December 17 2016 05:01PM
Photo Credit: Bob Frid - USA TODAY Sports
Everything about Jannik Hansen’s game is predicated on speed. But even for a player with above average wheels at the National Hockey League level, it’s always a struggle to catch up to the speed of the game when returning from a lengthy injury.
Hansen missed 16 games with a cracked rib suffered in Toronto on November 5th and returned to the line-up December 11th in Washington. In the three games back in the line-up, he’s shown flashes of his former self, finding space and trying to use his speed to separate from defenders. It's evident though to anyone who's watched Hansen over his years in Vancouver he isn’t anywhere close to the top of his game.
“Depending on what you’ve hurt, obviously, if you’ve hurt your lower body, it’s hard to get the conditioning, and if you’ve hurt your upper body it’s tough to keep the strength in line,” he tells Canucks Army after practice Saturday at Rogers Arena. “But with everything, it’s the game speed. It’s what we talk about when the season begins that you’ve got to get up to speed, but everybody is rising at the same level. When you miss a point, whether it’s a week, ten days or a month, everybody is playing at full speed, and you’re trying to catch up on the game speed. I think that’s the hardest part of coming back.”
Making the return more difficult is the fact that Hansen rejoined the hockey club on the road and played last Sunday against the Capitals. Monday was a team day off. Tuesday was a game day in Carolina to wrap up the road trip and Wednesday was another full day off for the hockey club. His first team practice in six weeks was on Thursday at Rogers Arena before facing Tampa Bay on Friday night.
So, in the week that he’s returned to action, Hansen's played three games, had two days off, one morning skate, travelled across the continent and practiced just twice to work off the rust and find his game again.
“I don’t want to blame the schedule, but I’ve had two practice since I’ve returned,” he explains. “Obviously, you’d like to see as many practices as possible. That’s why you have a training camp to have a bunch of practices before you start playing. It’s the same for everybody that gets hurt, and every team deals with it, and you have to find a way to get back in the lineup and contribute.”
Hansen logged 15:49 of ice time in the Canucks 4-2 win over Tampa Bay – all but 22 seconds of that at even strength. As he builds his endurance, he’ll surely see his ice-time increase resuming his role as one of the team’s top penalty killers. And as he regains the form that makes him a sparkplug for the hockey club, Hansen should be able to contribute more than the two goals and six points he’s registered so far this season. He should also be able to help linemates Daniel and Henrik Sedin pick up their production which has faded over the past five games – Daniel has just one goal in that span and Henrik just two assists.
Hansen understands how to play with the Sedins, but he says he’s just not able yet to do the things he wants -- and needs -- to do to be effective.
“The puck isn’t where you think it’s going to be or where you want it to be,” he said. “It’s the endurance in shifts so that you might have a great first 20 or 25 seconds but all of a sudden when it’s 35 seconds where normally you’d be good to go; that’s when the fatigue is really setting in. So you can skate as much as you want here being injured, but you’re not going to get that game shape other than playing or practicing.”
Chris Tanev knows that all too well. Tanev returned to the lineup Friday after missing 20 games with an ankle injury. He logged an impressive 23:30 including 8:08 of the third period as the Canucks took and then protected the lead. Included in Tanev’s ice time was a team-high 2:10 while short-handed. Frustrated by the fact, he’s dressed for just eight games all season, Tanev was excited to be back in the mix, but admits he struggled at times to feel like his old self.
Much of that was in the timing of facing NHL opponents – and in Tanev’s case matching up most of the night with the Lightning’s top players.
“When you’re hurt and coming back from injury, you’re out there skating, and you’re working hard, but you’re not really working smart,” he says. “You’re just working to get your pace back and get back in shape. But in games, there are always speed changes, guys are slowing up and getting faster, and so it’s more the mental side of trying to be sharp on reads and battling. When you’re hurt, you can’t really do that. In games, the puck moves so fast. That’s the hardest thing is making sure you’re in the proper position and not getting exposed by skilled players.”
The Canucks are excited to have both veterans healthy and back in uniform. There’s no question they make the hockey club better. Both insist there is still plenty of room for improvement that can only come with time.
Hansen hopes his game arrives sooner rather than later, but isn’t sure how long it’ll take before he feels like his old self.
“I’ll let you know when I’m there,” he laughs. “It’s only a month, but I still remember how it is and how it should feel and that’s not how it feels. You’re always waiting for that. How long it takes, I can’t tell you. You just hope all of a sudden it’s there.”
Maybe that’ll happen as soon as Sunday against Columbus.