In City of Glass, Douglas Coupland’s ode/guide to his hometown of Vancouver, the title refers to the monotone architecture of the condo towers on the downtown peninsula, not the hockey team’s notoriously fragile fans.
The book, which unfolds in alphabetical order, in fact does not even mention the beloved Canucks. The four entries under C are Cantonese, Chinatown, Couples, and Colours. Perhaps the writer/artist is not a hockey fan, or maybe City of Glass was a product of its time, published in 2000, when the Vancouver Canucks were mired in one of the many long weak periods in the team’s history, missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, losing money, playing to empty seats.
Today, the city of glass – the fans, not the architecture – flagellates in an escalating panic. Nine months removed from the Stanley Cup finals, when the team was 60 minutes from hoisting the trophy, extreme doubt has erupted as this season’s playoffs approach.
The cause? A record of 2-3-2 in the past seven games, punctuated by a lacklustre 4-1 loss against the often-lacklustre Montreal Canadiens, the NHL’s third-worst team, last Saturday.
Never mind that Vancouver, as of Tuesday midday, had the third-best record in the league, the best record on the road, and is near guaranteed the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference, barring a total implosion. The Sedins aren’t scoring – captain Henrik Sedin is stuck in his worst slump in nearly a decade – the defence has been spotty and goaltender Roberto Luongo, after four months of excellent play, has had a few erratic games (not helped by the aforementioned spotty D).
It is the same potent poisonous brew with which the Stanley Cup slipped away against Boston, which right now is easily enough to lead fans to emotionally gird themselves for inevitable disappointment from a team that has so often disappointed before.
On the ice at Rogers Arena on Tuesday morning, readying for a Wednesday night match against the Phoenix Coyotes, playoff-hungry and a potential first-round opponent, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault tried to figure out how to spark his squad back to form. After the poor showing on Hockey Night in Canada, the players were granted an unusual two days off work, Sunday and Monday. Vigneault put the team through the paces in a spirited one-hour practice Tuesday, experimenting with potential new line combinations, including the underperforming Mason Raymond with the underperforming Sedins, the chippy Alex Burrows possibly reassigned to the third line.
“This is about, you know, finding solutions to get our guys going,” Vigneault told reporters after practice.
The one man Vigneault’s not blaming, and in fact stands by resolutely, is Luongo, as so many others call for more time for star backup Cory Schneider.
“I know it’s a very unfair statement to blame Roberto for how we’re playing right now,” Vigneault said.
“He’s a great goaltender. He’s been one of the best goaltenders in the league since November, and it’s as simple as that.”
The Canucks are hardly the only veteran team and serious Cup contender that has flagged of late. Before Tuesday night’s games, Boston was 4-5-1 in its past 10, the same record as Detroit in the same span.
But unlike most teams, the Canucks are in a fairly ideal position for mid-March. The team is healthy and plays 10 of its remaining 13 regular-season games at home.
Everyone in Vancouver wants to hit the playoffs on a roll but also well remembers how long – and how grinding – an extended run into spring can be.
“Our players know what is in front of them,” Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman told Team 1040 radio on Tuesday afternoon, acknowledging that Vancouver, as with top rivals Boston and Detroit, has half a mind on “getting through the dog days before war every day.”
As the what’s-wrong narrative unfolded, the Sedins presented a Zen face. Henrik relished the rarity of two consecutive days off. “It’s a good time for us, a couple weeks before playoffs start, to just get away, get our minds off hockey a little bit,” the captain said.
Words won’t calm a city desperate for hockey’s ultimate goal. For Vancouver, whose hockey team has a mostly inglorious four-decade history, the expectations of everyday perfection at times seem somewhat ridiculous. After the Montreal loss, this is what passed for positive spin: fan blog canuckscorner.com called the fears among Vancouverites a “mild form of ‘controlled’ panic,” with all eyes on the playoffs. From here to there, well, writer Justine Galo figured, “Yes, they may lose a few more games, but I don’t see them losing all of them.”
While Henrik Sedin presented an air of cheery Scandinavian calm, other Canucks, such as Burrows, acknowledged the team has to get its intensity level up. Raymond, too, knows he, and his teammates, have to regain their form quickly.
“I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button,” said Raymond after practice, dressed in jeans and a ball cap.
“Yeah, we’ve some lost of late, and some that we probably shouldn’t have, but the ownership is on us as players. We know we can be better.”