Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin – USA TODAY Sports
Sven Baertschi’s biggest challenge these days isn’t putting the puck in the net, although that’s certainly near the top of his list.
No, his greatest struggle right now is to convince himself he’s playing well when he has very little to show for his efforts. Stuck on just one goal and six points 19 games into the season, Baertschi does not shy away from the fact he hasn’t had the productive start he and the Vancouver Canucks were a.
Rewarded with a two-year, $3.7 million contract in the summer after netting 15 goals last season – 10 of them after Christmas – Baertschi hoped to pick up in October where he left off last spring. Unfortunately, he appears stuck in the same rut he was 12 months ago when he couldn’t buy a goal.
Looks can so often be deceiving, though. This time last year, the 24-year-old struggled to stay in the line-up and certainly hadn’t earned the trust of head coach Willie Desjardins. This time around, he’s a regular and one who sees time on the Canucks second unit power play. While he hasn’t found his game offensively, he’s been part of an effective line lately with Bo Horvat and Alex Burrows. They’re a trio that’s seen their share of difficult defensive assignments and managed to hold their own at both ends of the ice.
Baertschi realizes he has to do his part driving play and minimizing the amount of time he spends in the defensive end of the ice. While his overall Corsi For leaves something to be desired at 47.4%, much of that was due to a dreadful start to the season that saw his Corsi For at 45.2% in the first ten games. Over the past nine games he’s been a shade under 50% and in the past five games he’s been running at 55.1%. Although the goals and assists aren’t there right now, by controlling a solid majority of shot attempts while he’s on the ice, Baertschi certainly isn’t hurting the Canucks. He knows he’s been better defensively this season than a year ago, but he’s well aware he’s counted on to make things happen offensively, too.
“I never think it’s easy in the toughest league in the world,” he says of perhaps thinking the offense would flow simply because it did late last season. “I’m not taking anything for granted here. Obviously, I want to perform for this team and my way is contributing offensively to winning games. I think I’ve been doing a lot of good things like playing well defensively and that will help me generate some offense.”
Through the first 19 games of the season, Baertschi’s averaged 14:36 of ice time and 1:23 with the man-advantage. He picked up an assist on Loui Eriksson’s power play goal to open the scoring against Chicago on Saturday and hopes that sparks the second unit’s production. It’s certainly an area where the Canucks would welcome Baertschi’s contributions.
As he assesses his season to this point, he believes strongly that the power play is an area that could jumpstart his offence.
“It’s always been huge for me,” he says. “You get time to handle the puck and you start to feel good about your game and obviously you start creating shots.”
Baertschi is eighth on the Canucks – and sixth among forwards – with 31 shots on goal this season. A career 11.7% shooter, he’s doing his best to remain positive that eventually pucks will find the back of the net. However, he’s well aware that he’s the only one that can get himself out of the funk he’s in which means keeping his head down and working through the challenges.
One of the biggest internal battles Baertschi is waging these days is to stay positive when he feels he’s playing better than his offensive numbers indicate. That comes with the territory, however, when you have just one goal and you’re considered a scoring threat on a team struggling to put the puck in the net and win games.
“It doesn’t matter when you win, but it gets more frustrating when you lose and you had plenty of chances to maybe put one in and help the team,” he says. “Then it’s tough. I have had some ups and downs throughout my career in the NHL and I’ve learned a lot and I know how to handle it now. I just have to stick with it. That’s part of hockey. As long as my linemates are going then I’m going as well and I think the goals will come.”
That day can’t come quickly enough for Sven Baertschi or the Vancouver Canucks.