With fifteen games remaining in the regular season schedule, the argument could be made that the Sedin twins and the Vancouver Canucks are suffering a mild case of exhaustion.
There’s a reason why the media and hockey players alike refer to this time period in the NHL as “the stretch drive”. In an 82 game schedule, any of the 30 NHL teams are bound to have one or two forgettable match-ups. The past two home games for the Vancouver Canucks have been just that, with disappointing games versus Buffalo and Dallas. Their 5-2 loss to the Stars was their first back-to-back regulation losses since early November. Considering that the Canucks were playing hockey until mid-June last season, it’s conceivable that this hockey club is starting to show some wear.
During the Team 1040 (radio) late-night broadcast, Blake Price suggested that the Canucks use this junction to rest up some of their star players. His argument is that this is essentially what the Detroit Red Wings are doing at this time. With Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, and Jimmy Howard all out of the lineup, Price noted the only possible problem with this could be a fine from Gary Bettman, if it was discovered that they were feigning injury. But as he pointed out, Henrik Sedin fell during warmup, perhaps he aggravated his back spasm condition. Ryan Kesler had a significant hit near the sidewall boards, it’s plausible he tweaked his hip (which underwent surgery). Of course, Alain Vigneault would have to approach his players with the idea that it’s time to rest up before the playoffs, but they wouldn’t be the first team to do such a thing.
In his post-game interview, Roberto Luongo suggested that they’re “Not thinking about the playoffs yet”. All season long, though, Mike Gillis has spoken about preparing for a long playoff run, for preparing to try to get past the first or second round of the playoffs. Make no mistake, Canucks’ management has been focusing on April since the start of the offseason, and the players have certainly been brought in line with that vision. Of course, one of the most important aspects of the current stretch drive is seeding for those playoffs. Mathematically, the Canucks could clinch the Northwest division in the next two or three games, ensuring themselves a top 3 seeding in the Conference. Would it be ideal to outright win the Conference, or as Luongo pointed out, to win the Presidents trophy and hold home advantage through the entire playoffs? Of course it would. But, would it be at the expense of your top players, exhausting them before the grueling playoffs even begin?
Head coach Alain Vigneault addressed some of the scrutiny that the media has placed upon Daniel and Henrik for their current points/goals drought. Henrik has none in six games, while Daniel has only one in that same time-span; their longest stretch since 2003.
"Those guys have been the foundation of this team since I have been here and I have a lot of trust and faith in them. You have to trust that they are going to figure it out. Their game is not where they want it to be… Right now they’re fighting it a little bit."
At this point, yes, there is cause for some concern for Canucks fans. During their 12 game stretch where they had only 1 regulation loss, it was their goaltending that bailed them out on numerous occasions. As Team 1040 pointed out, surely Gillis, Gilman and Co. weren’t ecstatic about the way Canucks were winning games. Of course, results matter, but so does the process. Will March come in like a lion and go out like a lamb for the Canucks, or vice versa? The bigger question, in my mind, is whether or not April does. In that case, rest a few of these guys up a bit. They might call the Playoffs the second season, but there’s a huge difference: The first season incorporates some real time to recuperate before it starts.
Post Script: All apologies for the infrequent contributions of late. The Canuck Way will certainly have more consistent coverage on into the playoffs – Larenzo Jensen