks’ conundrum was encapsulated in 60 minutes. The Canucks outplayed the Stars – 83 shots attempted compared with 42 – but could not connect. Goals are often a matter of inches.
Burrows knows. In the second period, the Stars up 1-0, Burrows deflected a shot-pass from Daniel Sedin and the puck beat goaltender Kari Lehtonen but clanged off the outside of the far post.
The goal drought – amid the bounty of shots – sparks talk of “faith,” of “puck luck.” The Canucks are shot happy: Of the top 10 shot-takers in the NHL, the Canucks are the only team with more than one name (they have three: Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Chris Higgins). And yet the team ranks in the bottom half of the league in goals.
“We can’t lose faith in what we’re doing here,” captain Henrik Sedin said after losing 2-1 to Dallas. “Pucks are going to go in for us – we know that.”
And so the refrain went Monday, as the Canucks prepare for the return of a onetime bête noire, goaltender Tim Thomas, who 2 1/2 years ago held Vancouver to eight goals in seven Stanley Cup games, shutting them out twice with the Boston Bruins.
Thomas arrives with the woeful Panthers, one of two must-wins this week for Vancouver (along with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday) before the big teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, are in town to play on Saturday and Monday, respectively.
Canucks head coach John Tortorella maintained his “the offence will come” stance from the weekend and said his greater worry is pushing too hard, which can create defensive breakdowns, such as a 2-on-1 that gave Dallas a 2-0 lead early in the third period.
As for a finishing touch, putting pucks in the net, Tortorella stepped back, part mystic, part pragmatic, a man whose own professional hockey career was spent deep in the minors, four seasons, 200 games and – not shabby – 98 goals.
“You can’t coach it,” Tortorella said after a short practice Monday. “It’s in you as a player.”