VANCOUVER – From chants of “Fire Benning!” to “Bruce, there it is!” Yes, a lot changed for the Vancouver Canucks over 48 hours.
At the start of a new era, with Bruce Boudreau as the head coach and a management committee headed by Stan Smyl replacing fired general manager Jim Benning, the Canucks actually won a game on Monday, beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-0.
Two nights after many fans booed the Canucks off the ice following a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, most of those still inside Rogers Arena at the end of Monday’s game stood and cheered. Clearly, it wasn’t just about the game.
It was the first night in four-and-a-half years without Travis Green coaching the Canucks, the first in seven-and-a-half years without Benning in charge of the roster.
“Bruce has a lot of positive energy and he wants to get the best out of his players,” captain Bo Horvat said after the morning skate. “He has a few new ideas and ways that he thinks we can improve as a team. I’m excited to get that going here tonight.
“I think it’s exciting for the young guys, it’s exciting for even the older guys as well… to have a new voice and a guy who’s going to play us a tonne. It’s up to us to perform for him. Our team needed a spark, and Bruce coming in and having positive energy and wanting us to do well and believing in our group, I think it brings us new life.”
The Canucks did look re-energized, although you wonder how much less enthusiasm there would have been had Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko not stopped Adrian Kempe on an early breakaway and stopped all 31 Los Angeles shots for his first shutout of the season.
There was other evidence of a brave new world: Brock Boeser scored his first goal in 14 games, Elias Pettersson killed penalties, and someone named Juho Lammikko scored his first goal since the Canucks acquired him from Florida in a pre-season trade.
“We worked hard,” Pettersson said after the game. “I mean, I think everybody was working, we were playing as a team, everybody was working. Trust your teammate. I think we did that tonight.”
Asked how he got on to the penalty-kill unit, on which Pettersson earned a second-period penalty shot that he missed, the struggling Swede said his name was on the list.
“I was on the PK meeting list, so I just go there and listen with both ears and learn,” he explained. “I’ve been in a few PK meetings before, but (it was the) first or second time being on the ice on a PK.”
Boudreau used eight forwards shorthanded, about doubling the typical contingent of penalty killers that Green used from a lineup mostly devoid of them. Vancouver killed both Los Angeles power plays.
Boeser had a goal and assist, matching his offensive numbers from the previous 12 games. J.T. Miller scored on a late power play, and Conor Garland snatched the Canucks’ other goal while playing on an effective line with Pettersson and rookie Vasily Podkolzin.
Quinn Hughes logged 26:12 of ice time on defence, but playing time was otherwise spread by new blue-line coach Scott Walker. The next busiest defenceman was Tyler Myers with 18:42 of ice time. Horvat led all forwards with 18:22 of ice time and Lammikko, a healthy scratch the last five games under Green, and fellow fourth-liner Tyler Motte were the only ones under 10 minutes, albeit barely.
The Canucks out-hit the Kings 31-17.
“We’re better than what we’ve performed so far this season,” Pettersson said when asked about a morning team meeting with Smyl. “We know it, you guys know it, the fans know it. That was basically the message: we need to not point fingers, we need to do this together because no one else is going to do it for us.”
Pettersson also thanked Benning and Green during his post-game press conference.
“Jim was the guy that made my dream come true, drafting me,” Pettersson said. “And Travis was the first coach in the NHL for me. I want to thank those guys and all the best to them in the future.”
But his coach is now Boudreau, who has managed to generate a bounce – and a lot of wins – at earlier postings in Washington, Anaheim and Minnesota.
“His track record is really good at coming into a new team and getting the most out of the guys,” veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “I think he’s really going to help us. But at the same time, I think the message was pretty clear and that we’ve got to believe in that room and play for each other.
“Bottom line, it’s going to be us players in that room looking to get us out of this.”
Boudreau will coach his first full practice with the Canucks on Tuesday, before taking his perfect record into Vancouver’s game Wednesday against the Boston Bruins.