VANCOUVER — “We’re not talking about playoff hockey yet. We’re talking about winning a game,” Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green said Saturday, after he put his team through a practice between games against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks dropped a 2-0 affair to the Jets on Friday night, a game they certainly could have won.
And while the playoffs are still a long way off, the way the Canucks are playing at the moment, as well as the results they need in the coming months, mean the playoffs are still very much on the radar.
That said, are the playoffs ever not on the radar?
Friday night, the Canucks didn’t score, but they did turn in another strong defensive performance, a trend that means the playoffs don’t seem an impossible dream.
Three weeks ago, as they were shredded by the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canucks displayed the opposite of stout defence and there was no one even contemplating the playoffs because of it.
The math, of course, remains challenging. The Canucks need to go on a tear in their next five games — today (7 p.m.) against the Jets, then two games against the Edmonton Oilers and another two-game set against the Jets — if their slim playoff hopes are going to do anything but dim.
The Canucks will score again, even if they only have a single goal from a forward at even strength over the past four games. Everything depends on how they play without the puck.
That means continuing the current trend of aggressive forechecking and tight neutral zone pressure.
The Calgary Flames this week described the Canucks’ down-ice approach as being like a full-court press in basketball.
On Saturday, Green took the compliment.
“If that was the comment made about our group, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.
The Canucks made life very difficult when the Flames tried to break out the puck over their four-game set that concluded Wednesday. The Jets made similar comments after Friday’s game.
“That could have been a 0-0 game,” Green said of how both teams pressed hard on Friday. “It was really tight by both teams.”
The success the Canucks are having of late is all about the forwards and defencemen finally getting on the same page, Tyler Myers said.
“A lot of it is our position of our [high forward],” he said Saturday. “Our forwards have been really aware of getting above guys so [the defencemen] can stay aggressive on the puck.”
Green noted that the tactics they’re using on the forecheck are different from how they’re defending in the neutral zone, but that pressure was a common element.
In the offensive zone, the defencemen are very aggressive in pinching down, making themselves another option as an attacker.
It requires that the forward furthest from the puck rotate into the spot vacated by the defencemen.
Earlier in the year, that wasn’t working as well and the Canucks were bleeding odd-man rushes against. That has not been the case of late.
“That’s probably as simple as it gets,” Myers said.
“I really think we’re finding ourselves, especially in the last couple of weeks. And for us defencemen, however aggressive we are, it all depends on all five guys on the ice. If everyone’s doing their job, we can stay aggressive.”
Up front, some changes appear to be in the works.
Loui Eriksson didn’t take a shift in the third period on Wednesday and only played 5:33 in the first two periods. On Saturday, Zack MacEwen was skating on a line with Brandon Sutter and Adam Gaudette.
Antoine Roussel was bumped down to Eriksson’s spot on Jay Beagle’s line, with Jake Virtanen still on the other wing.
Green didn’t talk about the possibility of a lineup change — he rarely does — but he was asked about the fracas at the end of Friday’s game, where Jets defenceman Derek Forbort took exception to a hit by Nils Höglander and attacked the Canucks winger with a series of hard cross-checks and shoves.
Every player on the ice got involved, with Forbort and Virtanen penalized after the officials broke up what turned into an 11-man dog pile as the Canucks had the goalie pulled.
“It’s definitely not something I had to address with our guys. It was a bigger guy going after our smaller guy. Our guys jumped in there. That happens a lot in the game,” Green said.