Every team in the NHL tends to play better at home than on the road, but in the case of the Vancouver Canucks this season, that trend is apt to be accentuated.
While most home games won’t be as easy as Saturday night’s win over the young and confused Edmonton Oilers, who looked like they’d never seen a team forecheck in such a way before, there’s no question it will be a considerable advantage for coach John Tortorella to be here getting the last change.
That will be an advantage that will better allow him to protect his highly questionable third and fourth lines — the ones he doesn’t seem to want to use unless he can choose the players they play against and his team boasts a comfortable lead.
On the road, of course, as soon as he puts his third or fourth line out, the opposing coach is going to counter with three of his top six if the game in San Jose was any indication, and sadly, we saw the results of that against one of the strongest teams in the West.
There will be another immediate test of this theory tonight in Calgary when this team plays the first of its 17 back-to-back games, an inordinate number brought on by the Olympics, and evidently something of a brain lapse on the part of the front office which permitted such a schedule for a team as old as the Canucks. Carolina has 22 such back-to-backs, but it’s a lot easier in the East than out here.
To be sure, the locals were very much on their game Saturday, however, which after Thursday night, had to be a relief for the Canuck faithful. But then they almost always are at Rogers Arena when the Oil comes calling, the Sedin twins particularly enjoying the arrival of this team without a great back end. Led by the 18 points of Henrik, the Canucks are 10-1-1 in their last 12 at home over the past four plus seasons against this team — which everyone keeps predicting will get better, although signs of that happening have been markedly absent. And leave it to the Oil to get Daniel out of his scoring slump, the veteran winger bagging his first goal of the season and adding an assist to bring his career total to 13 goals and 11 assists in 19 career home tilts against Edmonton which hasn’t been a playoff since the twins became superstars.
At times last night the only thing missing was the Sweet Georgia Brown theme music used by basketball’s Globetrotters, such was Vancouver’s control of the puck and dominance of the game. Tortorella’s idea of hounding the puck all over the ice certainly produced the turnovers this team is looking for against a learning back end the Oilers have, the question being whether they can achieve this type of success against the better teams in the league when it matters.
“It’s nice to see that after they scored the first goal we were able to come back and get three before the end of the first period,” said Henrik. “That’s the way we want to play and we came close to playing 60 minutes that way. Maybe we weren’t going after them as much as we normally would if we weren’t up but our reads are really easy this way. We put a lot of pressure on their Ds and we didn’t really play this way for the past couple of years. We sat back a little bit more and played a bit more on the safe side. That’s what you get when you are aggressive, you turn pucks over and you get those second chances.”