Last winter, when the Vancouver Canucks were losing hockey games, the losses were frustrating for fans – but what was worse was the ugly hockey on display: plodding, boring, a mockery of what a fast and physical game on ice could and should be.
By the end, many Vancouver hockey fans abandoned their team. The off-season mission, led by new president Trevor Linden, was to rehabilitate the Canucks as a punchy, exciting hockey team.
"It was tough to watch," said Linden in an interview in September of last season. "It appeared to me like the guys weren't having a whole lot of fun. Hopefully, with some new people, they can create that."
It's worked, buoyed by the new additions, and revived Sedins. There's a "so far" asterisk, however – and it's come against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, not the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
Main thing: It's been fun hockey. On Saturday, at Vancouver's home opener against the Oilers, after a lacklustre first period, the play on the ice escalated in emotion, and the building became electric – louder than at pretty much any point last season. It was 4-4 at the end of regulation and the Oilers struggled through overtime before losing in a shootout.
For Edmonton, the loss is another gut punch, after the team lost its own home opener on Thursday against Calgary. Against the Canucks, the Oilers led 2-0 after 10 minutes of play, 3-1 early in the second period, and 4-2 halfway through game. Now the Oilers are 0-1-1 and face two more tough games on the road, the Kings up next, before heading home to face Vancouver on Friday. The Canucks have five days to rest.
"It's obviously tough to lose a game like that," Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said.
Nugent-Hopkins's primary highlight was the first fight of his pro career, against Dan Hamhuis, after Hamhuis laid Nugent-Hopkins on the ice with a rocking check. But fights do not win hockey games, and Nugent-Hopkins's line of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle was notably outplayed through the evening – are these three young players ever going to become a force in the National Hockey League?
The upset was clear on Hall's face in the Edmonton locker room. On Saturday morning, coach Dallas Eakins had talked about the importance of a win, after the Calgary debacle, and to cede three two-goal leads makes one question one's self.
"Of course they're taking it hard," said Eakins after the game. "It was a very emotional game."
Amid the fun-to-watch hockey, Vancouver benefited greatly from seven consecutive power plays. Perhaps Edmonton owner Daryl Katz was text messaging NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the seeming imbalance. On the ice, even as the Canucks ceded one goal short-handed – an excellent breakaway backhander to the top shelf from Jesse Joensuu – Vancouver took full advantage of the man-advantage, converting twice to tie the game at four.
They did it by playing with the verve people celebrated the team for in the past. It starts with the 34-year-old Sedins, who have rediscovered the flair and magic that had been doused under the totalitarian regime of John Tortorella.
"We gave them things to cheer about," Daniel Sedin said of the raucous home crowd after the game.
Joensuu's breakaway happened when Daniel Sedin lost the puck at the Oilers' blueline to a poke check – but Sedin doubly made up for it afterward. While it is Henrik who is noted for passing acumen, it was Daniel on Saturday who was equally adept with the assists on the third and fourth goals, the power-play markers.
Midway through the second, Daniel, positioned beside the net, made a beautiful backhand pass across the front of the crease to a charging Radim Vrbata, who delivered. It was all made possible by the classic Henrik-to-Daniel-to-Henrik-to-Daniel cycle.
In the third, Henrik Sedin danced and dodged to get the puck up the ice to Daniel, who dropped it to Vrbata, who then fed Daniel as Daniel moved into the corner, who then quickly flicked the puck back into the slot, where Linden Vey drove it home.
"For me," said Vrbata after the game, "it's just a matter of timing it right. They make it easy."
As the Oilers limp tired toward California, facing another bad start to the year, just like the bad dream of last season, the Canucks kick up their legs on the sofa. The team is, two games in, revived, and the score sheet on Saturday complimented new general manager Jim Benning's off-season. Three of the four scorers are new players, just as Linden had hoped new faces would drum up fun. Then there's the Sedins. They had their worst season in a decade under Tortorella and now have eight points between them, four points apiece.
What's particularly interesting about the early offensive burst from the Sedins is they're doing it without the favourable deployment they enjoyed under Alain Vigneault, and also Tortorella. The Sedins are taking more defensive zone faceoffs than offensive, a major change compared with the past five seasons, and also are putting in penalty-kill minutes.
The Sedins had a strong October last year, but this feels different. For now, it looks like the Sedins are back.