VANCOUVER — There are different levels of concern, depending on how "big picture" you want to go on the Vancouver Canucks.
On a micro level, the two points accrued Sunday over the chasing Phoenix Coyotes lessens the worry about a playoff berth somewhat. Still, among the talk radio hosts and columnists, the macro conversation is all about where this franchise is headed. Ageing leaders. Long-term contracts with no-trade clauses. Good, but good enough to get out of the Pacific? Not likely.
Does Mike Gillis beef up at the trade deadline? Is it wise to move a prospect or draft pick? Or does a proactive general manager identify that his playoff team is not a serious Stanley Cup contender and not chase a ghost the way Calgary did for the past several years. Maybe Gillis should move an ageing asset to get younger, so as to avoid the mess they’re going through next door in Alberta.
It’s all fine conjecture. Grist for the ever-churning sports radio mill.
Inside the doors of the dressing room, however, that’s simply not how hockey players and coaches think. Twitter is for the big picture discussion. In here, it’s about the next shift, the next period.
You don’t talk beyond the next opponent — Vancouver gets pushover Edmonton on Monday night, then hated Chicago on Wednesday — and you don’t critique a win. So when overtime hero Kevin Bieksa was asked, "Did you need something positive to happen?" his response was predictable: "We needed two points. Forget the positive stuff."
Really, it’s that simple. The GM solves tomorrow’s problems. The players and coaches worry about today, and today only, which is exactly where Bieksa’s head is right now. He was here back in 2006 when the Canucks didn’t even qualify for the playoffs, and he has been here for their rise and, well, whatever you want to call what’s happening now. Is leveling out fair? How about "a contention respite"?
There was a time when a game like this one — where goals were kicked in, came off of fanned-on shots, deflected past one’s own goalie — would be looked upon with some measure of discontent here. "It was bizarre. I think there was maybe one goal that was (actually) shot into the net," interim coach Mike Sullivan said.
Times have changed, however. Vancouver has struggled to hold a lead of late, blowing another one Sunday at 4-2, allowing Phoenix a point before winning 5-4 in overtime.
"For us to keep playing and to find a way to win tonight," Bieksa began. "We’ve been losing these games for the past month or so. Games are tied late in the third, and it seems like we end up on the wrong end of them. We needed this one badly."
Mike Smith was awful in the Phoenix goal, but credit the Canucks with mucking and grinding their way to a five-goal night. Scoring is an issue in Vancouver, with a power play ranked 28th in the NHL, yet the Canucks willed five pucks across the line — and needed every one of them.
"The pretty plays just aren’t there for us. Right now they’re just not," Bieksa said.
The days of this Canucks team drawing a penalty, then burying you with the league’s best power play are long gone. We were one of the many who applauded Alex Burrows for shedding those penalty-drawing elements from his game. But we have to admit, he’s just not the same effective player in his new state.
The power play had four chances and produced one measly shot on goal Sunday, so it’s back into the film room, where the players study their own power play and other teams’ as well, the St. Louis Blues being one of them.
"It’s just meat and potatoes. Throwin’ pucks at the net, getting rebounds, gritty goals," Bieksa said of the Blues’ No. 2 ranked PP. "They don’t do anything special. We haven’t been getting any of those goals. We do the right things some of the time … and it starts to get into the back of your head. Then it becomes contagious, and now we’re at the point where, there’s not a whole lot of chemistry going on right now.
"There are moving pieces all over the place right now, and obviously we know it’s not looking pretty. We’ve got to find a way to fix it."
Sullivan agrees, and he doesn’t have John Tortorella in the dressing room to help after the head coach’s ill-advised foray into Calgary’s space last Saturday night.
"When the power play struggles it can take on a life of its own," Sullivan said. "Now you’re trying to coach the X’s and O’s, and you’re coaching the mindset. And a fragile mindset."
"Fragile." "Moving pieces." And through it all, a crucial win over the team on their heels for the last playoff spot in the Pacific. Call it muscle memory, but for one night anyhow, the Vancouver Canucks took care of business.
It didn’t used to be this hard.