TORONTO — The volcano may have finally erupted for the Vancouver Canucks.
Yes, the much-needed goals came for a team that had been held off the score sheet in four of their last five games and was mired in a seven-game losing streak. The count is up to eight after they fell to the Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night in Toronto.
The Canucks sauntered through the first period, looking lost defensively, allowing Toronto’s speedy young core to skate circles around them and put up 17 shots against. Those watching couldn’t help but wonder if another ugly game could lead to drastic changes for a team that now sits second to last in the Pacific Division.
The goals, welcome change that they might have been, weren’t what mattered most for the Canucks however. Drastic changes could now come, and they’ll be from within the dressing room.
At 6:42 of the third period with the Maple Leafs up 5-2, Canucks forward Daniel Sedin was hit high as he notched his third goal of the season, getting leveled on his release by Nazem Kadri with a questionable hit that will surely catch the attention of the Department of Player Safety. .
But coming up with goals became an afterthought for the Canucks. Instead, the remainder of the game showcased a Canucks team that was the polar opposite from the listless effort seen since the team began its losing streak.
A wrath of physical play was certainly enough to entertain fans and may be enough to galvanize the league’s most struggling team.
Vancouver forward Jannik Hansen took exception to the hit and dropped his gloves with Kadri, earning the two a combined 37 minutes in penalties—including matching misconducts for both—as Sedin struggled to get to his feet. With Sedin then sent off the ice as part of the league’s concussion protocol, the nastiness continued.
Derek Dorsett fought Toronto’s Leo Komarov. Canucks forward Alex Burrows speared and eventually fought Morgan Rielly.
And just it appeared UFC Fight Night Toronto was coming to a close, Maple Leafs heavyweight Matt Martin took on rookie Troy Stetcher deep in the Vancouver defensive zone. This drew considerable ire from the Canucks, most notably goaltender Ryan Miller, who quickly left his crease to jump to his teammate’s aid. A melee ensued and both Miller and Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, who skated the length of the ice to join the fracas, received game misconducts.
Old-time hockey? Maybe. But to the Canucks, it provided a vital spark.
“I was happy to see what happened, honestly,” Sedin said. “We stuck together and stood up for each other. We’re going to turn this around and this is how we’re going to have to do it: we’re going to have to stick up for each other and play hard for each other. It’s a really good sign.”
When asked whether he believed his head was the principal contact point of the hit, he said “I think that’s easy to see on TV.”
Canucks Head Coach Willie Desjardins was a little more blunt.
“We thought it was a high hit,” he said.
If and how the NHL decides to discipline Kadri, who has been suspended twice in his career for dangerous hits, remains to be seen. Right now, however, this Canucks team could very well harness the emotion produced from tonight and attempt to build momentum moving forward.
“I like the fact that our guys stayed together,” said Desjardins. “I think it’s important that the group cares about each other. I think sometimes things happen not the way you want to happen but I like the fact that the group cares and Danny’s important to them.”
The hit on Sedin was just one of the talking points post-game. Losing streaks can do many things to teams, including tearing apart a dressing room. Instead, Saturday may have forced the Canucks to do the opposite. To hear them say it, they may be closer now as a team than ever before this season.
And Ryan Miller may have been the catalyst.
“I didn’t want [Stetcher] to be baptized in this league by Martin,” said Miller. “We haven’t seen much of ‘Stetch’ as far as what he can do besides…he’s a great puck mover and great skater. So he might have it in him but I wasn’t going to let him find out with Martin. In my mind it’s a mismatch just based on size and opportunity. I think he was a little bit predatory on that one so I had to jump in. There’s no question I’m going to take care of that and help out Stetch.”
Racking 96 penalty minutes in a losing effort isn’t going to make a big difference in the short term on the standings. The fact remains that the Canucks were outshot 42-29 and the Maple Leafs went 2 for 4 in four-on-four situations.
It’s easy to point to the Vancouver forwards and their lack of scoring as a reason for the current skid. But just as well, if the Canucks defense allows opposing forwards to run amok and find open space easily enough as the Leafs’ top three lines did on Saturday, they could continue to chase the game.
If it was a lift they needed, through an often sloppy but always entertaining affair, they may have found it.
“We’re not turning on each other,” said Stetcher. “We’re going to have each other’s back. The only people that can change this slump is us. We’re going to find a way to do that.”
The Canucks will have a chance to show they’re turning a corner on Monday when they visit the New York Islanders, another team mired in a slump. For now, though, the only answers they’ll will find will have to come from within.
“All you have is each other,” Desjardins said. “That’s what you’ve got in the room.”