SAN JOSE, Calif. – On a night of gift-giving, it even sounded like Christmas as the Vancouver Canucks rang the goalposts surrounding San Jose Sharks’ goalie Antti Niemi five times.
Disagreeable former Buffalo and Pittsburgh netminder Tom Barrasso once brayed at a question about shots off the post: “You want me to stop the ones that are going wide, too?”
There’s a lot of truth in that. Shots off the post, however few millimetres they are from going in, aren’t good enough. That’s the way it was for Chris Higgins, who redirected a puck off the post late in the second period and hasn’t been good enough since the season began.
The two-way winger, who scored 18 times last season and stopped the downward trajectory of his National Hockey League career by coming to the Canucks, has only one assist in the first five games this season and has managed only six shots on target.
“Tonight was a step in the right direction, for me personally, as far as how I was feeling on the ice,” Higgins said after finishing plus-one in the 4-1 loss. “There’s a lot more to give, obviously, but I’m trying not to be too hard on myself after an eight-month break. That being said, I need to be better. I know that. And I will be better.
“I’m just not comfortable playing yet. But one of my biggest traits is my competition level and as long as that is high, good things will come. I just have to concentrate on that.”
Higgins slow start is a little surprising given his strong season last year and his dedication to preparing for this one. The New York native spent most of the lockout in Vancouver, living out of a hotel and skating with teammates like Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra.
Higgins chose to skate with them, he said, because they’re among the best-conditioned players on the Canucks and he believed if he prepared with them he’d be prepared like them.
“But there’s nothing like game situations,” he said of the four-month lockout, which ended without pre-season games. “I haven’t felt a 100 per cent like myself yet. I just have to put my head down and keep working and trust that my work ethic will take me where I want to be.”
Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder, Jason Garrison and Alex Edler also struck iron on Sunday. Niemi made 23 saves. The Sharks blocked another 21 shots in front of him.
“It seems sometimes like there’s a lid on the net, and it seemed that way tonight for us with five posts,” Higgins said. “Certainly, there are things we can still do better. But there’s plenty of hockey to play. You have to try to stay positive. It’s tougher to do that sometimes playing in a Canadian market.”
Here’s something positive: at least the game wasn’t in Vancouver.