So much hope, so few points.
The Canucks soared into last week’s schedule break with consecutive road wins in Columbus and Minnesota, and returned to work buoyed that top centre Bo Horvat was ready to play after breaking his foot on Dec. 5, which led to a 2-11-2 slump that ruined Vancouver’s National Hockey League season.
But all those positive feelings failed to translate into points, although the Canucks did play a pretty solid road game in Winnipeg against a more powerful team than the one they lost to in Edmonton.
The Jets, however, have been all but untouchable at home against the Canucks since the franchise moved back to Canada from Atlanta in 2011. Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 29 Vancouver shots and Patrik Laine scored the game’s only goal in the first period, shooting through Canuck goalie Anders Nilsson from the slot after the Jets’ sniper was left unchecked by defenceman Chris Tanev.
With Horvat playing his first game back after getting another prep day in Edmonton, the Canucks were far better against the Jets than they were against the Oilers, when they were careless with the puck and surrendered a tonne of Grade-A scoring chances. But their opposition was better, too.
Winnipeg has won nine of its last 10 games against Vancouver and is 7-0-1 at home against the Canucks since 2011.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
Horvat had a few good moments but, not surprisingly, didn’t exhibit his usual explosiveness in his first game back from a broken foot. In the second period, it looked like he would blow past defenceman Dimitry Kulikov but the Jet got his stick in the way of Horvat’s backhand attempt.
Horvat managed only a single shot on net in the game. Still, Canuck coach Travis Green liked Horvat enough that his ice time of 19:05 was second among forwards behind only linemate Brock Boeser’s 19:14.
Green reunited Horvat, Boeser and Sven Baertschi. But the best Canuck forward was Brandon Sutter, who hit the post during a third-period scramble, was involved in a pair of late two-on-one rushes and caused the turnover and Jets’ penalty that allowed Vancouver to play the final 90 seconds at six-on-four.
The finest Canuck was goalie Nilsson, who stopped 35 of 36 shots in his best start since November.
Shoot the puck
We understand Henrik Sedin is the second greatest passer of his generation, behind only San Jose’s Joe Thornton, and is on the ice to create plays, not finish them. But if he is going to categorically refuse to shoot the puck, perhaps he shouldn’t be stationed near the net on the power play and used with the goalie out late in games.
During the Canucks’ final two-man-advantage, Sedin twice passed up glorious shooting opportunities in favour of passes that went nowhere. The Jets didn’t even look like they were trying to defend a shot by Henrik, but merely stood back in the passing lanes. For the season, Sedin has two goals (and 30 assists) in 47 games. In eight games this month, he has put five shots on target.
After Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada that Daniel and Henrik Sedin wish to return to the Canucks for another season, Vancouver general manager Jim Benning told us during the game in Edmonton that he has heard from neither the twins nor their agent, JP Barry, about the 37-year-olds’ intentions.
But the organization has been operating this winter with the hope that the Sedins would want to sign for another season after their four-year, $28-million contracts expire this summer. That hope has been bolstered by the Sedins’ productive play after a slow start.
Benning said last week for a Sportsnet.ca column about the GM’s future that the Sedins would continue to be positive influences if they return. Benning used the example of Thomas Vanek helping Brock Boeser’s development this season rather than hindering it by occupying a roster spot.
Here is the full quote from Benning, which did not appear in Friday’s column: "If the Sedins come back, they’ll just be a positive influence. I don’t know if (top draft pick) Elias Pettersson can come in and make our team. But he’s having a great season in Sweden, and he’ll have to have a good summer and then come into training camp and we’ll see. If he does, I see the Sedins helping him in his development.
"If they continue their pace, they’re going to have 50-point seasons again. And it’s not only on the ice they help us; it’s the example they set for our young players, the Boesers and the Horvats, on how they conduct themselves. They’re professionals. There’s a lot behind the scenes that people don’t see where they are still a big influence on our group."
If the Sedins want to play next year, signing them won’t be a problem. The Canucks and players will find a number that works for both sides and it will be for considerably less than the $7 million apiece they’ve been making.
The issue is what cost to player development would the Canucks incur if they dedicate two of their top-nine forward roster sports to 38-year-olds? The short answer: probably not much if it’s only one season.
NCAA scoring leader Adam Gaudette, a 21-year-old fifth-round draft pick from 2015, is expected to join the Canucks late this season after his junior year at Northeastern University ends. He’ll have a chance to make the Canucks next fall, as will Pettersson, 19, and one or two others prospects.
But accommodating two rookies in the top nine shouldn’t be a problem. And if it is, it’s a problem the Canucks will love to have.
One more Sedin sidenote
Vanek still expects to be traded. But he did say last week when asked about possibly re-signing with the Canucks – presumably the team would want to know his intentions before the trade deadline – he’d be more inclined to stay if the Sedins are back because that will ensure Vancouver is competitive. Make of that what you will.