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Paterson’s Point: Relaxed schedule allowing rested Canucks to rediscover their game

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Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
4 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks have found their fastball. It’s been there most of the season, but there have been a couple noticeable stretches where the team simply hasn’t been able to adhere the many staples and non-negotiables Rick Tocchet has preached since the day he took the coaching reins 14 months ago.
Watching the way the Canucks swarmed the Winnipeg Jets in the first period on Saturday it’s now so clear to see that when this team is rested, when it has its skating legs and can execute the way the coach wants it to, the Canucks are for real. And while it must be noted the Jets played Friday in Seattle, it’s also worth mentioning that Winnipeg had been 6-0 in the second games of back to backs this season until they ran into a Canucks team that is having itself a week with statement wins in Los Angeles and Vegas and as dominant an opening period as the team has authored in a season full of impressive performances.
Two weeks ago, the Canucks limped into Seattle at the tail end of a meat-grinder stretch of their schedule and looked absolutely gassed. And understandably so. It was their 10th game in 17 nights in nine different cities touching all four of the NHL’s time zones. It was also their third game in four nights and they just didn’t have anything left in the tank as they dropped their fourth straight contest.
The Canucks – like all National Hockey League teams – are made up of elite level athletes finely tuned for the short bursts required to play individual games and also supremely conditioned to handle the rigours of an 82-game marathon. But even the best of the best have their limits. And that was the case in late November when an exhausted Canucks team faced an earlier 10-game in 17 night gauntlet and had nothing left in a loss to the lowly San Jose Sharks. It was the same thing again as the team ran on fumes in a listless loss to the Kraken two weeks ago.
But since that forgettable night at Climate Pledge Arena, the Canucks have rattled off five wins and an overtime loss in their last seven games. That includes the club’s current four game win streak. And it’s pretty clear now that the positive results go hand in hand with a relaxed schedule that has seen the Canucks play four of those seven on home ice, all seven have been played in the Pacific time zone and, most importantly, the Canucks have had at least one day off between all seven games. 
Not only do the Canucks look fresher than they did two weeks ago, they look mentally crisper in their on-ice execution. Against the Jets, they were able to establish their forecheck and when loose pucks were up for grabs, they had the energy and desire to win just about every 50/50 battle. For a fourth straight game, the Canucks avoided lazy penalties that often occur when the body simply can’t do what the mind wants it to. As they have in wins over the Ducks, Kings, Knights and now the Jets, they took just one penalty all night and that allows Rick Tocchet to roll four lines and it keeps everyone in uniform active and involved. Being physical as they were against Winnipeg and getting the jump on the opponents with early goals as the Canucks have in three of the four wins on this current streak helps, too. 
Saturday was an impressive opener to the Canucks nine game homestand – a stretch of the schedule that includes no back to back games. At least not for the home team. But like Winnipeg, two of the next three visitors and three of the remaining eight in March will arrive in Vancouver having played the night before. 
That should have the Canucks licking their chops and lying in wait.
Between rest days and plenty of practice over the next three weeks, there is every reason to believe the Canucks will continue to sharpen their game and be able to mirror the way they pounced on a Jets team that simply wasn’t ready to handle what the Canucks threw their way.
They tossed a nasty fastball at Winnipeg on Saturday. Just as they did against Vegas on Thursday and over the final 40 minutes in Los Angeles earlier in the week. It’s amazing what rest and recovery can do for a hockey club. And with the schedule now working in their favour, the Canucks should feel confident about their chances of keeping their game at the level it’s been over the past week. That’s good news for the Canucks, but probably not for their opponents.

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