Tocchet, Beauvillier bring fresh perspective to Canucks team still finding its way

Mike Halford and Jason Brough discuss the importance for the Canucks to build an organization that players want to play for so they don’t have to over-pay free agents to sign here, as Vancouver is such a nice city for people to live in.

VANCOUVER — Since their coaching change, the Vancouver Canucks still sell goals-against in bulk. They still aren’t getting saves and still can’t kill penalties.

But nine games in, Rick Tocchet’s influence is being felt. It may not be reflected on the scoreboard or in the standings, but it certainly is being felt by players, especially in the long, hard practices that Tocchet has staged this week at Rogers Arena and, Thursday, the University of British Columbia.

For what it’s worth, the Tocchet Effect is also being felt by reporters.

Few people actually relish covering a 27th-place team that is in its 53rd year of stage-one planning to try to win a Stanley Cup. But all of us were going to miss ex-coach Bruce Boudreau for his folksy, unvarnished, and sometimes emotional daily meetings with the media. It felt some days like we were his therapist.

No matter how bad his team was, at least there was Bruce.

And now there is Tocchet and, incredibly, he has been every bit as interesting as Boudreau, not for his personality but for his perspective, which is honest and direct.

On Wednesday, the Canucks lost 6-4 at home to the New York Rangers, Vancouver’s fifth loss over a six-game span that has seen the opposition jet-propel 30 pucks past Canucks goalies.

On Thursday, Tocchet said this: “I think the group is trying to work hard. They’ve just got to know it’s a hard game. I felt against the Rangers, there was some good effort. But… you’ve got to go through people, you’ve got to stick people, you’ve got to mark people. We have a bad habit of spinning away from people and, I don’t know, that’s going to take a long time (to fix). That’s hard hockey. And you’re not going to be a winning team if you don’t embrace that pain.

“(Against) the Rangers, you’ve got to make sure you go on (Artemi) Panarin. I don’t care if you’re (Elias) Petterssen or if you’re (Quinn) Hughes or if you’re Dakota Joshua, if that’s your man, you go through him. You don’t have to kill him, but I feel we come off a check way too much. But that starts at training camp, that starts with weeks and weeks of pounding and pounding. So we’ve got a lot of work to do, to be quite frank. It’s not an indictment to anybody, that’s the way it is. And we have to, as coaches, exhaust everything we have to make sure that these guys understand that.”

In exhausting everything they have, with a bulked-up coaching staff that includes blue-line instructors Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar and a greater presence of Sedins, either Henrik or Daniel, Tocchet fully understands he may also be exhausting Canucks players.

“I know people want results; I’m worried about the other stuff,” Tocchet said. “You know, the results will come if we do that stuff. We’re not going to win hockey games if we forget about the process. You just can’t. That’s why the other day, I had a pretty good practice (on Tuesday). Maybe some guys were tired the last game, maybe that’s why we lost. I don’t know, I don’t care. We have to go through this process. And we have to go through the pain. You can’t be caught in between. You’ll never win.”

And there endeth the lesson. But Friday is another day, and Saturday another game when the Philadelphia Flyers visit the Canucks.

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The Canucks are a team in the embryonic stage of transition, players still grappling to understand the greater, more specific demands of the new coach while Tocchet, general manager Patrik Allvin and everyone else waits to see how many of them can and will actually adapt and have a future in Vancouver.

Anthony Beauvillier is the newest Canucks player and has a contract that expires after next season. But coming from the New York Islanders in the Bo Horvat trade, he should seamlessly fit the mould Tocchet is trying to jam on his players.

Beauvillier is fast, direct, plays in traffic and is strong and detailed on the puck. He should also have an advantage over most of his new teammates in that his transition to the Canucks doesn’t include adjusting to Tocchet from Boudreau. The style the new coach wants to play is pretty much the style Beauvillier learned to play on Long Island.

“I love it,” Beauvillier said Thursday of what Tocchet is preaching. “I think he wants us to be creative and at the same time responsible. I think… his system definitely fits my game. I’m happy about that.

“There’s definitely stuff I’m trying to adjust to. I’m trying to find a little bit more chemistry with Petey, but I think every day it’s been better. I’m still trying to find it, still trying to work at it. But it’s coming along. And I like my effort and like my thinking (on the ice).”

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Beauvillier was a third-line player on a deep Islanders team. But he has been on Tocchet’s first line beside star centre Elias Pettersson since the All-Star break blockbuster.

In six games, Beauvillier has two goals and two assists. But at five-on-five, the winger’s Corsi-for is 58.9 per cent and his expected goals 59.9 per cent. He has 14 shots on net.

“Playing with Petey, I think sometimes he’s a little too fancy,” Tocchet said. “Sometimes that line gets fancy, so he’s got to be careful because he’s a fast player, he’s a first-forecheck player. If he does that, I think he’ll be really effective. Sometimes he gets a little bit too much east-west with Petey.”

“To play… with Pettersson, we need that forchecking guy. Go through the middle of the ice, win retrievals, win puck battles. That’s who he is, so we’ve got to work to that strength. I don’t want him to try to play like somebody different. You can still have a third-line mentality in a first-line role. Just be first on the forecheck and do all the little things to help your teammates.”

Beauvillier has traded coastlines at a time of great upheaval on the Canucks.

“You can tell, like, guys have been through tough times,” he said. “But I’ve been part of teams like that, too, and it’s never easy.

“Everybody cares in this room. That’s one of the first things I noticed: they care and are not pleased with not winning. There’s competitors in this room. There’s a lot of character. (Losing) is not something they’re happy with.”

That’s good news for Tocchet. Now he’s trying to find out what they’re willing to do to win.

• No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko, who fully returned to practice this week and hopes to back up on Saturday for the first time since suffering a leg injury on Dec. 1, left the ice Thursday about 20 minutes into the main session. Tocchet told reporters that he hadn’t yet been briefed by medical staff but “if it was something bad, the trainer would have told me by now, so I don’t think it’s bad — or anything.” Injured against the Rangers, neither forward Curtis Lazar nor defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson practised. Tocchet said Lazar may be available Saturday, but ruled out Ekman-Larsson.

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