Center Alex Burrows and the Canucks knocked off center Anze Kopitar and… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
The Vancouver Canucks arrived in Southern California with a lot of fans and a few grimaces after a 5-6 stretch that included a 3-3 homestand.
"Winning one and losing one and trying to rationalize it," Coach Alain Vigneault said.
No more. While many caravanning fans returned home, the Canucks continued their trip with two solid victories and signs they've shaken the lethargy that often grips elite teams during the winter doldrums.
The Canucks' 3-1 victory over the Kings on Saturday and 3-0 triumph over the Ducks on Sunday increased their league-leading points total to 93 points and their goal differential to a whopping plus-61. They split the goaltending between Roberto Luongo on Saturday and Cory Schneider on Sunday and got important contributions from their third line of Manny Malhotra, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres in both games.
Although General Manager Mike Gillis made only minor moves at the trade deadline, adding speed and abrasiveness up front instead of fortifying the injury-depleted defense corps, the Canucks appear to have the speed, skill and grit to succeed against any opponent.
"It's tough to go full throttle for 82 games. Obviously, we feel we're not playing our best hockey right now and we're still a .500 team," Luongo said Saturday after the Canucks balanced their record at 6-6 over a 12-game span. "I think that says quite a bit about the group in this locker room."
It has become normal for boredom to cause the eventual Cup champion to falter. The Chicago Blackhawks were 6-7-2 last March. The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins were 3-4-2 in late January and early February before regrouping. The Detroit Red Wings were 4-8-2 in February of the 2007-08 season. The 2006-07 Ducks peaked at 30-9-7 and were 18-11-7 the rest of the way before retrenching.
"For whatever reason, our execution and our working smart slipped a little bit," Vigneault said. "And that combined with the fact that this is a great league. All the teams are real good and real competitive and some teams just brought their better game than we did."
That won't happen very often anymore if the Canucks stay at the level they hit this past weekend.
More on Probert report
Reaction seemed muted to the announcement last week from Boston University researchers that former NHL enforcer Bob Probert had trauma-related brain disease when he died last summer. After a few debates about banning fighting — the consensus was no — there was no consensus about the next step.
Rob Blake, the NHL's new hockey operations manager, said the information on Probert and players' increased willingness to report head injuries will increase the knowledge available to the league's concussion study groups. He also offered a good suggestion.
"I think equipment can be looked at," he said. "I know they changed the hard plastic on elbow pads a few years ago because they felt there were some injuries coming from that. Shoulder pads can be looked at now, too.
"There's a lot of different things that go into it and I'm just finding most of this out."
So is everyone else. Former NHL standout Jeremy Roenick said he suffered at least 13 concussions and has wondered "whether my career is going to catch up to me. But now I feel great," he told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune.
That might not always be the case. "When I get there that will be my life I live with then," Roenick said. "The life I've lived so far for 41 years has been a dream. I wouldn't change it, to tell you the truth."
Rugged Dallas forward Adam Burish, who won the Cup with the Blackhawks last season, said he can't let the Probert study be a concern. "If it did, you wouldn't be doing your job effectively. You wouldn't be helping your teammates," he told the Tribune.
For Burish, the reward of winning the Cup outweighs the risks of repeatedly dropping the gloves.
"If it cost me waking up in the morning with a few hurt muscles or sore back, you just hope that when you're done, it doesn't affect your life like it may have Bob Probert," he said. "I'm pretty darn lucky to be able to do what I do and I wouldn't trade it for anything right now."
Let's hope he and other players won't pay for it later.