‘When your team is not playing well that’s different. But when you are, you’ve got to find an extra five or 10 per cent and that’s what we’re looking for’

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Travis Green is not Dr. Phil McGraw, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a television celebrity with his advice program. But Green sure sounds like one.

The Vancouver Canucks’ head coach knows monitoring the mental state of his impressionable National Hockey League team is as relevant as systems, scoring and that daunting deficit in the North Division standings.

It would be different if the Canucks were being blown out on a nightly basis — that hasn’t happened since 7-3 and 5-1 losses in Toronto early last month —but the stress of dropping four one-goal decisions in the last seven games heading into a Monday meeting with the Jets in Winnipeg can become a high emotional hurdle.

Especially during a four-game losing streak, a 2-9-2 slide and a sobering realization that the club needs to win two-thirds of its remaining games just to squeeze into the post-season.

Being close enough but not winning is a mental drain and physical strain. And no matter how Green applies his version of sports psychology, nothing gets through to players like winning. A 4-1 triumph in Winnipeg on Jan. 30 stretched a winning streak to four games, but it was followed by a six-game losing funk.

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Green believes a small percentage of individual improvement can have a big impact on back-to-back games against the Jets and upcoming home series against Toronto and Montreal. Whether that’s first line or fourth line, young players or veterans or the struggling power play, it can have an impact.

“There are different challenges at different times of the year and with a team that wants to win drastically,” said Green. “You have to be really honest about their play, but continue to push them. When your team is not playing well that’s different. But when you are, you’ve got to find an extra five or 10 per cent and that’s what we’re looking for.

“You’re worried about the psyche of your group and the structure of your game. But the players always know. When you have open communication it’s easier because the player usually understands how he’s playing, no matter what anybody tells them. It’s important to self-evaluate your game and as a staff, the honesty with the group is so you don’t make irrational decisions and send the right message.”

That can be harder with younger players.

There’s tremendous pressure on Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to perform and continue to improve and they’ve responded. Pettersson has picked up his pace, points and level of engagement and Hughes continues to lead all defencemen in scoring.

“It hasn’t been as hard as one might think,” added Green. “They’re all competitive and a lot of our younger players are highly skilled guys and there are certain parts of their games that we’re still trying to progress. They feel different pressures than others in certain positions and there are others who haven’t had the year they want.”

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Bo Horvat has endured ups and downs as a Canucks captain trying to lead by example.
Bo Horvat has endured ups and downs as a Canucks captain trying to lead by example. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images Files

HORVAT HEARS THE CALL

Bo Horvat had just four points in 10 games prior to Monday’s test and the captain didn’t need to be coaxed to understand Green’s call for individual improvement.

The centre knows his line has to be much better and that includes Tanner Pearson, who had just one goal in 10 games, so elevating games should be a welcome challenge.

“Travis said it best,” said Horvat. “If we give it that extra not only as a team, but individually, we’re going to come out on top 90 per cent of the time, but we need that from everybody. We’re doing good things and playing better, but again, but we have to be better because other teams are stepping up and doing the same.

“I’d be a lot more worried if we (line) weren’t getting our chances.”

Horvat is cut from old-school cloth and a lot of new-age psychology to reach players on certain levels is something he has had to embrace. The game within the game to be mentally prepared is vital.

“It’s still a learning process for me and I’m trying to figure things out,” said Horvat. “The frustrating part is we are playing good hockey and it’s just getting over that hump. When you’re going through stretches like this, you want to do whatever you can to help your team win and to be the voice and the guy who turns things around. If I focus on my game and how I have to play and lead by example, hopefully it reflects in the room.

“That’s the best way of leadership for me to pull guys into the fight and hopefully it resonates and guys will follow. But we can’t just talk about it. We’ve got to get it done.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

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