Calgary, Edmonton, Detroit, Dallas, New Jersey, Montreal and now Los Angeles. You recognize those names. They are, in order, teams that have defeated the Vancouver Canucks in overtime this season. They’ve all ended in their own fashion — poor puck management, a bad line change, a power play, whatever it was that Alex Edler was doing last night — and yet there has been such a similarity to almost all of the overtime losses, too. And last night at Staples Center was just the latest example of the Canucks unwillingness to avoid overtime altogether and play to win the game in the third period.
Bo Horvat’s rising shot off left wing 1:44 into the third period was it for Canuck shots on goal over the final 22:02. It meant the Canucks played 20:18 of hockey from the Horvat chance to the Kopitar winner without forcing Jonathan Quick to make a single save. Not one stop was required. That’s not playing to win. But it’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen that from the Canucks this season.
In fact, in their seven overtime losses the Canucks have scored one third period goal. It came in Dallas on October 29th. Radim Vrbata extended a Canucks lead to 3-1 just 10 seconds into the third period before the Stars mounted a furious comeback. All these tight games the Canucks have been involved in and they’ve scored one third period goal in seven overtime losses –all games in which they have been tied or held the lead going to the third. So sure, the overtime record is terrible. But the approach to third periods in those games has not been much better. Solve one issue and they might not have to deal with the other. At least not as often as they have.
And I understand that the Canucks were playing back to back games and they were without players they would like to have had in their line-up. But I also know they had set up shop in Southern California since Saturday, there was next to no travel between the Anaheim and L-A games and they were supposed to be responding to a no-show against the Ducks 24 hours earlier. They were 20 minutes away from a best case scenario of regulation losses by the Kings, Sharks and Coyotes — the three teams immediately ahead of them in the Pacific Division to start the night. But that required the Canucks to do their part by handing the Kings a regulation loss. Instead, they basically handed them two points and the Canucks seemed genuinely pleased with the parting gift they received in the form of yet another single point for falling in overtime. When the Canucks left Staples Center following a 3-0 win on October 13th, they moved seven points clear of the then still winless Kings. After last night, they now sit five points back of L-A.
As the Canucks held on for dear life at the end of the third last night, I was very curious about how things would go had the game got to a shootout. I tweeted as much and some felt I jinxed the Canucks by even taking the conversation there as the game moved beyond regulation. But without Chris Higgins in the line-up, I wanted to see who Willie Desjardins would have selected as his three shooters. I was away last week, but when I saw the Canucks go with veterans Alex Burrows, Radim Vrbata and Chris Higgins in the skills competition in Dallas on Thursday, it triggered my statistical senses. And sure enough, after doing the number crunching yesterday, I got the answer I was looking for. The Canucks are the only team in the NHL this season to roll out three ‘thirty-somethings’ as their first three shooters in a shootout. Every other team has incorporated teens or players in their twenties. The NHL is increasingly a young man’s league and the shootout even more so the domain of youth. And while we’re seeing far fewer shootouts than in the past, this move to go against the norm is another curious decision by Willie Desjardins. There is no need to select veterans or defensively-responsible shooters with the game on the line. This is a shootout. Give the kids a chance. If ever there was a place for the Canucks youth movement, you’d think this would be it. Apparently not.
Speaking of curious decisions, how about Brandon Prust logging season-high ice times on consecutive nights in SoCal? After playing 15:35 against the Ducks on Monday, Prust saw 16:34 of ice in Los Angeles. That is too much (it’s also nearly four minutes above his 12:39 season average). I know he does some penalty killing, but let’s be honest, he’s not doing much else right now. And his spike in ice time last night had nothing to do with short-handed situations. Prust played 15:30 at even strength. Among Canucks forwards, only Radim Vrbata played more. Prust is without a goal this season and yet he’s getting heavy minutes in a game in which the Canucks needed more offense. That requires an explanation. He is pointless in his six games back from the ankle injury suffered on October 27th and hasn’t been involved physically aside from a brief scrap against Chicago’s Brandon Mashinter in his return to the line-up 10 days ago. Prust was most-effective earlier this year in managed minutes and the Canucks need to back his ice-time off here in a hurry. For the record, he’s gone 47 games now without a goal dating back to February 3rd when he was still a Hab. He’s probably not the best bet these days to break a 1-1 tie in the third period.
And finally, the secondary scoring woes on this hockey team and the road record are now both huge concerns and go hand-in-hand. The Canucks are 1-3-1 in their last five roadies and have managed to score just seven times in that span. And those seven goals have been scored by just four players — the usual suspects (Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Radim Vrbata and Jannik Hansen). Push it back a little further to the middle of that seven-game odyssey late last month and the Canucks are 1-5-2 in their last eight away from home managing just 14 goals over that stretch. It’s just too difficult to win in the NHL with one line going. And the Canucks are finding that out for themselves far too often these days.
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