After rediscovering identity, Canucks to get true test of progress vs. Jets

Quinn Hughes talks about how he has started the season for the Vancouver Canucks.

VANCOUVER – As the Canucks open a difficult eastern road trip tonight in Winnipeg, a barren landscape for Vancouver since the Jets were reborn in Canada, there is no consensus about what the Canucks’ three-game sweep this week against the dreadful Ottawa Senators represents.

Much of the fan base on the West Coast believes the three wins are greatly diminished by the quality of the opponent. The rest seem to think they don’t count at all.

It’s true that Ottawa appears singularly determined to get another crack at the No. 1 overall draft pick, and progressed towards that goal in Vancouver by getting outscored 16-3 by a Canuck team that looked almost as bad as the Senators until they began playing them.

But nobody chooses their opponents nor their schedule in the National Hockey League. Because if they did, we’re pretty sure the Canucks would not choose to open the season with 13 games in the first 21 days and play back-to-back four times.

The Senators were the only team the Canucks played this week, and Vancouver hammered them three times to climb back to .500 at 5-5 and, astonishingly, build a slight playoff cushion in the North Division.

In those three games over four days, the Canucks restored the appearance of systems play, generally stopped passing to the other team, got a spike from goaltenders Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko back towards NHL-average, and to the relief of all saw first-liners Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller awaken and join lively linemate Brock Boeser.

All things considered, it was a very good week for the Canucks, who had forgotten their identity – and how to play – during their 2-5-0 start.

“Obviously, things went well for us in this three-game set,” Holtby said Thursday after the 4-1 series finale. “But this year, one of the most important things is not getting too high or low, and we’ve got to make sure we're not too high on this three-game set because we've got a real tough road trip ahead of us.”

Holtby is new to the Vancouver market. High and low are what we name twins, except for Daniel and Henrik.

Winnipeg, however, is exclusively a low spot for the Canucks, who last won a game in Gotham-on-the-Tundra on March 12, 2014.

Defenceman Alex Edler is the only player left on the Canucks from that team. General manager Jim Benning, who replaced Mike Gillis three months after that win, has watched the Canucks lose eight straight games in Manitoba during his tenure.

With the Jets off to an impressive 5-2 start and tied with Vancouver on points, this game is like truth serum for the Canucks’ week.

It could be a springboard or trapdoor for the Canucks, who visit the Montreal Canadiens for back-to-back games starting Monday, before encamping at their Toronto hotel for the second half of the trip, playing the division-leading Maple Leafs three times over a leisurely five days.

As difficult as is any game in Winnipeg for the Canucks, the quality of the opposition gets only harder the farther the trip goes.

“I don’t need to worry about the whole trip,” Canucks coach Travis Green said before Friday’s travel day. “We’ll just worry about Winnipeg for now.”

Others will worry about the trip.


After easily his best game of the season for his new team, when Holtby stopped 36 out of 37 Ottawa shots, the former Washington Capitals goaltender offered an interesting competitive observation about his move west.

“One thing that will be interesting this year is the west to the east, the style of game is a little bit different in terms of shot quantities,” the 31-year-old said. “And our division is a mixture of both. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the end. East is usually more of a lateral run-and-gun and the west has some grit to it. It’s just different ways to play. I think it’s exciting to have a bit of a mixture for a full season to challenge yourself back and forth on both styles.

“That was one of the things I was really excited about this year – seeing some different teams. You get a little sick of seeing Pittsburgh every week.”


East, west, pandemic or non-pandemic, regular season or playoffs, Jake Virtanen is never far from the front-burner of conversation in Vancouver.

Last fall, the Canucks re-signed the inconsistent 24-year-old to a two-year deal worth $2.55 million annually, 10 days after the team passed on paying first-line winger Tyler Toffoli the $4.25 million he got for this season and the next three in Montreal. On Thursday, Virtanen was healthy-scratched by Green and starts the road trip as an extra.

Virtanen had just one point in the Canucks’ first nine games, a goal that caromed off an opponent in Calgary, while averaging 11:57 of ice time, 11th among 12 Vancouver forwards. He had 14 shots on net and high-danger scoring chances were 20-9 against the Canucks when Virtanen was on the ice five-on-five.

“I think Jake hasn’t quite found his game yet this year and needs a little reset,” Green said. “(He) needs to get on the ice and feel the puck and practice a bit, put some work in. Sometimes just getting away from a game helps a player, and I’m hoping it does because I think he’s better than what he’s shown so far this year. Not that I think it – I know it. He’s a good player. We need him to be at his best, I know he wants to play his best. I just don’t think he has yet.

“We felt it was time to bring him out of the lineup and reset him. When he goes back in, hopefully he plays better for himself and for us as a team because we need him to.”

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