VANCOUVER – It’s an image that was tough for many Vancouver Canucks fans to see: Captain Henrik Sedin parked at the far end of the bench for most of the third period in a tight game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Such was the scene Saturday at Rogers Arena when Henrik was relegated to the role of door-opener for his younger and more productive teammates. It’s a passing of the torch that Henrik, and brother Daniel Sedin, have advocated for years, but it comes at a cost - the reduced role the Sedins now play on a surprising hockey club that beat the Penguins 4-2 to improve to 5-1-1 in the team’s last seven outings.
The story of the night was 20-year-old Brock Boeser recording his first National Hockey League hat-trick. His line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baerstchi provided all the offence, combining for 11 points, while going head-to-head with Sidney Crosby for much of the game. The subplot that was impossible to miss, however, was the Sedins getting only two shifts apiece in the third period - just one at even-strength - and watching the final eight minutes of the game from the bench. In all, Henrik logged 8:52 on the night while Daniel clocked in at 8:38 – their lowest ice-times when healthy in the past 14 years.
“We want to be out there, there’s no question about it,” Henrik told TSN1040.ca in a lengthy conversation outside the Canucks locker room. “We sat for the most part and played two and a half minutes a period, so it wasn’t just the third. There will be games like against New Jersey where we play more minutes (Henrik played 16:54 in the 2-0 loss on November 1, while Daniel skated for 17:01) and there will be games like last night where there are tougher matchups where [head coach Travis Green] wants to get [Brandon] Sutter and Bo out there as much as he can. That’s not going to change the fact that we feel we can still play and produce, but it’s up to us to go out and do it.”
These are different times to be sure for both the Sedins and the hockey club. Henrik Sedin has just three points (all assists), no power-play points and only four shots on goal through his first 13 games of the season. Last year at the same juncture, he had four goals and six points – so his production has been cut in half in the early going.
With two of his points coming in the same game – the second game of the season against Ottawa – Henrik has just one point in the past 11 outings and none since an assist in Buffalo six games ago. Through the struggles, he’s doing his best to remain confident that a production surge is just around the corner because in limited minutes, he and his brother have crushed the competition in terms of puck possession (both over 60 per cent individual Corsi).
“I don’t look into numbers at all this year,” Henrik said of individual scoring statistics. “We knew going into the season there was going to be less ice time and less opportunity and our team is playing well, so that’s all I’m thinking about. If I had three points or six points, it doesn’t really matter for me. I’m happy we are where we are as a team and I know that I’m going score and that’s going to happen soon and, when it happens, it’s going to be good. If this would have been five years ago, I would have been a little bit more stressed and a little more anxious to produce more, but this year, I’m not putting a lot of thought into it.”
It is somewhat jarring, however, to see the zero in the power-play point column. This a player who has twice cranked out 35 power play points in a season (2006-07 and again in 2010-11). With additional time and space to operate with the man-advantage, it seems peculiar to say the least that a month into the season Henrik Sedin is still looking for his first power-play contribution of any kind.
“Maybe,” he says with a shrug when asked if he as surprised as many observers are with the slow start. “I could have had two or three or four. I think there have been chances there where we should have scored - and I should have scored a few on the power-play. It’s just a tough start. If you look at getting a bounce here or there, that’s when things happen.”
The good news through all of this, though, is that the Canucks are playing some of the best hockey seen in these parts in years. They are getting contributions from others playing more prominent roles on the hockey club and, collectively, they are on a role as a group playing airtight team defence, which has held seven straight opponents to two or fewer goals.
The hope is they can continue this path and, if the Sedins find their stride, it will only help a team already in a groove. But it’s important to remember that the days of the Sedins leading the charge are now a distant memory. And even Henrik recognizes that fact.
“We know we’re going to play 11 or 12 minutes most nights and when you do that, it’s not going to be there every night,” he said. “You need to really bear down when you get a chance. It’s not like past years when you knew you were going to get three, four, five scoring chances every game, now it might be one or two – and some nights it might be zero – and that’s just the way it is.”
It’s a delicate dance for Travis Green to nudge the two greatest players in franchise history to the margins. It’s not a responsibility he takes lightly. Green’s job, however, is to push the required buttons to win hockey games and at 7-4-2 and with 16 points through the team’s first 13 games, the rookie head coach seems to have a feel for how best to achieve success with the group he’s got.
And so less than 24 hours after sitting the Sedins for much of the third period, Green had both Daniel and Henrik in his office to ensure the three were on the same page.
“I think communication is a big thing and I talked to them today about the ice time,” Green said. “Last night, it was one of those games. I thought they had a great game against New Jersey. Last night, they didn’t get a lot of ice in the first period which can affect any player and sometimes that can take away your legs a little bit and it turned into a three-line game down the stretch. It’s not an issue at all. They’re Hall of Fame players on the ice and they’re Hall of Fame players off the ice. They want to play, but they’re also really smart hockey players and they know the flow of the game and they understand some nights they’re going to play a lot and some nights they won’t. I think the biggest thing is it comes back to communication and making things like this alright to talk about.”This discussion is likely to be an ongoing one for the remainder of the season.