If they want to fill a need or send a message that the situation is more serious than a five-game losing streak — you can either spin it as a blip or a major slip — the Vancouver Canucks could sift through the bargain trade bin.
They don’t have the salary cap space or marketable assets to add to a top-six forward mix in flux.
The constant knock that this is a one-line team, and by shutting down Henrik and Daniel Sedin — whether they’re on the same line or not — you can beat the Canucks.
The struggling and often-injured David Booth is off the roster radar and there’s no top-end skill in the system to recall because 2011 first-round pick Nicklas Jensen has yet to score this season with the Utica Comets. The projected second-line NHL winger has two goals in 30 career AHL games and remains a project.
Six goals in the current five-game Canucks’ skid and just two points from the Sedins are concerning enough. So is knowing the bulk of the remaining schedule is against Western Conference competition in which they’re 4-5-2, including a 3-4-2 record in the ultra-tough Pacific Division in which the Canucks don’t physically match up well against Los Angeles or San Jose. They’re also ninth in the conference and 4-4-2 at home.
More importantly, the mindset crept into the conversation Tuesday for all the wrong reasons.
The given under John Tortorella is that effort has seldom been questioned.
A quest for consistency and the bite he demands with an aggressive forechecking system is a high-risk, high-reward approach that requires a strong body and stronger mind.
Giving up odd-man rushes to push the pace means being good at both ends of the ice through an entire shift — not just part of it.
It also meant Daniel Sedin logged 26:15 and Henrik Sedin 25:26 Tuesday in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, more than their average 22 minutes and much more than the 19 minutes a night under Alain Vigneault.
Tortorella is loathe to use the F-word — as in fatigue — so his summation that the maturity of a veteran-laden team waned Tuesday was telling. It’s like the mind-over-matter credo that coaches carry in their motivational arsenal: ‘If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter’.
The Canucks seemed to mind Tuesday. They were lethargic and heard about it in the first intermission.
“This one kicks me in the side of the head with our mindset,” said Tortorella. “I feel what we really have is a good mindset. It wasn’t there tonight.”
It played into the tying goal after the Canucks took a lead early in the third period and then — inexplicably — sat back after Shawn Matthias evened the count.
The Panthers went on a dominant 11-4 shot advantage and the Canucks had but two shots after Jannik Hansen gave them the 2-1 lead.
They were lucky to escape with the shootout loss point because Matthias nearly won it with 17.3 seconds remaining in regulation time when the centre dove over Chris Tanev and nearly knocked a loose puck past Roberto Luongo.
“After their second goal, we wanted to get the point badly and maybe sat back a bit too much,” admitted Henrik Sedin. “It wasn’t the effort we wanted. We weren’t focused enough, quick enough. We thought it was going to come easy.”
The Matthias goal came off a 4-on-3 rush with Brad Richardson caught up ice. Nick Bjugstad was allowed to thread a pass off the wall to top of the slot — no sticks or bodies in the way — and an unchecked Matthias beat Luongo to the glove side for just his third goal of the season.
“We’ve got to make a better play in the defensive zone than to let them have a rush at that time of the game,” said winger Alex Burrows. “The game is there for you, if you play the right way. We weren’t very good. We looked slow and weren’t very good with the puck. We have lapses and aren’t making the right reads.”
For Burrows, the slight silver linings to zero goals through his 10 games after returning from a fractured foot are hitting posts in consecutive games and drawing penalties in those same outings.
But that’s reaching for a team that looks like it needs an injection of something. Moving Ryan Kesler to wing may improve shooting angles, but it takes size and presence away from the middle. Mike Santorelli works as hard as anybody, but has one goal in his last 18 games and Brad Richardson has one goal in his last dozen.
The Canucks have had past interest in Matthias and he’s a fit on several levels. He stands 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, but the 25-year-old centre struggles with consistency, and is a $1.75 million US cap hit this season and next. Then again, Matthias had a strong third period Tuesday and has either turned a corner or become more movable because he can also play wing.
“After they got that second goal, we responded the right way and he [Matthias] brought us some good energy with a good push there,” said Panthers coach Peter Horacek.