What the heck has happened to the Vancouver Canucks?
After a wonderful run of 17-5-4 run between Nov. 3 and Dec. 30, the defending Northwest Division champions entered Thursday night on a 4-7-3 slide in 2008. They'd won only two games in their past 12, one in their past nine.
And their post-season chances are no longer certain, remarkable when you consider that this team has the NHL’s top goaltender, Robert Luongo.
The Canucks will need to go 18-10 in the remainder of the regular season to record 95 points, which is what wise NHL followers believe will be the number needed to qualify for the playoffs.
"It's going to be a tough task, but I believe we can do it,” Canucks captain Mats Naslund told The Vancouver Province. "I know we've been squeezing the sticks and I know personally when I relax -- and not worry about where we are in the standings -- I go out and enjoy the importance of every game. And that gets you going.
"There is a lot of room for improvement in the team and in me, but the will to win and the effort is there."
Perhaps, but the Canucks will need Daniel Sedin to regain his scoring touch. Heading into Thursday night, the Canucks’ leader in goals had scored only once in his eight games.
“We have to find a way to win the one-goal games,” Sedin said. “We’ve been in a lot of them (they’re 13-16 in them) but we’re not winning enough.”
It would help if he increased his scoring contributions.
It would also help if the Canucks could obtain veteran free agent Peter Forsberg. Word is they’re still in the Forsberg Sweepstakes, along with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Colorado Avalanche.
• Canada’s other elite team, the Ottawa Senators, also has been slumping badly, winning only three of its past 11 games. Entering Thursday night, the Sens' lead atop the Eastern Conference had shrunk to only one point.
“I think we’ve been too loose (defensively),” Ottawa coach John Paddock said, and it’s a comment that adds fuel to a York Report this week that the Sens are hoping to obtain veteran defenceman Rob Blake from the Los Angeles Kings.
The Sens’ goaltending has been suspect, as well. Neither Martin Gerber nor Ray Emery have been assets in recent weeks.
“I think we’re looking for one of them to step forward,” Paddock said.
• Sens owner Eugene Melnyk isn’t worried about his team’s woes.
“I believe the management, coaches and especially the players are the best in the NHL,” Melnyk said. “Patience to me is a virtue and I have a lot of it.”
• Also raving about his team is the new owner of the Edmonton Oilers, billionaire Daryl Katz.
And, if general manager Kevin Lowe and coach Craig MacTavish were worrying about their job security, they can stop.
“I’ve known them both for a long time and I have great regard for their commitment, for what they’ve brought to the team. I think they’re ambassadors of the Oilers. Great ambassadors. (Ex-Oilers superstar Mark) Messier once told me that very few people understand what it’s like to be put on an Oilers jersey, the heritage and the history of the Oilers. But I can tell you that Kevin and Craig know the history and what it’s all about.”
• I caught the rout at the Air Canada Centre the other night, the one where Toronto fans gave a standing ovation to the Florida Panthers during their 8-0 rout over the Maple Leafs.
“It was cathartic for the fans, I guess,” said the Panthers’ Richard Zednik, who set a career high for points (four) during the game. “It was obvious they’re frustrated.”
• The Panthers recorded no less than 10 records and milestones in Toronto, including Zednik’s career high, Bret McLean’s career-high five points, Cory Murphy’s first three-point game, Olli Jokinen’s 200th goal and 400th point as a Panther and Tomas Vokoun’s 25th shutout..