The Canucks have surrendered a league low 67 goals at even strength. It must remain a staple because special-teams play continues to be hit and miss

Article content

Bruce Boudreau was talking playoffs on Saturday.

advertisement

Article content

Not the always-consuming National Hockey League postseason pursuit, but rather what awaited the Gladiators, an east Vancouver Under-11 team.

And in a moment of needed levity — considering the mountain his Canucks must ascend to claim a wild-card position while keeping COVID-19 cases to a minimum — the always affable coach was at his boisterous best.

He gave the kids a confidence boost with a social-media message they won’t soon forget.

“Listen guys, this is the time that really gets exciting,” Boudreau started. “Playoffs are great. You played so hard all year to get to these things, and now what we want you to do is to come together like a group and do it for each other.

“If you play five or 20 minutes a night, it doesn’t really matter. You have to work hard and cheer for your friends, whether they score or you score. That’s what a team does. And if your team is as good as they say, that’s what is going to happen. … So, good luck in the playoffs and we’ll talk again later.”

advertisement

Article content

Boudreau knows he doesn’t have to impart any wisdom on the playoff-starved Canucks.

Too often, meaningful games in March have been a mantra to keep disillusioned players motivated knowing the postseason was but a pipe dream, and also provide those in audition season a reason to impress.

Now, it’s a somewhat similar scenario.

Despite an impressive 12-5-4 record since Boudreau took over the bench on Dec. 6, the Canucks need 25 wins their final 36 games to secure a wild-card spot. They also must pass four teams and three have multiple games in hand.

The silver lining is six of the next seven games are on home ice—beginning Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes—and Boudreau can ice a relatively healthy lineup.

Add the NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreeing last week to stop daily testing of players who do not have COVID-19 symptoms, unless crossing the US border, and it provides guarded optimism against placing somebody in quarantine on a regular basis.

advertisement

Article content

That relief should help the Canucks build on their league-leading ability to deny goals at even strength. They’ve surrendered 67 goals at 5-on-5 and it must remain a staple because special-teams play continue to be hit and miss. It will likely ultimately determine their standings fate.

In a season that went sideways early and resulted in a historically worst penalty kill, there’s a rejuvenation. The Canucks managed 14 consecutive kills over five games before surrendering a second-period, power-play goal Tuesday in Nashville.

That speaks to Boudreau’s willingness to use more players on the penalty kill, including Quinn Hughes, to rag the puck and kill time.

The power play is currently in an 0-for-9 funk with just two goals in the last 16 attempts.

advertisement

Article content

The Canucks had a string of three-straight games last month with man-advantage goals and there’s certainly the talent to be ranked better than 20th at 18.9 per cent efficiency. The Canucks also have the second-most power-play opportunities with 148 through 46 games, which is 3.2 per outing.

So, they’re doing enough to draw penalties, especially Conor Garland and Elias Pettersson , but need to generate more shots and be less consumed with the perfect pass and perfect play.

This month with also give management a better read on its players in advance of the March 21 trade deadline.

The resident of hockey operations, Jim Rutherford, is known to do his work and make roster decisions well in advance of the deadline. However, the resilience of the COVID-19-crunched Canucks to stay in the hunt has impressed the franchise hockey operations czar.

advertisement

Article content

It won’t change the work that has to be done in the coming years to shift the Canucks from bystanders to having an annual postseason presence, and being a bonafide contender, but the push under Boudreau may change his opinion on certain players.

Rutherford hears the rumored trade names — JT Miller , Brock Boeser , Garland , Tanner Pearson , Tyler Motte , Jason Dickinson , Luke Schenn and Jaroslav Halak — but knows it comes with the territory of working in this hockey-mad market.

What he knows for sure is what he has seen.

“I’m impressed how they went about their business, the work ethic through COVID and injuries, and gave it everything they have,” Rutherford said Friday on The Bob McCown podcast. “We know we have to make changes at some point in order to get better.

advertisement

Article content

“We don’t start the (trade) rumors and in Canada, it takes on a life of its own. The names out there, people shouldn’t think they’re automatically going to move. We do have to make some moves to get flexibility cap-wise, but it doesn’t have to be switch out top players.

“Will there be the odd change made? Probably. I’d like to think with the players we have, that it (roster) can be re-tooled and get it to a point where we get more comfortable with it over a two-year period — get it to contend again.

“I can’t guarantee that’s how long it’s going to take. Sometimes, you get some good luck on some players when we make a move, and sometimes it doesn’t work out.”

[email protected]
twitter.com/benkuzma


More news, fewer ads, faster load time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to the Vancouver Sun, the Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Subscribe now through the vancouver sun or The Province.

    advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user follows comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your e-mail settings.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.