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After feasting on one-goal wins last season, close isn't cutting it for Canucks

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks know close isn't going to cut it.

The club feasted on one-goal victories in its return to the playoffs last season, finishing with a 22-9 record in those games, good for second in the NHL.

Fast-forward to the 2015-16 campaign and Vancouver sits 8-8-6 overall just over a quarter of the way through the schedule, including a league-worst two wins and 12 losses in games decided by a single goal.

"We're close," Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said after Tuesday's practice at Rogers Arena. "We've probably been close more than any other team in the league. The problem is close doesn't do it for you. You've got to find a way to get it done."

Part of the problem is that Vancouver has yet to figure out the new 3-on-3 overtime format, having gone 0-6 so far after a 6-3 mark last season when teams played 4-on-4. The Canucks were also 6-2 in shootouts a year ago, but have only played in one shootout (Oct. 12) this season.

"They really are tight games, but you've got to find a way to win them," said Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller. "You don't get to put them in your column as, 'Oh man, that was close.'

"We've identified things to be better at. Your record is pretty much what you deserve."

The Canucks rebounded from a disastrous 1-4-2 road trip with a 6-3 home victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday before coming out flat 24 hours later in a disappointing 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

"When you end up on the wrong side of those one-goal games you're missing something," said Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin. "Our attention to detail hasn't been good enough. If we can take that up one notch we will be fine."

One concern is in the defensive zone, where the Canucks have allowed at least three goals against in 10 straight games, an alarming rate for a team that has only put up four at the other end six times this season.

"The league picks up as you go on," said Desjardins. "I don't know if we've picked up quite as much as we need to stay with it."

Vancouver's penalty-killing unit was second in the NHL in 2014-15, but sat 17th overall entering Tuesday night's play. It's one of many areas where Desjardins wants to see improvement, especially when the margin of error is so small.

"If every guy gets two per cent better we win those games," said Desjardins. "It's not a big jump, but it's a little jump for each guy."

Despite recording a single victory over their last six outings and just five overall since a 3-0-1 start to the season, the Canucks feel things are starting to come around. Now it's about getting results.

"I would be worried if I thought we had played our best," said Sedin. "I don't think we have. Our system hasn't been great, it's been better lately, but it can still be better. We can be a better team."

It doesn't get any easier in the short term for the Canucks, who start a tough four-game road trip Wednesday in Minnesota before visits to Dallas, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

"It's like playoff hockey for us," said Desjardins. "Our urgency level has to be higher and I think the guys know that. I do believe in the character of this group and I don't believe there's many nights that they haven't given everything they had."


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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