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Of NHL’s Urgent 5 C’s, Canucks Confidence Suffers Most

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Vancouver Canucks, Thatcher Demko
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores against the Vancouver Canucks.

I harp on it on occasion, the importance of the five C’s in hockey: Chemistry, commitment, character, coaching and confidence. With success and belief in the first four you end up with the fifth one. The Vancouver Canucks for the most part don’t have it, not as a team, nor as individuals.

Goalie Thatcher Demko likely has some. He’s worked his butt off and kept his team in games, as Tyler Motte summarized for us after the 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that he’s been our most consistent, one of our best players all season long,” Motte said. “He’s kept us in a lot of games, given us opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s sad the number of times we’ve hung him out to dry.”

Demko’s been on his game and might now have the motivation of Team USA and the Beijing Olympics on his mind.

Winger Conor Garland typically presents a confident look as he scurries around consistently creating chances. But his patience with the officiating and the situation with his team ran out near the end of the second period Saturday, as he snapped a bit and picked up a 10-minute misconduct after the Canucks had given up two 5-on-3 goals.

Everyone has their breaking point.

Anyone else on the team come to mind? Tucker Poolman continuously seems confident that he’s Bobby Orr. Again, please make him stop.

Rookie forward Vasily Podkolzin seems to be gaining some, almost operating in a vacuum. He’s figuring things out, win or lose.

Maybe Jaroslav Halak, the under-utilized back-up with very good analytics and a steady game still has it. If only he could share some of that confidence with his dysfunctional teammates so that someday they might score enough goals for him to get a win. Reiterating past notes, Halak’s new club has scored him the following number of goals in his starts; 1, 1, 2, 1, 2.

I would think for a guy desperate for a win, this would start to wear on his brain. Not necessarily good for confidence, the pressure of knowing you have to be perfect or almost perfect every time out.

Canucks confidence, and the other collective version known as momentum, was short-lived against the Penguins. After coming home with a two-game road winning streak following victories against Eastern Conference doormats, the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, the Vancouver Canucks started the first six minutes of the Pittsburgh game in pretty decent shape. And then it started to break down.

Vancouver was out-chanced in the first period 7-1 and outshot 12-7. After two periods the shot total favoured the visitors 34-12. Choppy break-outs, passes behind people or in skates, and strange pinches, once again became the Canucks norm.

That positive two-game blip on the Vancouver schedule turned out to be a brief respite. The Canucks quickly went back to being the poster boys of no confidence, residing in the basement of the eight-team Pacific Division, two points behind the expansion Seattle Kraken.

“It’s easy to say ‘stay confident, be confident’,” Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Travis Green said after practice Friday. “I think at the end of the day when you’re really working, and skating and competing on a puck, sometimes confidence will just come from that. Sometimes you’ll get an ugly goal and suddenly you’ll feel good about yourselves. I think there are certain indicators with every player, and they’re not all the same … confidence can come from different things but it doesn’t just happen because you want it to happen either and I understand that.”

Green talked about team confidence as well, but not in the context of having confidence in one’s teammates. That seems to be a key element to this, which brings us back around to the other C’s. Two more of them popped up a week ago Wednesday after the loss in Pittsburgh. C’s for Camaraderie in Crisis. After that loss JT Miller and Bo Horvat respectively questioned commitment to the cause and possibly to the coach.

Then there’s the final C: Cancer. Not the life-threatening kind, the variety that threatens a team. But let’s not go there.

I think back to an interview I did with Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill a few years ago, a man who won multiple Stanley Cups in Detroit as an assistant GM.  His message: don’t ever doubt the intangible C’s in hockey.

“It’s the one thing maybe fans out there don’t understand or can’t see,” Nill said. “There might be a move that’s made and everyone is saying, ‘well why would they do that?’ A lot of times it may be because of that situation. In the end your dressing room is very important.

“You’re gonna go through good times, you’re gonna go through bad times, and it’s in those bad times you want to make sure you have the right people in place,” Nill pointed out. “Some people can handle it, some can’t, and to be successful, you look at all of these Stanley Cup championship teams, their dressing rooms were solid, had the right people in place.”

The Vancouver Canucks gaining confidence, from chemistry or otherwise, is starting to look like a long haul, no Covid pun intended.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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