I remember it all too well — hard as I’ve tried to forget it. My first season covering the Vancouver Canucks was 1999-2000. And that season, the team went from Grey Cup Sunday (November 28th) through Super Bowl Sunday (January 30th) without winning consecutive games. With heavy doses of Harry York, Harold Druken, Denis Pederson, Darby Hendrickson, Steve Kariya, oh and a guy named Mark Messier, the Canucks went 5-17-4 in the 26 games played between the big football games and couldn’t manage as much as back to back victories. It was a painful stretch in a dismal season that finished with 30 wins and 83 points.
Why the football references? Well it’s Sunday, we’re a week removed from this year’s Grey Cup and the Canucks have yet to win a single game (0-3-1). And perhaps history will repeat itself before the NFL crowns its champion. Right now, stringing consecutive wins together is a non-starter because you can’t start a streak without the first one. And after another disheartening performance last night, you wonder how long fans may have to wait to see the Canucks find their way into the win column again.
I was willing to give the Canucks a pass for their 16-shot effort in Los Angeles on Tuesday. It was the back half of back to backs at the tail end of a road trip and they were nursing a 1-0 lead well into the third period. I got that. I didn’t think much of their response of 16 more shots against the Dallas Stars in their first game back home on Thursday.
But just 17 shots last night against the Bruins and against the backdrop of those other two? With a desperate head coach imploring his team to show up and compete? With the very sight of those Boston uniforms providing layer upon layer of incentive? And on top of all that, the fact the Bruins had played the night before and were playing their third game in four nights? And 17 shots was the best the Canucks could muster? These are troubling times indeed for the hockey club.
Three teams — Minnesota, Detroit and Winnipeg — all registered 17 shots in a single period on Saturday. They were outdone by the Los Angeles Kings who had 18 in a period against the Pittsburgh Penguins. So it can be done. Just not by a Canucks team right now that seems completely incapable of anything more than one-and-done forays into the offensive zone. I was shocked and stunned at the ease with which the Bruins were able to clear their zone last night. They skated it out, they passed it out, they went up the middle, they went off the boards, they went D to D, they reversed the flow. It didn’t matter the method — the result was the same. The Bruins were met with absolutely no Canucks resistance. There was next to no zone time for the Canucks in the Bruins end. There was almost no sustained Canuck pressure or second-chance opportunities. In to the zone it went and out it came with the Bruins off to the races time and time and time again.
Where are the Canucks ‘hard to play against’ guys? The Canucks 12 forwards dressed last night were credited with 13 hits. Again, this was supposed to be a motivated bunch facing a heated rival at the tail end of its road trip. Derek Dorsett was involved physically and so, I suppose, was Brandon Prust’s stick. But Higgins and Horvat and Kenins and Cracknell? They weren’t very hard to play against. And it’s been said repeatedly of late, if those players aren’t going to contribute offensively, they have to find a way to leave a mark on each game. That’s not happening. The Canucks aren’t getting in on the forecheck. They’re not making life miserable for opposing defenders. They’re not turning pucks over and they’re not generating shots or scoring chances. At even strength in the past three games, the Canucks have managed a measly 40 shots on goal. Total. With a lack of natural goal-scorers, it’s been shown many times already that this group needs all sorts of chances to produce offense. And yet for whatever reasons, the too many on the Canucks right now have abandoned any willingness to battle, compete and hustle. They’re not going to win every game. I get that. But they have to look like they give a damn. And I’m not getting that — at least not in the past four games.
–Jared McCann had a tough night. Those are going to happen when you’re 19 and over-matched in the NHL. But McCann’s struggles in the face-off circle have gone to new depths this week. He won one of 13 draws against Dallas on Thursday and just one of eight last night. Simple math tells you that’s 2/21 (9.5%). Of the 103 players in the NHL this season who have taken 219 face-offs (the number McCann has taken), the Canuck rookie is 103rd at 32.4%. And to put that in further perspective, among that group, only two of the 103 are below 42% — Mike Ribeiro (35.0%) and McCann.
–Jacob Markstrom took some heat for getting beaten high on the glove side on the first three Bruins goals last night. And rightly so. The Canucks need stops right now and the big netminder was unable to make the most of a marquee start at home on a Saturday night. Unfortunately for Markstrom and the team, he wasn’t the same guy who turned in such a sterling performance against L-A on Tuesday. And so, once again, we’re all left to try to figure out what exactly the Canucks have in Markstrom. He’ll be 26 next month — leaving his early twenties behind with a spotty track record in 56 big league appearances. After last night, he now has twice as many outright losses as victories in the NHL (14-30-7) and has managed just one win in six appearances this season while posting a 3.06 GAA and 90.4 save percentage. Let’s be clear that the teammates in front of him have scored one goal for the guy in his two starts this week and he managed to turn that ghastly offensive output into a single point in L-A. But they needed more from Markstrom last night — particularly early — and he didn’t deliver. And you just wonder if he ever will with any consistency.
*the schedule maker is seemingly doing the Canucks another favour tomorrow night. The Buffalo Sabres are in Edmonton this evening before making their way here to Vancouver. So that’s back to back opponents who have played the night before. It’s supposed to mean something. It didn’t last night. We’ll see if it does tomorrow. And if the Canucks don’t get it figured out against the Sabres, then look out. They finish the homestand against Alain Vigneault’s high-flying Rangers on Wednesday and then it’s back out on the road for six straight leading into Christmas.
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