VANCOUVER – Practice. Patrik Allvin was talking about practice.
Not games (although those, too), but practice. That’s where the Vancouver Canucks’ new general manager, on the job for a month, wants to see improvement from his team and its core of mostly-young players.
As they prepare to open a four-game road trip Sunday against the New York Rangers, the Canucks have pumped some life into their playoff aspirations by winning four of their last five games, including a 7-1 stomping of an elite Calgary Flames team on Thursday at Rogers Arena.
It was easily the Canucks’ most impressive performance since Allvin brought his three Stanley Cup rings to Vancouver and became the National Hockey League’s first Swedish general manager.
But this is how the team began under the 47-year-old who spent 17 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, and now the encouraging run of four wins in five games.
What has Allvin seen? Inconsistency.
“Being so inconsistent, winning one game, losing one game, that’s something where you want to find a better rhythm,” he said. “You want to be more consistent in what you’re doing, and I think everything starts in practice (and) how you prepare yourself.
“The players need to take ownership over that. They need to prepare themselves every day to get ready to play. It’s a privilege to play in the NHL and I think you shouldn’t take anything for granted. I think a lot of players on this team have something to prove every single day.”
In games and in practice, which is what Allvin was watching Wednesday when he spoke to Sportsnet.
“Maybe it’s not even fair… coming from Pittsburgh, where Sidney Crosby is driving the practice every day,” Allvin continued. “Like, he is the driver every day. I think that a lot of these younger guys, they have to understand that playing in the National Hockey League is tough. You’ve got to prepare yourself every single day to be the best. I think that’s something that I want to emphasize more, how you prepare yourself.”
Then the Canucks went out against the Flames, who had won 10 straight games, survived a scoreless first period, pumped in five second-period goals and put up a touchdown on the Cup contenders.
The Canucks were ready.
And in the post-game press conference, team leader J.T. Miller volunteered this telling declaration: “We just set a standard for ourselves for the rest of the year. And that’s not by winning by six goals, but it’s playing the right way, being sharp on the special teams, being ready to start the game. We have a standard. We need to play to that from here on out. We shouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than that, really.”
It is this standard of professionalism and readiness, this peer-driven expectation within the Canucks, that president Jim Rutherford and head coach Bruce Boudreau have been seeking since they preceded Allvin to Vancouver by nearly two months.
Yes, there are some fantastic core pieces to build on in Vancouver in Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko and Bo Horvat. But that’s not enough in terms of the roster and the culture that Rutherford and Allvin have mentioned numerous times.
Boudreau, who is 67 years old and has seen some things, has said at least twice that his players don’t look as sharp at practice after a day off. The coach, meanwhile, has had to navigate the team through four different schedule breaks.
This is all part of culture, what former general manager Jim Benning underestimated two years ago in free agency when the team lost Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher from its leadership group.
The Canucks have played all of this season without veteran centre Brandon Sutter, a long-haul COVID victim and another player who led by example by showing up ready to work every day.
If the Canucks this week have truly reset their standard, as Miller said, and can maintain it over their final 29 games, they can be a playoff team five months after starting the season 6-14-2.
“That’s where you have to be when you have to win 21 out of 30 to make it,” Boudreau said Thursday of the new standard. “We have to play at that level.”