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Paterson’s Point: Ticked Tocc raises bar and a few eyebrows with pointed comments after loss to Sharks

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Photo credit:Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
3 months ago
Rick Tocchet has been to the top of the mountain. He knows of what he speaks. A three-time Stanley Cup champion – once as a player and twice as a coach – Tocchet understands the hard work, sacrifice and second-effort required to succeed in the National Hockey League.
So it should come as no surprise that the Vancouver Canucks head coach was critical of his team following Saturday’s 4-3 loss in San Jose. In the moment, he was clearly disappointed with the result  and a loss to the worst team in the NHL. But beyond the two points squandered in the standings, Tocchet seemed displeased with the broader idea that his team failed to demonstrate the required poise and polish needed to overcome a heavy dose of scheduling adversity.
Saturday in San Jose was the end of a savage stretch that saw the Canucks play 10 games in 17 nights in eight different cities. Those are simply the facts. The Canucks managed to win five of those games and that’s a credit to them.
But a sixth win was there for the taking against a Sharks team that had won just three times all season and had also played the day before. It was a 2-2 game going to the third period and with a Brock Boeser power play goal in the late stages of the second, it appeared the Canucks had the momentum boost needed to skate out of SAP Center with a victory.
Instead, in a 1:48 span, the Canucks had dug themselves a two-goal hole that they ultimately could not climb out of.
And the coach was none too pleased. 
“San Jose has been playing good and they worked hard tonight and we didn’t,” Tocchet said following the game. “We tried at the end  to come back. You’ve got to respect your opponent. It’s a learning lesson. Playoff teams don’t do this sort of stuff.”
That’s a harsh critique from a coach that has seen his team roar out to a 12-3-1 start this season. But it’s also a reality check from the same coach that has seen his team lose four of its last six games. 
The schedule was tough, sure. But you know what else is absolutely brutal? A deep run in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
When the Canucks went to the 2011 Final, that team played 25 games in 64 nights from April 13th through June 15th. The grind included two trips each to Boston, Nashville and Chicago and one to San Jose. That path included double overtime twice and four other games that were settled in the first overtime period.
Playoff hockey is unrelenting and involves dealing with progressively higher stakes the deeper you go and and doing so as the enemy in hostile environments in half the games. It means playing through pain and finding ways to win both the mental and physical battles. And then doing it again and again every other night for the better part of two months. 
Saturday in San Jose was far from a playoff game, but clearly Rick Tocchet saw red flags in his team’s performance that he felt needed to be pointed out. And I like the fact that this coach is setting the bar high for his club and grading it against what is required to succeed later in the season when games really matter.
The Canucks core has limited post-season experience and for players like Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, their only taste of the playoffs was during a global pandemic  in a neutral site bubble in the middle of summer devoid of travel or crazed fans. In other words, they really haven’t seen the true Stanley Cup playoffs at all. 
But Tocchet has. And he wants no part of his team letting itself off the hook for subpar performances in the face of a little adversity. And for that, he is to be commended.
Keep in mind, too, that while the schedule presented stiff challenges for the Canucks, the quality of competition really did not. During this 10-game stretch, the Canucks faced one top-10 opponent (Colorado) and three others sitting between 11th and 20th in the current standings (Toronto, the Islanders and twice versus Seattle). That meant five of these past 10 were against NHL bottom feeders (Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and a pair of games against San Jose).
So, sure, the past couple of weeks have thrown plenty at the Vancouver Canucks. And by winning half of those games, they have maintained their spot atop the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings. If a 5-5 record over a difficult 10-game run is considered a disappointment, then maybe the culture around this team is finally shifting after years of spinning its wheels near the bottom of the standings.
In the eyes of the head coach, the schedule presented some challenges for his hockey club. But the point he was trying to make in the wake of the loss to the Sharks was that, no matter how difficult it seemed, this group hasn’t really seen anything yet. The true tough stuff is still to come and the Canucks will need to find ways to be better when it does.
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