The gaping hole in the Vancouver Canucks attack last year, the impotent power play, was the focus of much of practice on Tuesday morning, as coach John Tortorella aims to revive the once-potent weapon.
The Canucks power play had been the league’s best in the year of their Stanley Cup run, 2010-11, but the following winter it began to come apart. Last year, it was a dud, failing to score in 12 consecutive games, the franchise’s worst-ever slump, and finishing ranked 22nd in the league.
If the recipe for goals is he-shoots-he-scores, the Canucks man-advantage problem was easy to diagnose. Vancouver would dither with the puck, and put few shots on net, always waiting, waiting, waiting, for the perfect moment.
The absence of Ryan Kesler was also a key problem.
On Tuesday morning at Rogers Arena, the Canucks spent about 30 minutes, roughly half the practice, working on the power play, five-on-four and five-on-three. The first power-play unit is the Sedins with Kesler, and Alex Elder and Jason Garrison on the points.
The plan for revival appears straightforward: shoot the puck. Instead of messing around down low in the corners, the Canucks popped it out to the point for a shot from one of the potent D-men, particularly Garrison, as often as they could.
“You saw it today,” said Henrik Sedin after practice. “When he [Garrison] shoots the puck it’s either at the net and going in, or you’re going to break someone’s foot, or you’re going to hurt (Kesler) in front. If our power play is going to be successful, he’s going to need to shoot it.”
Garrison, who grew up in the Vancouver suburbs, joined the team as a free agent in the summer of 2012, after a big year in Florida when he scored nine power play goals, which put him among the best defencemen in the league. Last year, Garrison was on and off the first power-play unit and scored three man-advantage goals.
Sedin, asked if he was worried about friendly fire, taking a puck off Garrison’s stick, he said, “Well, I’m going to be in the slot sometimes, so we’ll see what happens,” and smiled, sparking laughs.
The second power-play unit is Chris Higgins, Alex Burrows, and Jannik Hansen, with Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa.
The men charged to fix the situation don’t have much of a sterling recent reputation. Assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, fired from his head coaching job in Dallas, draws up the strategy. Last year, however, Dallas was 18th in the league, better than the Canucks but not good, albeit with a lesser non-playoff team. Then there is Tortorella, whose New York Rangers struggled for several years on the power play and last year were 23rd, one worse than Vancouver.