VANCOUVER — With wins in two straight, the struggling Vancouver Canucks have returned home with some much-needed momentum.
But whether they'll be able to keep the streak alive against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday remains to be seen.
"We need to feel good about our game, feel confident and ready to play. So I think we’ve got a long way to go, but we needed those two wins," defenceman Quinn Hughes said Friday as the team returned from a five-game road swing. "We played well, I thought. We played well the whole trip, maybe besides the first game. But we need to just keep going.”
The first quarter of the season has been difficult for the Canucks, who sit at the bottom of the Pacific Division with an 8-14-2 record. Calls for change have gone unreturned so far, with both head coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning keeping their positions.
A 2-1 victory over the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday and Wednesday's 6-2 throttling of the Ottawa Senators have the group feeling good, but the upcoming schedule will see them face stiffer competition, starting with the Penguins (10-8-5).
The two sides have already met once this season with the Canucks dropping an ugly 4-1 decision in Pittsburgh on Nov. 24 to begin the latest road trip.
It's not a result Green is thinking much about while preparing for Saturday's game.
“I’m not sitting here dwelling on negativity," he said. "I didn’t think we played great in Pittsburgh, especially the first period. I thought we were better the last two.”
The tilt against the Pens will open a six-game homestand where Vancouver will host the L.A. Kings (9-9-4), the Boston Bruins (12-8-0), the Winnipeg Jets (10-8-4), the Columbus Blue Jackets (12-9-0) and the Carolina Hurricanes (15-6-1).
The Canucks need to be on their game every night and can build off their recent play, said Conor Garland.
“ (Saturday) is a big game for us, obviously," said the Canucks winger. "We’ve got a little momentum. But we’ve dug ourselves a hole here early, so we’re going to have to string some wins together here to get back in the hunt.”
Green doesn't want his team thinking too much about how much ground they need to make up in the standings before playoffs could once again become a possibility.
"Let’s not worry about needing to get on a roll, let’s worry about playing well the next game," he said. "I don’t think you start talking about three, four, five in a row. Let’s worry about putting our best foot forward next game.”
While six different players found the back of the net against the Sens, several of Vancouver's stars continue to struggle offensively. Right-winger Brock Boeser hasn't scored since his team routed the Dallas Stars 6-3 back on Nov. 7 and centre Elias Pettersson has one goal and two assists in his last 11 games.
"Guys will go through droughts and it’s easy to say ‘stay confident, be confident,''" Green said, noting there's a difference between team confidence and individual confidence.
"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 you’ll feel good about yourself.”
Some of the issues that plagued the group early in the year have shown progress in recent outings, Hughes said, singling out the penalty kill and power play.
"Special teams have been a huge factor. We were losing a lot of games early because of that," he said.
Vancouver's penalty kill remains worst in the league at 64.5 per cent, but it weathered four-of-five penalties against the Senators. The power play managed two goals on six chances in Ottawa and sits at 18.1 per cent on the season.
Hughes, too, has been a bright spot in a dismal season.
The 22-year-old American is second on the team in scoring with 20 points (two goals, 18 assists) in 23 games, including four helpers on Wednesday.
“I feel hungry right now, excited to play and just want to keep going," Hughes said of his recent play.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press