It is only the preseason but the Vancouver Canucks have yet to show much of the spark – grit, bite, in the parlance of John Tortorella – that the team will need to carry them through a regular season that will be more difficult than recent years.
The team has won just one of five preseason outings, with its victory against Phoenix on Monday making the Canucks the last team in the National Hockey League to record a W in the preseason. The following night, Tuesday in San Jose, Vancouver was blanked 5-0.
Tortorella has so far bottled his temper. The show on ice hasn't looked good but it is too early for screaming.
"I'm not going to be whipping people right now," the coach said after the San Jose game.
In the final contest of September, Thursday night at home against the New York Rangers, Tortorella plans to play a lineup close to the one the Canucks will use on opening night in early October – but it looks like it might be more patchwork than powerhouse, as the questions and hopes of the early season have gone unanswered or unfulfilled. It leaves the Canucks, still uncertain and learning new systems on the ice, looking very much like they did at the end of last year, a fading image of one-time titan of a team.
- The hope of revived first line has been waylaid by spotty play and suspension, both on the shoulders of Zack Kassian. Like Alain Vigneault before him, Tortorella wanted to see Kassian succeed on right wing with the Sedin twins but the 22-year-old's preseason performance was erratic before his stick smashed into the face of Edmonton's Sam Gagner. Tortorella has questioned Kassian's fitness and there'll be plenty of time for the gym, as he is out for the first five regular season games, returning Oct. 12 for a home match against Montreal before Vancouver embarks on a long, seven-game roadtrip.
— Kassian's failing, and absence, cascades through the lineup. The Canucks have tried Jannik Hansen with the Sedins but Alex Burrows, the old steady, filled in too, which weakens a second-line that, ideally, features Burrows and David Booth on Ryan Kesler's wings.
—What sort of shape Booth is in is unknown, given he has yet to play, almost immediately tweaking his groin when he was poised to return to the lineup. Any hope that he is on the verge of a big comeback season has to be tempered by a severely truncated preseason.
— In net, Eddie Lack was perforated Tuesday in San Jose – and it has not been a great preseason for the rookie netminder, who put in several years in the American Hockey League but missed much of last winter because of hip surgery. His best outing was his first game, stopping 25 of 27 shots in two periods against San Jose, but Lack then gave up four against Edmonton and five in the second showing versus the Sharks. For the preseason, his goals-against-average is 3.38 and his save-percentage came in at 0.879 – neither figure even close to inspiring. The Canucks, barring the last-minute hiring of some veteran journeyman, start the season with a backup with zero official NHL games to his name. One figures Luongo plays something like 65 games this season – which leaves at least 17 for Lack, who will have to help deliver wins in at least some of those. It is a long way from the Luongo-Cory Schneider, Schneider-Luongo combinations of the past two seconds.
— Back up front, the power play stinks. The Canucks, who were hindered by a weak power play last year, have gone one-for-12 with the man-advantage this preseason. Against San Jose Tuesday they failed to draw a penalty. That the power play remains in disarray is no surprise. The team is in general learning Tortorella's systems and one weakness in the new coach's game, going back several years in New York is a subpar power play.
— The various problems among forwards does bode well for possibly the likes of Hunter Shinkaruk, the rookie winger who turns 19 next month and has been given regular opportunities to succeed in the preseason. On Tuesday, when the Canucks were beat up by the Sharks In San Jose, Shinkaruk received more time on Kesler's wing but he failed to get any pucks at the net. Shinkaruk did again get the most ice time of his fellow rookies, Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce, and wasn't on the ice for any of the goals. With Booth uncertain, and Kassian out, it seems like Shinkaruk could make the opening day roster but whether he sticks around for more than nine games is less clear. He has played well but it has not been spectacular.
— The biggest hole on the team, the centre position on the third line, has not been seized, especially not by a rookie. Mike Santorelli, a Vancouver local turned journeyman, has performed the best, from his victory in the two-mile run at the start of training camp to his solid play on the ice. Santorelli, however, hardly looks like a gleaming addition and hasn't been fixed in position as centre, playing wing to Horvat on Tuesday in San Jose. Santorelli does have two goals and four points this month – contributing on more than a third of the team's total goals.
Editor's note: The original version of the headline of this online story gave incorrect information concerning the preseason record of the Vancouver Canucks. This error has now been corrected.