Canucks’ ‘mental toughness’ missing in slow starts: Bruce Boudreau

‘We’ve lost eight out of 30 in regulation and in those eight we allowed 23 goals in the first period,’ says the Vancouver coach. ‘You have to change your game and we’re not good when we do that’

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The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.


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The Vancouver Canucks have a dire first-period performance dilemma and it’s putting their pursuit of an unlikely National Hockey League wild-card playoff position in jeopardy. It’s also allowing a new hockey operations department to wonder what it has inherited.

Let’s put it this way.

When Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau quickly connected defensive-zone breakdown dots Tuesday that led to the second opening-period goal Monday in New Jersey to fuel a 7-2 romp by the Devils, it was telling. And when he followed by reciting season-long statistics that have watched the opening 20 minutes, it gets your attention.

The Canucks surrendered the first five goals to the New York Islanders on Feb. 9 at Rogers Arena. It would spark a 6-3 drubbing and sour starts have become the story of the season. The Canucks can’t keep chasing games because they face the Islanders again Thursday.


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The Canucks have scored just 37 goals in the opening period to rank 26th and surrendered 52 to sit 11th. It’s why they’re 8-17-4 when giving up the first goal and 4-11-2 when down after 20 minutes. The Canucks also have the seventh worst goal differential of minus-15.

“It’s mental toughness,” Boudreau said of a missing element. “We’ve lost eight out of 30 in regulation and in those eight we allowed 23 goals in the first period. Three goals a period means you have to change your game and we’re not good when we do that.

“Getting a lead and playing solid through the first period is a key.”

It’s why that second goal Monday by Yegor Sharangovich was so bothersome. Blowing the zone and coverage are not in the playbook.




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Vancouver Canucks at New York Islanders

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The sequence started with an Oliver Ekman-Larsson backhand pass from behind the net to blue-line partner Tyler Myers in the corner. It arrived in his feet from him, and with a forechecker bearing down Myers shoveled a blind pass up the wall that was intercepted by Dawson Mercer. I found an open Jack Hughes who returned the offering to Mercer, who then spotted a wide-open Sharangovich in the slot.

Ekman-Larsson tried to get a stick on the shot while Myers, JT Miller, Conor Garland and Nils Höglander were late to return.

“It was a horrible play by Myers, but there’s a lot of blame to go around when it looks like it’s just one guy,” said Boudreau. “I can make arguments for most of the goals (Monday) that there was duplication with three or four guys making bad plays.”


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Canucks winger Brock Boeser hasn't scored in five games while being limited to 11 shots on goal.
Canucks winger Brock Boeser hasn’t scored in five games while being limited to 11 shots on goal. Photo by Sergei Belski /USA TODAY Sports files


Not sure how good Boudreau is in the kitchen, but he sure knows how to use a blender.

He had it out again at a Wednesday practice where the struggling Brock Boeser, who hasn’t scored in five games while being limited to 11 shots on goal, was put with Miller and Tanner Pearson. Boeser, who was with Bo Horvat and Vasily Podkolzin on Monday, managed three shots.

Boudreau also had the recalled Phillp Di Giuseppe take centre-ice rushes between Nils Höglander and Garland, but expect Elias Pettersson to play the middle.

“We just go back and forth,” Boudreau said of his top-nine mix. “We’ve switched them so often and Brock is in a little bit of a rut. I also thought Petey played well with Garland before and it’s a great attribute when you can put anybody on a line and he (Pettersson) makes it better.


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“We’ll see how it works out, and it could change in the blink of an eye if I don’t see the things I want to.”


Mathew Barzal leads the Islanders in scoring with 37 points (12-25), but the speedy and shifty Coquitlam native is out day-to-day with a left ankle injury. He had seven shots and nine attempts in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Canucks on March 10, 2020 before the season was placed on COVID pause.

Thatcher Demko made 45 saves that night and Miller was the only one to connect in the shootout.

Towering veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara is also out day-to-day with a shoulder ailment. With two key cogs missing, the Canucks may have an advantage Thursday.

“I never think of it — quite frankly,” said Boudreau. “I’ve been around this league too long where the worst lineups play the best games. We’ve won games this year without Miller, Horvat and Pettersson.”

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