Henrik and Daniel Sedin, it seems, are back to being the offensive threats that hockey fans had grown accustomed to watching.
From 2006-07 through 2012-13, the Vancouver Canucks had been under head coach Alain Vigneault.
During his tenure, questions constantly were being asked about why he didn’t use the Sedins, who were his top players, in more defensive roles, like killing penalties.
Well, when Vigneault was fired on May 22, 2013, those who were asking those questions finally got their wish.
A month later, the Canucks replaced Vigneault with John Tortorella, who was known for his defensive, hard-nosed system, one that stressed the importance of shot-blocking.
Right from his introductory press conference, Tortorella was asked if he expected the Sedins to block shots. He simply replied: “Yes.”
But by doing so, the risk of injury is increased, which is exactly what ended up happening. Henrik and Daniel had been consistently in the lineup game after game for their entire careers. Not under Tortorella.
Henrik and Daniel were out of the lineup for 12 and nine games, respectively, due to injuries,
If that wasn’t enough, Henrik finished with 50 points and Daniel 47, career lows for both. Despite that, they were still Nos. 1 and 2 in points on the team.
It was apparent that Tortorella’s system didn’t work with the players he was given; he was relieved of his duties after just one season.
And now the bigger concern for many observers had to do with the age of the Sedins, as they were then 33. Was their inability to produce offensively signalling the beginning of a decline?
Vancouver’s new management group of president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, general manager Jim Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins would have none of it.
Well, the early returns are in and it appears that they were right.
The Canucks signed unrestricted free-agent forward Radim Vrbata on July 3 to a two-year deal worth US$10 million, specifically to play with the Sedins. The trio showed instant chemistry.
They combined for four points, including an empty-net goal and an assist from Henrik, during a 4-2 season-opening victory over the Flames in Calgary.
Could they do it again in their Saturday home-opener against the Edmonton Oilers? After all, teams have been known to have slow starts due to pre-game festivities that would lead to a loss.
“I think that there’s a lot going on at home during the opener,” Desjardins said prior to Saturday’s puck drop. “The thing that counts is for us to find a way to get points. Every team is so hungry on the road that you’ve got more pressure at home, but that’s the place that you have to find a way to win. So, we have to stay focused, we have to know what we have to do and we have to be prepared to play hard.”
The Canucks did have a slow start, falling behind 2-1 after the first period. However, they were able to crawl back and notch a 5-4 shootout victory.
“I thought the first five to 10 minutes were OK,” Daniel said. “Then, we took a few penalties and then they got going. But I think in the second and third, we took over and played real well.”
The play of the Sedins and Vrbata had a large part to do with the comeback, as they combined for six points, including three assists from Daniel.
“You’ve got to like that,” Desjardins told reporters. “They’re pretty magical at times, like, it’s unbelievable. Even for our (players who) have seen them for a long time, they still can’t believe the things they do.”
Especially on the power play, where the Canucks went 2-for-7.
“Even if we didn’t score, we had the puck,” Daniel said. “We retrieved pucks, we worked hard, and it gave us momentum, and that’s key in today’s game.”
A victory at home on opening night was critical.
Not to say that in previous seasons it wasn’t, but this was their opportunity to leave a positive first impression in an attempt to redeem themselves with the fans after a lacklustre 2013-14. The Canucks’ faithful weren’t happy, and some showed it by not attending the games.
The Canucks played a run-and-gun, puck possession-style of game, which most fans find entertaining.
“If you win, for sure,” Daniel said when he asked if he enjoys playing that style. “If we had lost this game, we would have been standing here talking about the run-and-gun. I mean, (that wouldn’t) be a nice feeling. But we won tonight’s game and we’ll build on this one. I think offensively we did a lot of good things (and) defensively, obviously, we can be a little bit better.”
Unlike much of last season, Canucks fans were all smiles as they left Rogers Arena.
The free drink that the Canucks provided to each fan in attendance — including beer for those over the age of 19 — didn‘t hurt, either.
NOTES: Canucks G Ryan Miller made 25 saves, and also was 3-for-3 in the shootout. . . . Vancouver D Chris Tanev, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Calgary on Wednesday was scratched. . . . Edmonton D Brad Hunt, who is from Maple Ridge, B.C, scored his first NHL goal. . . . The Canucks don’t play again until Friday night, when they visit Edmonton.
(Dickson Liong is Taking Note’s Vancouver correspondent. Follow him on Twitter at @DLLiong.)