VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks are learning — the hard way — that just being close is not good enough in the NHL.
The Canucks (20-19-6) head into Tuesday’s home game against the Nashville Predators (20-16-7) reeling from four straight close losses.
“We’ve got to find a way to win, and it’s unfortunate the last few games have gone the way they have,” Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. “We’ve been right there in very even games.”
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Coach Willie Desjardins scrapped a scheduled practice Monday in favor of a team day off, giving the Canucks a chance to rest after Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss to New Jersey at home and three setbacks on the road. Three of those losses, including one in the final two seconds in Nashville, were decided by one goal, while the other contest in Calgary was a two-goal difference.
Revenge will be on the Canucks’ minds as they attempt to atone for last week’s loss in Nashville after rookie Troy Stecher’s blocked point shot led to Calle Jarnkrok’s winning short-handed goal with 1.5 seconds left in the extra session.
The power play will also be on the mind of the Canucks after Vancouver went 0-for-3 in man-advantage opportunities Sunday against the Devils.
“We never really got set up (on the power play) — it was tough to see,” Sedin said. “That said, I think we’ll rebound.”
Despite the continued struggles, Desjardins is still refusing to change his first power-play unit, which is led by Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who assisted on Vancouver’s lone goal Sunday and now has 998 points for his career.
“That’s a pretty good unit,” Desjardins said. “I think those guys can score. I believe in Hank and Danny. They’ve scored their whole career. I have confidence they can score, so we’re going to go with it for a while longer. We’ve made some changes, a little bit on our structure.”
The Canucks are trying to do a better job of getting shots through traffic from the point. But, with a 19-for-142 mark and four short-handed goals against, Vancouver’s power play needs to show considerable improvement.
“All the guys know,” Desjardins said. “We talked about it before (Sunday’s) game. I said at the start of the year that if we wanted to make the playoffs we needed our power play (to score.) I believe that. And none of those (first-unit) guys are happy with the way it’s going. But they are our best group. Shuffling it up and mixing it up will take three, four games (for new units) to gel.”
The power-play struggles and recent losses are making it difficult for the Canucks to get above the playoff bar after they closed within striking distance of it.
“We’re all frustrated — the top of the organization all the way through,” said Desjardins, who needs one more win for 100 as a head coach — all with the Canucks.
Meanwhile, the Predators are feeling less frustration these days thanks to a three-game winning streak that began with their late overtime triumph over the Canucks.
The latest victory came in a 3-1 decision over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
“This is our playoff time already, we have to get back in the picture and I can’t remember the last time we had a three-game winning streak — so it feels good,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Nashville last strung three wins together in late November, but has had inconsistent results since then, despite getting some decent goaltending from Rinne. He sports a .920 save percentage along with a modest 16-11-6 record.
In a bid for more consistency, general manager David Poile sought more toughness — rather than more offense or a stronger defense — and acquired winger Cody McLeod from Colorado in a trade for a minor-leaguer.
The move paid immediate dividends as McLeod scored a goal in his first game for the Predators on Saturday — against his former Avalanche squad. It was only the second goal of the season for the 32-year-old McLeod, who has 1,364 penalty minutes in his career.
“It was a crazy couple of days and the icing on the cake was getting the win — especially in Denver,” McLeod told Post Media on Monday following a practice in Vancouver. “It’s been an easy transition and I couldn’t have come to a better place.
“It’s a good change of scenery and I’m pumped to be here.”
“Without any practice or anything, he did a really good job,” Rinne told the Predators website. “Cody, huge goal by him, had a big scrap with (Jarome) Iginla, too, and he was a huge spark for our team. It’s just a nice to have him with us now.”
McLeod provides a more physical presence while defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, along with forward Colin Wilson, remain out of the lineup with undisclosed injuries.
Subban took part in his first full practice Monday after suffering an upper-body injury Dec.15; however, his status is considered questionable.
With the Canucks having developed a tendency to draw other teams into taking penalties lately, McLeod’s challenge will be to stay out of the box. The Canucks have had 20 power plays in their last five games, but only scored on two of them.
So McLeod — and the rest of the Predators — might still be able to take some liberties.