The Vancouver Canucks are probably kicking themselves today. Without their current captain they managed four goals on their former captain and still couldn’t find a way to win in South Florida on Sunday. For just the second time this month, the Canucks scored four times in a game and for just the fifth time in 27 appearances this season Roberto Luongo was beaten for four goals in a game. So these things kinds of things haven’t happened a lot lately.
But in the end, it was Luongo making one more stop in the shootout than the Canucks combination of the cramping Ryan Miller and reliever Jacob Markstrom. Florida got the win and the Canucks skated away with a single point. Given the way this road trip started, three of a possible four points from Detroit and Florida has to lighten the mood around the group with one game left before Christmas.
I can’t say I saw a 5-4 final coming yesterday when each team had a single shot on goal five minutes into the hockey game. Then again, who could have possibly predicted Derek Dorsett and Shawn Thornton scoring in the same game? It was that kind of afternoon before an announced crowd of 13,459. In a day and age of so many 2-1 and 3-2 hockey games, it was fun to see the Canucks trade chances and find the back of the net on four occasions. It was also fun to hear Feliz Navidad played on the organ at the BB & T Center during a stoppage early in the second period. That may have been my personal highlight of the afternoon.
Sven Baertschi has now scored in back to back games. And he’s looked like a high-skill guy on both of them finishing with purpose. That’s certainly good news for the Canucks who’ve been waiting for ‘that’ Sven Baertschi to appear. But — and you knew there’d be a but — Baertschi still has a ways to go with his consistency. And as much as he showed great hands with the roof job yesterday, it’s important to note that Baertschi’s goals this season have come against New Jersey, Ottawa, Detroit and Florida. All eastern teams. In fact all four of his goals and eight of his 10 points have come in 16 games against the East. In 13 games against Western opponents, Baertschi is without a goal and has managed just two assists. So the last couple of games have been glimpses of what Sven Baertschi is capable of, but he still has plenty of work to do.
For me, better than Baertschi scoring is the fact Bo Horvat has made terrific plays on both of those goals. And going back to the Philadelphia game when Henrik Sedin left after the first period, Horvat has raised his overall performance level and has now put forth three of his best efforts of the season in a row. It was around this time last season that Horvat figured things out in his rookie season and became a different player after Christmas. The Canucks would love to see history repeat itself in the days and weeks ahead.
Last year at the Christmas break, Daniel Sedin had eight goals. He heads into Tampa on Tuesday with 15 in his back pocket after converting on a pretty 2-on-1 with Jannik Hansen yesterday. Daniel now has 15 goals in 35 games this season. Last season, he didn’t bag his 15th goal until his 70th game on March 19th against Columbus.
I was glad to see Willie Desjardins use Jared McCann in the lead-off position in yesterday’s shootout. And the rookie made no mistake. That should become a regular occurrence any time the Canucks find themselves in a skills competition the rest of the way. But there still seems to be so much guess work on the part of the Canucks coaching staff when it comes to selecting shootout shooters. McCann couldn’t get a sniff in seven rounds on Friday in Detroit, yet gets the first crack 48 hours later while Friday’s hero Linden Vey wasn’t given an opportunity for a repeat performance yesterday after scoring the shootout winner in Motown. Radim Vrbata is one of the best-ever in shootouts and is 2/4 this season so he has to be in the mix. And I can cut Willie D. some slack for trying to ride the hot hand of a guy like Baertschi yesterday even though he didn’t come through. Still, the coach opens himself and his decisions to criticism when the players he selects don’t convert. That’s just the nature of the business.
The Canucks are 2-2 in shootouts now this season. Interestingly, the Canucks and their opponents are both 5/17 on shootout chances this season. The Canucks have posted wins in Anaheim and Detroit and suffered losses in Dallas and now in Florida.
For a brief moment in the first period yesterday, Alex Biega was credited with his first goal of the season. The glory didn’t last long, though, as replays clearly showed Jannik Hansen deflected the Biega shot from the high slot past Roberto Luongo. The Canucks got offensive contributions in the form of assists from both Biega and Matt Bartkowski yesterday. But aside from Alex Edler, the Canucks just don’t get goals from their defensemen. Edler scored against the Rangers in the team’s final home game before this road trip began. So he’s gone five without a goal. Not a big deal (although the fact he’s gone five without a point is of slightly more concern). But Edler is the only one of the Canucks healthy blueliners these days who isn’t mired in a double-digit goal drought: Biega (10), Bartkowski (23), Tanev (25), Weber (26) and Hutton (28). And when he was healthy in the line-up, Dan Hamhuis was without a goal in the 27 games he had suited up for this season. The Canucks have 10 goals from defensemen this season and Edler has six of them. Bartkowski is second with a pair — and his last goal (November 2nd) was scored into an empty net. Outside of Edler, no Canucks defender has scored on an NHL goalie since Luca Sbisa beat Carey Price on October 27th. It’s been a while.
Maybe that’ll change tomorrow. Or the next game. Or the game after that.