VANCOUVER — It might be psychological. The Vancouver Canucks played well into June, losing to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now, they're mired in what is commonly referred to as a "Stanley Cup hangover," starting this regular season at 4-5-1, tied for last place in the Northwest Division. Some of it, players admitted, is a carryover effect.
"I think a lot of times maybe you don't realize how tough of a journey it was," captain Henrik Sedin said.
"Maybe you come back and you think it's going to be a little bit easier than it was. And then all of a sudden you start losing games. You start losing the tight games and [your] focus for 60 minutes. That's very hard right now."
Vancouver's rough start isn't as bad as the Cup-champion Bruins' one, as they're last in the Eastern Conference at 3-6. But to the Canucks, this start is unacceptable — based on the standard set by their deep playoff run.
"Our focus is about what we're doing this year, and as far as we're concerned, we're not playing to the standard that we set out for ourselves," center Manny Malhotra said. "It's a matter of us cleaning it up, us taking care of our own housekeeping stuff. We realize the talents in here, and we're going to be all right. It's jut a matter of sorting it out sooner than later."
Sedin was more brutal than that when describing the team's start from the perspective inside the locker room.
"In here, it's awful," he said. "We expect more out of ourselves, and we're not happy where we are."
But across the board, from coach Alain Vigneault to Sedin and other Canucks players, they feel a turnaround is on the horizon.
"We're just looking at getting better every day. We're not that far off," center Ryan Kesler said. "We're right there. Little bounces here or there and we'll be fine."
Saturday night could be the perfect chance for the Canucks to cure their hangover with a greasy meal, a cold shower — or, rather, a "Hockey Night In Canada" showdown with the Washington Capitals. The Caps, as everybody knows, got off to the best start in the NHL with seven straight victories and are now 7-1-0.
So while using words like "test" and "challenge" like they're going out of style, Roberto Luongo said facing the Caps is going to "get the boys playing"
"It's what we need right now to get amped up for a big game like that.," Luongo said "They're coming in, obviously, the best team in the league so far this year. It's an exciting game for our troops."
The confidence in the home locker room at Rogers Arena is based on a belief that the Canucks are doing the right things and "generating a lot of really good scoring chances," according to defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
"I feel, and I think our players feel the same way that we're close. We just haven't been able to put it all together," Vigneault said. "Obviously in my mind anyway it's not a question of work or the right type of work, but for whatever reason we don't seem to be able to stay engaged for the whole duration of a 60 minutes that we need to play."
The Canucks hope that happens before the hangover starts to create real pain in the standings.
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