The Vancouver Canucks are hoping that a Sunday practice provides the reset they need as they close the book on the Canadiens and get ready for a three-in-four against the Ottawa Senators, starting Monday night at 7 p.m. PT.
With Vancouver's heavy early-season schedule, Sunday's practice was the club's first in more than a week — a chance to dig into some systems and hopefully find the key to putting an end to the many blue-line turnovers that led to so many great scoring chances for Montreal.
Saturday's 5-2 loss was a step forward from the 7-3 drubbing that the Canucks endured on Thursday night. The Canadiens took a 2-0 lead through two pretty even periods, then the Canucks tied the game early in the third. Elias Pettersson got things started — at last — with his first of the year. Then Nils Hoglander followed up just 2:18 later.
But the tie lasted not even three minutes before Brendan Gallagher beat Braden Holtby for his second of the year. And a failed Coach's Challenge for offside may have been the final nail in the Canucks' coffin.
After the game, Travis Green said he was happy with what he saw out of his group for 50 minutes or so, playing against a tough team. On Saturday, he drilled down a bit deeper.
"I think our game flows," he said. "When we play like that, it flows from our breakouts to our decisions in the neutral zone to our forecheck.
"I'd like to think we play an in-your-face style by how we track the puck, how we force teams, our back pressure. And I've said this many times in this room, that it's all connected.
"If your breakouts aren't strong, then your forechecking game isn't strong. If your decisions in the neutral zone aren't right, then you're spending a lot more time in D zone coverage because you're not spending time in the other team's zone, and you're defending tired.
"I just think our overall game hasn't been sharp enough. And I think if you went through and everyone was honest with their game — Are they playing their best right now? No, we probably haven't."
Through this three-and-a-bit years with the Canucks, Green has generally been praised for getting the most out of his players — and those cheers were never louder than during the summer playoff bubble.
A 2-5 start can't be what Green was hoping for, as the clock ticks toward the expiration of his contract at the end of the season. He desperately needs to see better play throughout his lineup, immediately, if the Canucks are going to turn things around and he's going to get the significant raise he's believed to be seeking off his current $1 million-a-year salary.
We may have learned a bit about the bee in Petey's bonnet, when reports surfaced on Sunday that Elias Pettersson is leaving his current agent, Michael Deutsch, for Pat Brisson at CAA Hockey.
With a huge negotiation of his own brewing at the end of the year, Pettersson has elected to align himself with Quinn Hughes, who is also represented by Brisson. Quinn's father Jim, of course, heads up the player development branch of CAA, and the Hughes and Brisson families are very close friends. When I spoke to Pat Brisson's son Brendan during the World Junior Championship, he told me that the families share a lake house in Michigan, and all spend time there together during the summers.
And yes, Quinn's contract is also up at the end of this season. Suddenly, the Canucks are looking at a dual negotiation that will bring back memories of Daniel and Henrik Sedin — who were represented by J.P. Barry, also now of CAA.
Brisson and Barry rank first and third, respecitvely, on PuckPedia's 'Agent Leaderboard,'
which tracks agents and their clients. According to the site, Brisson currently manages 60 NHL contracts with a total value of more than $1 billion. John Tavares' $11 million AAV tops the list.
On the Canucks, Brisson also represents Justin Bailey and newcomer Marc Michaelis. He's also the agent for Pierre-Luc Dubois, and just helped his client successfully navigate his desired departure out of Columbus.
Canucks on J.P. Barry's client list: Loui Eriksson, Tyler Myers and Jett Woo.
There's no doubt that everyone's focus needs to be on picking up some points this week against Ottawa. But the contract statuses of Pettersson, Hughes and Green will all loom large until new deals are done.
All three could sign extensions at any time, but don't hold your breath. Since the league got back in gear over Christmas, just four players have signed multi-year extensions, according to CapFriendly
• Jan. 12 - Marcus Foligno - MIN - 3 years - cap hit $3.1 million
• Jan. 6 - Anthony Stolarz - ANA - 2 years - cap hit $950,000
• Jan. 6 - Oliver Bjorkstrand - CBJ - 5 years - cap hit $5.4 million
• Jan. 3 - John Marino - PIT - 6 years - cap hit $4.4 million
The only coach to receive an extension has been Jeremy Colliton, who re-upped for two more years with the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks.
Hughes and Pettersson aren't the only young players who should be in line for big raises — and, probably, difficult negotiations. Other big-name RFAs/10.2(c) players whose entry-level deals are expiring at the end of this season include Cale Makar, Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Miro Heiskanen and Kirill Kaprizov.
Now, speaking of Brady Tkachuk — he's in town, getting set for three games against the Canucks in the next four days. The 21-year-old is also sporting a shiny new 'A' on his sweater — part of a new Ottawa Senators leadership group that also includes defensemen Thomas Chabot and Erik Gudbransson. Ottawa hasn't had a captain since Erik Karlsson was traded away in September of 2018.
Like we saw last week with Montreal, it might take three games to get a sense of all the offseason changes to the Ottawa lineup. Other than Chabot, the defense has been almost completely remade, and includes Nikita Zaitsev and Braydon Coburn in key roles along with Gudbranson.
Up front, unfortunately, dynamic rookie Tim Stützle lasted just two games — and scored one great goal — before landing on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury. But after playing just three NHL games last season, rookie Josh Norris is off to a good start with four points in five games this year. Former Canadian World Juniors star Drake Batherson, 22, has also secured a regular spot in the lineup.
There are plenty of new veterans in the forward ranks as well, including centre Derek Stepan, winger Evgenii Dadonov, Stanley Cup winner Cedric Paquette and former Nashville tough guy Austin Watson. Alex Galchenyuk has been on the bubble, dressing for just two of five games so far.
After starting with a solid 1-1-1 record, the Sens went on to drop their next two games against Winnipeg by scores of 4-1 and 6-3, suggesting that maybe they're not ready to surprise everyone and compete for a playoff spot in the North Division just yet. But the Senators are never an easy out for Vancouver — remember Bobby Ryan's hat trick in Ottawa last season?
Things did go better last year on home ice. On December 3, 2019, the Canucks outshot the Sens 42-29 on their way to a 5-2 win. Thatcher Demko posted the victory and Elias Pettersson scored the winning goal.
A win like that on Monday would go a long way toward helping the Canucks get back on track and make a move up the North Division standings.
To wrap up today: AHL training camps are now underway. Here's how the Utica Comets' lineup stacks up:
Don't forget, the Canucks have also placed Tyler Graovac, Ashton Sautner and Arturs Silovs with the Manitoba Moose, for easier call-ups if they're needed as the season goes along.
The Comets' season opener is less than two weeks away — Friday, Feb. 5 in Rochester.