Turns out the strength of the Vancouver Canucks on paper this year looked remarkably like their genuine on-ice strength Monday night at Rogers Arena.
We speak of the outstanding potential of the individuals on the Vancouver back end, which functioned at very high level here Monday night, beginning the offensive thrust that produced the first real signs of life this team has allowed itself so far in the pre-season.
In the bargain, the Canucks broke their nine-game losing streak, which comprised three exhibition losses this season, four playoffs disappointments and the last two games of the regular schedule last season.
And after that, who knows, maybe they will even end the seven-game losing streak against the Sharks they carry into HP Pavillion Tuesday night in San Jose, they being this team’s most recent nemesis.
With Jason Garrison playing with Kevin Bieksa as what amounts to a shutdown pairing in the absence of Dan Hamhuis, the Canucks also got outstanding performances from a pretty aggressive Alex Edler and an always cool Chris Tanev, and they also learned the reason the club went after Yannick Weber in the off-season.
Having lacked somebody who could hammer the puck from the right side ever since the departure of Sami Salo to Tampa in free agency before last season, the Canucks were looking for somebody who could replicate that weapon for nowhere near the same money. Turns out they found the hammer, the question being whether Weber is competent enough defensively to be effective long term in the grinding games of the Western Conference, which become even more physical in the playoffs.
On this night at least, Weber displayed both the shot and some competence in his own end, which, if he can carry on in this vein, leaves this team in very good shape in front of Roberto Luongo in goal, with the luxury of numerous options on the power play as well. With Garrison firing a rocket in from the left point before this pleasant evening was all over, visions of duelling hammers must surely have danced in the heads of some Vancouver fans.
“It was good to use it (shot) for once,” said Weber who celebrated his 25th birthday, getting his third and fourth points of the pre-season with a goal and an assist. “The previous games I didn’t have much of a chance to get shots from the blueline. That’s the first time I’ve been able to have a lane and get it off.
“The coaches told me to be active, be joining the rush and joining the attack and I try to do it as much as possible. If I see a hole, I want to join the attack and I’m just trying to play my game and get better defensively. I feel I did that today.”
“Webs has had his ups and downs but I think being around more NHL players tonight helped,” said coach John Tortorella. “He played well tonight.”
Others enjoyed pleasant nights as well, not the least of which was Bo Horvat, who managed two assists, the first on another goal from Mike Santorelli, who is pushing hard and consistently for a spot on his hometown team and the second on what amounts to a virtual miracle, a goal by Tom Sestito. Horvat is not expected to stick around here any longer than nine games at the most this season but it’s certainly nice to see him enjoy some statistical success early on, something the Canucks haven’t really had from a first rounder in his first-year appearance since Cody Hodgson.
And this year Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk and Brendan Gaunce have all put their names on an NHL pre-season scoresheet.
For his part, Santorelli has been the most consistent of all the new players this year, regardless of age.
“I just needed to get back to what made me successful in this league, which was playing to my strengths, to keep my feet moving and to get to areas where goals are scored,” said Santorelli, who was certainly in the traffic areas when he backhanded a puck past the beleaguered Thomas Greiss in the Phoenix goal.
“I think it was a tough couple of years, these past two seasons, but you learn from it and look back to see what you could have done better and use that to get back to where you were. If you play the right way, hopefully you get rewarded.”