Canucks skip day off, not sulking over crushing loss to Lightning

The Lightning got goals from Carter Verhaeghe, Nikita Kucherov and Erik Cernak all in under one minute. Jacob Markstrom would get pulled right after.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Antoine Roussel continues to surprise us.

Not only is he a hockey player and husband, expert agitator and apprentice maple-syrup farmer, the Vancouver Canucks winger is also a philosopher.

And since his NHL team ended its longest winning streak in six years on Tuesday by embarrassing itself with a 9-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which scored an unanswered touchdown in the final 25 minutes, we figured Wednesday was a good day for some philosophy.

Roussel did not disappoint.

“It doesn’t take anything off what we’ve done before,” the 29-year-old from Roubaix, France, by way of Chicoutimi, told Sportsnet. “It’s only one game. You can’t judge a team by one page. You’ve got to read the whole book. Today it was a good practice. It’s a new chapter.”

Roussel is something else, too: a leader.

He was one of the veteran Canucks who told teammates before Wednesday’s practice in suburban Sunrise to get their chins off the ground and eyes focussed back on the ice.

“We’ve had a couple of one-offs this year but that game, I don’t really know how to describe it,” defenceman Troy Stecher said. “You could hear a pin drop on the plane coming here. We came here (to the rink) and emotions are down a little bit, but right away a couple of the older guys kind of said: ‘Let’s be sharp today. Let’s be positive and have a good practice and try to get better for tomorrow.’ It was a good vibe out there on the ice.”

After Tuesday’s humiliation, everyone on the Canucks felt they should practise on Wednesday, even if nobody wanted to practise.

Wednesday had tentatively been scheduled as a day off. The team is staying at a five-star hotel on the beach here (Wednesday’s walk-up price: just $509 US per night). Players could have gone charter fishing or kite boarding or golfing or merely hung out on the beach. It was 23 C and sunny. And have you seen the weather in Vancouver the last month? Noah can’t keep up with the boat orders.

Instead, the team bussed 40 minutes west to the edge of the Everglades to practise out of the mid-day sun inside the BB&T Center, which might actually sell out for hockey if they allowed the alligators in, for Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.

And they enjoyed it!

“We worked on some things, got our feet moving,” veteran winger J.T. Miller said. “We don’t have time to sit around with boo-boo lips.”

That was a direct quote.

“We were pushing each other, it was hard-working, battling,” Miller continued. “There’s no pouting; you’ve got to move on. It’s kind of embarrassing to lose 9-2. It definitely hurt. You don’t want to give up nine goals. It sucks. But like I said, there isn’t time to sit around and pout. We had a good day today.”

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“A day off was probably the worst (thing) because then you just kind of soak in it and eat at yourself the entire day,” Stecher said. “It ate at us last night. I think guys were excited just to get back out there on the ice and just kind of start fresh.”

Winger Jake Virtanen said: “We were all eager to come to the rink and get practice done.”

It began with one of coach Travis Green’s longest on-ice chalk talks this season. No player blinked during the four or five minutes of diagramming.

To freshen things up, Green swapped right wingers Virtanen and Brock Boeser, dropping the latter to the third line with Adam Gaudette while moving Virtanen beside Miller and Elias Pettersson on the top unit.

Gaudette was promoted to the first power play, while Boeser practised on the second unit.

Goaltending coach Ian Clark got a little extra work in with Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, who were ventilated in Tampa. Markstrom looked sharp on Wednesday and will likely start Thursday for the 13th time in 14 games since Dec. 7.

It was a good practice to reset. Clean up the breakouts, take care of the puck, play directly, win your battles.

“I think it was good that we got out,” Green said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to skate today, but after a game like last night, it’s important for the guys to get back on the ice.

“I know our team wanted to skate today. After a game like that, you want to get on the ice. I think it helps you mentally to get out on the ice and just skate. As hockey players, it’s the best way to make yourself feel ready to play the next game.”

The Panthers are only the second stop of a five-game trip that includes matinee back-to-backs on the weekend in Buffalo and Minnesota. The Canucks aren’t skating Thursday morning and Green will probably have to give players Friday off or they’ll be zombies by Sunday. On Friday, the Canucks will be in Buffalo. (Minus 5 C on Wednesday).

Despite seven straight wins before Tuesday, the Canucks’ first loss since Dec. 17 dropped them out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“You can’t be too emotional about losses,” Roussel said. “It stinks, for sure. At the same time … we’ve got to look forward to the next wave (of games) and go back to what we do best: play 60 minutes intense, don’t give the other team too much and capitalize on our chances.”

And losing their day off in the sun?

“The weather is nice,” he said. “But we’re not here on vacation.”


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