Boudreau fine-tuning Canucks during pause, loss of momentum not a worry

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VANCOUVER — Bruce Boudreau isn’t worried about losing momentum from the Vancouver Canucks six-game winning streak because four games were postponed through the NHL holiday break due to COVID-19.

The new coach is focused instead on using the extra practice time to help the Canucks play even better when they come back from the pause.

After two days without any additional players testing positive, the Canucks returned to practice Monday for the first time since scheduled home games against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and Arizona Coyotes on Sunday were postponed. Games at the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and home against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday also were postponed.

Boudreau, hired Dec. 5 to replace the fired Travis Green, is the first Canucks coach to win his first six games. He said Monday’s practice was about getting the legs going again, but the focus Tuesday will switch to fine-tuning some of his system changes.

“I don’t know how much better they’ll be, but they’ll be more knowledgeable about how I want them to play,” Boudreau said. “They’ve played pretty well so far. If they got better, that would be great, but I’ve still not been able to go over things and we’ve just sort of ad-libbed a few situations. I’d like to get it where we know what we’re doing all the time.”

Vancouver is still missing defensemen Tyler Myers, Tucker Poolman and Brad Hunt, and forwards Juho Lammikko and Tyler Motte, who remain in NHL COVID-19 protocol, but defenseman Luke Schenn was cleared to return to practice Monday after testing positive on Dec. 12.

“You’d love to have everybody back but individually we can implement it by talking, and when they do come back showing them what we’ve already done, and hopefully they get it in a hurry,” Boudreau said.

The Canucks were 8-15-2 and last in the Pacific Division when they made the coaching change, which included assistant coach Scott Walker replacing assistant Nolan Baumgartner. General manager Jim Benning also was fired, and Jim Rutherford was hired four days later as president of hockey operations and interim GM. 

Even with the winning streak, Boudreau has lamented a lack of practice time to fine-tune the details of what has been a noticeably more aggressive forecheck in the offensive zone and neutral zone. He’s also added center Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes to a penalty kill that has pressured opponents more than it used to, and the PK has improved from 64.6 percent (last in NHL) under Green to 83.3 percent (11th) with Boudreau and Walker.

“Honestly, I think this is almost a little bit good for us and for him, obviously, to implement some stuff that he couldn’t on the fly,” forward Bo Horvat said. “Obviously he’s taught us a couple things, but to actually get some practice time with us now, kind of have like a minicamp here, I think is going to be good for our systems and for us going forward.” 

Vancouver has also improved its scoring, from 2.36 goals per game (28th in NHL) to 3.17 (13th); defending, from 3.16 goals-against per game (23rd) to 1.67 (tied for second); and power play, from 17.4 percent (20th) to 31.3 percent (7th) that features a new look on each unit. Boudreau said the key to not losing any momentum will be maintaining intensity in practice the rest of this week, a point he drove home Monday during a break between drills. 

“You just don’t want them to go through the motions,” Boudreau said. “If we’re practicing and other teams are not because of COVID, we’d certainly like to take advantage of it.”

Schenn doesn’t think lost momentum will be a problem. 

“Guys have been playing well and probably playing with a bit of adrenaline and some new energy and excitement, and now kind of got a bit of time here to hit the pause button and work on some things,” Schenn said. “I think if you approach practice the right way and not come here just thinking you’re punching the clock and just putting in time and actually trying to get better and work on some new systems and some new things that obviously a new coaching staff is bringing in, then, yeah, it’s a positive.”

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