VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks were not without ability the last four seasons. One of their greatest was to disappoint.
It wasn’t just that they were a rebuilding team hopelessly short of being good enough to compete into April for a playoff spot, it was all the little disappointments, the disillusionments, along the way.
If the Canucks actually won a couple of games, an emphatic loss was sure to follow and extinguish enthusiasm. Get an opponent down? Not for long. Have a game placed on a tee for them to hit out of the park? Brace yourself for a strikeout.
The Canucks were consistently good at being bad. Despair was never far away.
This season’s team, rebuilt around a few young stars and bolstered by several new players in the prime of their careers, is supposed to be different. This is the new-and-improved version. There are 77 games to go, so we’ll see.
But Tuesday’s impressive 5-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings — and the means in which in it was achieved — was unfamiliar to those on the West Coast who have suffered with the Canucks the last four years.
Desperate to build on momentum and self-belief before embarking on a four-game road trip to the East Coast and back, the Canucks completed a sweep of their three-game homestand to inch above .500 after a 0-2 road start to the National Hockey League season.
This modest run of success equals Vancouver’s longest winning streak from last season. Despite falling behind 1-0 on the first shot of the game, the Canucks did what they had to do against a Wings team that is nobody’s pick to make the playoffs.
And the attack was driven from the blue line, as Troy Stecher scored a beautiful tying goal late in the first period and Alex Edler scored the winner on a power play early in the second.
The Canucks’ defence last season, widely regarded as one of the NHL’s weakest groups, contributed 27 goals in 82 games. It has averaged just 23 goals per season over the last four years.
But with newcomers Tyler Myers, Quinn Hughes and Jordie Benn spread through the three pairings in October, Vancouver defencemen have produced six goals in five games.
So, this is what offence from the defence looks like.
“You’re telling me about it, man,” Stecher said. “We heard about it from you guys a lot. It feels good. You just look at teams that are successful, they have help from the back end. It might not be the driving force, but you definitely need help from back there.
“It’s been a long time since I scored a goal, so I was pretty pumped. It felt really good.”
It hadn’t really been that long since Stecher scored — last April 2 — but the fourth-year pro had just six goals in his first 221 NHL games.
By contrast, Edler is a scoring machine. After leading the defence with 10 goals last year, he has three in five games this season. With a lot of people screaming for rookie wonder Hughes to replace him at the top of the Canucks’ top power-play unit, Edler had a goal and two assists Tuesday as Vancouver went three-for-five with the man-advantage.
The Canucks also killed a 97-second five-on-three disadvantage early in the third period when the Wings trailed by only two goals.
“It’s nice,” Edler, who is rarely overcome by hyperbole, said of the blue-line scoring. “It starts with the forecheck and forwards creating opportunities down low. That opens things up (for the defencemen). We try to be available, try to get pucks to the net and sometimes they go in.”
What’s impressive about the rebuilt defence is there is skill sprinkled through all three pairings. Edler skates at even-strength with Myers, while shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev partners the dynamic Hughes. Stecher adds some speed and finesse alongside the gritty veteran Benn.
“The way our system is, it allows the D to jump up in the play,” Myers said. “And I think all the guys have been picking the right times to go and we’re getting rewarded for it. We want to play fast and up-tempo, especially on the forecheck, and the D are doing a great job of jumping in there.
“This was a big homestand for us, especially after starting the season 0-2. The guys kept a good attitude. We kept pushing forward and played the way we needed to win hockey games. Tonight was a good game for us. I thought we did a lot of good little things. Now we just have to carry that on to the road.”
The Canucks open their four-game trip Thursday in St. Louis against the Stanley Cup champion Blues.
Thatcher Demko will get a second straight start in net during the personal leave of Jacob Markstrom, who is spending the week home in Sweden for family reasons. In his first start since the pre-season, Demko easily put behind him Red Wing Dylan Larkin’s goal at 30 seconds and stopped the final 26 shots he faced.
“I felt good today and I didn’t want to let that one ruin my night,” Demko said. “Obviously, the guys picked me up, too. Putting five in really helps.”
Demko was promoted to the Canucks from minor-league Utica halfway through last season. He reiterated Tuesday how different the “feel” is around the team from when he arrived in Vancouver.
“There’s just a confidence in the room,” he said. “I just feel that every night we can win. That’s something that maybe I couldn’t say last year — and obviously I wasn’t here the whole year. I think guys are really confident and guys are gelling together. There’s really good chemistry. It’s just nice having a lot of friends in here.”
Players will get more quality time together in the next week. Their challenge is to produce more quality games, too.