How many ways can you win 2-1 in the National Hockey League?
The Vancouver Canucks know the answer to that question. Each of their three victories over the past 10 days has finished with that same scoreline: they beat Tampa Bay 2-1 in regulation in the game before Christmas, they edged Edmonton 2-1 in overtime on Boxing Day and they rang in the New Year with a 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim.
So the Canucks have found three different paths to the same result. But it doesn’t end there. Roll things back to December 9th when they knocked off Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers — you guessed it — 2-1 and four of the club’s last five victories have ended with that same score.
Friday’s win over Anaheim will only serve to further drive a wedge into an already divided fan base. The draftists had to be perfectly content with the Canucks trailing a division rival 1-0 midway through the third period. But at the end of the night, the Canucks had grabbed two points in the standings and moved back above the playoff bar in the Pacific Division despite another performance that left more questions than answers about the direction this hockey club is headed.
The Canucks are now 4-1-1 in their past six games and yet have managed to score just 12 goals in that span. And since Christmas, they’ve scored a grand total of three goals in three games and somehow have managed to win two of them. This is just a reality of life in today’s NHL, but the Canucks have more points in the standings this week (4) than they have goals scored (3). And how about the fact the Canucks have scored two goals in three games against the Ducks this season and that’s been enough to secure a pair of 2-1 shootout wins? Crazy stuff.
Goaltending so often can be the great equalizer and Jacob Markstrom’s having a heck of a coming out party as the Canucks starter carrying the mail in the absence of the injured Ryan Miller:
And remember that those numbers include a 5-0 loss to Los Angeles on Monday night. We’ve been charting the goal-support the Canucks have given Markstrom recently and the numbers remain frightening: 1, 0, 0, 2, 2, 0, 1 — those are the number of goals the Canucks have scored in Markstrom’s last seven starts since December 1st. Amazingly, he’s 3-3-1 in those games with six goals and virtually no margin of error to work with.
Chris Tanev scored the Canucks only goal on Friday. It was his second of the season and first since a power play goal against Detroit on October 24th. There was talk prior to the season — there always seems to be talk leading into every season — about increased offense from Tanev who brings plenty to the table, but almost all of it in the defensive zone. His goal last night was just his 22nd shot on goal in 35 games this season so it’s hardly a surprise he doesn’t score much. Just for comparison sake, Alex Edler leads all Canucks blueliners with 84 shots on goal this season while Brent Burns of the Sharks leads all NHL d-men with 159.
It’s worth noting that the Tanev goal was set up by Alex Burrows. That snapped a 16-game pointless skid for the veteran forward who last found the scoresheet with an empty net goal against Chicago on November 21st. The strange thing about point production is you wonder how many times over the past six weeks Burrows has curled in the corner and played a puck back to the point. This time the Tanev shot found its way through, Burrows was off the schneid and the Canucks were on the scoreboard. And while his offensive contributions have been few and far between of late, Burrows ended the night with an assist and the only goal in the shootout. So you can’t say he didn’t play a role in the outcome last night. But the Canucks need him to do so with a little more frequency in the second half of the season. Maybe a night like last night will give Burrows a boost.
Rookie Ben Hutton played his 32nd NHL game last night. It’s an arbitrary figure, but it’s interesting to note the breakdown of the first 16 compared to the most-recent 16. Hutton was a revelation who came out of nowhere to make the hockey club after a remarkable preseason in which he had a share of the Canucks team lead with five points. The offense just seemed to flow from day one of training camp and it continued into the regular season as he picked up assists in each of his first two big-league games. At the 16 game mark, Hutton had collected eight assists and he made generating offense from the back end look pretty easy for a rookie getting his feet wet in the best league in the world. But reality has set in. Hutton is still looking for his first NHL goal and has now gone 10 games without a point and has just one over his last 16 games. The kid looks like a keeper and he’s going to be fun to watch for years helping the Canucks break out of their own zone and head to the attack. But right now, he seems to have leveled off a little although I don’t think his play has dropped considerably (he had 25 shots on goal in his first 16 games/20 in the past 16). I just think the early-season point production was unsustainable and Hutton’s numbers would surely be boosted if a few of the Canucks forwards were ever able to finish on their chances.
Finally, what a terribly disappointing World Juniors for Team Canada in general and for Jake Virtanen in particular. He plays on the edge, but crossed the line in the third period of Saturday’s quarterfinal and was in the penalty box for Finland’s winning goal. If it was my decision, Virtanen would be sent back to junior to finish his season. However, the Canucks say he will be rejoining the NHL team upon his return to North America. According to reports, the Canucks want to monitor his practice and nutritional habits and have him working in a professional environment. I understand that line of thinking, but I think Virtanen needs to rediscover the things that made him a top 10 pick in the 2014 draft. He was sent to the World Juniors with the hope that he’d play with confidence and be a star there. Instead he did not score and had just a single assist in five games while getting prime ice time with other players who did perform and produce. Virtanen now has one goal in 26 games at three different levels this season (NHL, AHL & World Juniors). He needs to find his game again and that’s not going to happen by being a bit part in the National Hockey League. Physically, he’s fine. But he’s got some growing up to do still. While the decision has been made to have him return to Vancouver — I still believe the door remains wide open to send him back to junior.
*Radim Vrbata has gone MIA…again. He’s now gone five without a goal and has just one in his past 10 (at DET). Vrbata has scored in just two of the Canucks past 16 games (although one of those games was a hattrick against Buffalo)
*Henrik Sedin, who has been playing through injury, has gone quiet in the goal-scoring department. He’s gone eight without scoring and his goal against the Sabres on December 7th was his lone tally in his past 13 games
*Chris Tanev’s goal last night was the first for a Canucks defenseman other than Alex Edler since Matt Bartkowski scored an empty netter against Philadelphia on November 2nd. It was the first time a Canuck blueliner other than Edler beat an NHL goalie since Luca Sbisa scored on Carey Price in a 5-1 win over Montreal on October 27th
*the Canucks will gather for their annual Skills Competition at Rogers Arena on Saturday afternoon. Jannik Hansen will defend his fastest skater title while Yannick Weber will try to repeat as the team’s hardest shooter. I just hope the competition doesn’t end 2-1, but based on recent results I wouldn’t bet against it. If you’re going, have fun. The Canucks return to game action on Monday against Arizona