A perplexing rollercoaster ride

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

On the surface, it seems like a fairly reasonable request. Do your best. It's what we ask of our children, it's what we ask of kids we coach, it's what we ask of ourselves.

So naturally it stands to reason that when you ask it of millionaire athletes, they would - more often than not - comply. Obviously it's not so simple.

Cases in point: The Vancouver Canucks this past Sunday and Tuesday nights.

To the Sunday affair first which may be the nadir of this perplexing, troubling, enigmatic season to date.

The Detroit Red Wings are not exactly the NHL's version of a get-well card, but a team somewhat ripe for the picking given an overtime affair 24 hours earlier in Edmonton.

Naturally the Canucks, desperate for points, scratching and clawing for their very playoff existence, would come out firing. After 20 minutes, it was Detroit 3, Vancouver 0. Shots on goal, Detroit 17, Vancouver 3. Game, set, match ... thanks for coming, drive carefully and good night everyone.

Two nights later in Edmonton, in the first of an absurd tripleheader against the Oilers, the Canucks apply some blue-collar grit, generally appear to be interested and committed to their craft and put a 4-1 whooping on the equally desperate Oil. Two nights, two points there for the taking, two completely different teams. That observation is the easy part - explaining it is something else entirely.

You would think the "level of compete" to coin a phrase of Marc Crawford, would be a constant.

You can't always control the bounces, you can't always control the officiating, or your injury list. But there is no argument you have some influence over how hard you try ... your level of commitment.

Team 1040 hockey analyst Ray Ferraro says that given the travel, physical nature of the sport and tight schedule, it is reasonable to expect a spirited effort 75 per cent of the time. So three games out of four, the Canucks should be able to match the effort of two nights back in Edmonton. I am not sure they have done that over the first 70 games this season.

But I am of the mind they may actually play with some passion for the final dozen games. Tuesday night's effort was encouraging for one major reason. Monday morning, following the colossal crapping of the bed against the Wings, the team held meetings. Crawford and his coaches met with the players, and then the players met with the players. You can measure the success of these gatherings fairly easily.

How does the team respond? Tuesday night provided the first answer. Had the Canucks gone out and laid another egg against Edmonton, the message would have been pretty clear.

But evidently, this group might not be as dysfunctional as we have suggested. They cleared the air, then went out and bleached the Oilers. One game however, does not cure all that ails them. Tuesday is in the rear-view mirror.

Tonight is what matters. Hopefully a team meeting won't be needed tomorrow.

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Have a question? Send it to barry.macdonald@24hrs.ca


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