Next Canucks game: The club isn’t just seeing the stars, it’s learning to play ‘the right way’

Team chairman Jim Rutherford says resilience is a good sign as consistency will be key in the streak and going forward

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When president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford took over in early December, the Vancouver Canucks were caught in what seemed like a downward spiral.

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He said he would take some time to learn about his team before making any decisions on the future. He also needed to hire key personnel.

And then his new team began to chain victory after victory.

Fast forward to last weekend and the conclusion of a seven game homestand. The Canucks’ 2-3-2 streak at a crucial moment reminded everyone of the team’s struggles earlier in the season.

It also felt like the penultimate nail in the coffin of the club’s playoff hopes.

But just like the Canucks did in December after hiring Bruce Boudreau as head coach, the team has dusted itself off and rebounded.

He continued on the road, with two tough games in two nights with a two-hour flight between the two, beating the Colorado Avalanche with a full effort, then digging deep to grab a point over the Minnesota Wild.

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“What we’ve learned in the last two games is that the team is capable of playing the game the right way,” Rutherford told Postmedia on Friday.

“You’re in two games against two very good teams, the most important thing is how we played those games: 200 foot games, good puck support. What you learn from this is that you get just as many chances to score, maybe more, when you play this way.


NEXT GAME

Saturday

Vancouver Canucks vs. Dallas Stars

4 p.m. PT, American Airlines Center. TV: Sportsnet. Radio: Sportsnet 650.


In other words, he sees a lot of things to work with on this list.

When he was managing the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rutherford had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two all-time greats in their prime, to build around. The Canucks have star players, but no one in the Crosby-Malkin realm. Still, it’s clear that Rutherford sees where this team can go.

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“Now it’s about seeing how consistent we can be over time,” he said.

“You get all kinds of different information over time and every game is played. That’s the kind of information you want to see.

“You play to win, but how do you get there and how will you get there in the future?”

With 16 games to play, every game matters to the Canucks.

Against the Dallas Stars on Saturday at American Airlines Arena, it’s a different test than their games Wednesday and Thursday.

The Wild and Avalanche are considered Stanley Cup contenders. The stars are not. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a tough opponent, though.

“He’s a tough opponent, they’ve had an inconsistent year, but not because of the players,” Rutherford said.

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They are a team that controlled the game well, but struggled to complete their scoring chances. They’re shooting 7.8 percent below the five-for-five average this season.

Dallas holds the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. The Stars are four points ahead of the Canucks, but have three games in hand.

The Stars have won 21 home games. And they just pulled off a big upset for the Carolina Hurricanes, a game in which they were outshot 47-15.

Backed by newly acquired goaltender Scott Wedgewood—regular guards Anton Khubodin and Braden Holtby are both on the disabled list—the Stars’ win rolled them into the Western Conference playoff pursuit. The Stars sent a conditional fourth-round pick to Arizona for Wedgewood as they desperately sought to eliminate Jake Oettinger, who had started 19 of the last 21 games, in the final stretch of the season.

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“It’s the learning process,” said Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford. “As long as everyone is learning, then we’re going somewhere.” Photo by DARRYL DYCK /PNG

A victory in Dallas would put a real distance between the Stars and the Canucks. The Winnipeg Jets are a point behind the Canucks, but the Stars also have games less on them.

A Canucks win would keep them within reach of the Stars, even with those games to catch up, and in touch with the Vegas Golden Knights, whose second-half slump also has them chasing the Stars.

But the truth for the Canucks is that they are on a knife edge. Realistically, they can’t afford more than four losses by the end of the schedule.

It really is a do or die time.

And what Rutherford hopes to see in the remaining games this season is what he’s seen this week, minus what he’s seen the previous two.

“You’re playing against these top players and you think, ‘Wow, we better be ready or we’re going to be embarrassed,'” he said. “That for me is the big difference, the way we approach different teams. And there shouldn’t be any difference.

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“So that’s the learning process. As long as everyone is learning, then we’re going somewhere.

OVER TIME – Rutherford, 73, was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week and said Friday was the first day he really felt back to normal. He had gone to the Canucks’ offices for a few hours each of the previous two days but didn’t push himself, he said. His plan was to spend an entire day at the office on Friday.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction


POINT HEADS

CANUCKS

1. JT Miller generalist 64 G 27 A 51 PTS 78 (+8)

2. Quinn Hughes GP 60 G 5 A 47 PTS 52 (+9)

3. Elias Pettersson GP 62 G 18 A 27 PTS 45 (-2)

STARS

1. Joe Pavelski GP 63 G 24 A 42 PTS 66 (+14)

2. Jason Robertson GP 55 G 31 A 29 PTS 60 (+19)

3. Roope Hintz GP 61 G 28 A 27 PTS 55 (+20)


SPECIAL TEAMS

CANUCKS: PP 21.6% (14th) KP 71.9% (32nd)

STARS: PP 23.0% (12th) KP 78.3% (19th)


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