Dear hockey gods: please, please, please don’t let the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators meet in the playoffs. I don’t care how twisted your sense of humour may be, no one needs the potential of seven games of what we all had to sit through on Tuesday night.
Now, the good news is that based on the seasons they’ve had and where they find themselves in the standings, some crazy things would have to happen for the Canucks and Preds to meet early in the post-season. And based on the way the two teams played on Tuesday, they are even longer shots to meet further down the post-season path.
That was one ugly hockey game with an ugly result for the home team as the Canucks fell 2-1 on home ice on a late James Neal goal. The night marked the third time in the past seven games the Canucks managed just one goal and although they found a way to win in Brooklyn (2-1 in a shootout) scoring just one goal won’t yield the desired result often. In the past 15 games the Canucks have been involved in, six have ended 3-2 and five others have finished 2-1 with seven of the 15 settled in overtime. And Tuesday looked like it was headed for O/T as well until the Canucks got their signals crossed and a sloppy line change came back to bite them. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before (like in the third period in Pittsburgh on Saturday).
This one was an untimely miscue and put the Canucks behind the 8-ball to be sure. But there was still 4:44 left in regulation time. The Canucks had nearly five minutes to force the issue in an attempt to score the equalizer. And here’s my problem: down a goal, the Canucks generated three shots on goal the rest of the way — two of them off the stick of Emerson Etem. And it must be pointed out that the Canucks spent the final 1:49 of the third on the power play. And with the 5-on-4 and then 6-on-4 advantage, Jannik Hansen was the only Canuck to muster a shot on goal in the final 109 seconds. That’s shameful. The game on the line, the team on the power play, and the best the Canucks could do was one shot on goal. I know Linden Vey had a late chance, but missed the target. Make Pekka Rinne make a freakin’ save. Put it on net and maybe you score or perhaps there’s a rebound. But missing the target doesn’t accomplish anything.
It’s hard to knock Brandon Sutter’s performance in his return to the line-up. He scored a nice goal to tie the game at one, he logged 16:44, saw both power play and penalty killing duty, had three shots on goal, blocked a pair of Predators attempts and won six of the 14 face-offs he took. That’s a pretty complete effort for a guy coming off sports hernia surgery and should give him all kinds of confidence when the schedule picks up after the All-Star break.
At the other end of the spectrum, Adam Cracknell has to know he’s fighting for his job at the big league level and didn’t do himself many favours on Tuesday. Not only did he collide with linemates Jake Virtanen and Derek Dorsett on separate shifts, but went 0 for 6 in the face-off circle. With Henrik Sedin set to return after the break, Jared McCann more likely to play than sit and Linden Vey now requiring waivers again should he be sent to the farm, the Canucks will soon have some meaty decisions to make regarding their roster. And Willie Desjardins didn’t really go to bat for Brandon Prust after Tuesday’s morning skate when asked about the veteran sitting for a third straight game. Desjardins told the media that Prust played well early, but just hadn’t been the same since his October 27th ankle injury.
It was another quiet night for Radim Vrbata (1 shot and on for both Nashville goals) and I just don’t know how this story ends now with 11 games to go before the trade deadline. I feel like I harp on Vrbata after every game — but I just want to see some sign of life that either makes him valuable to the Canucks down the stretch or an intriguing option to a playoff contender. With the CHL Top Prospects game in town on Thursday, there were a handful of NHL GMs at Rogers Arena on Tuesday night. I doubt any made a beeline for Jim Benning after the game making inquiries about the cost of a guy like Vrbata. And with Prust a healthy scratch and Dan Hamhuis skating but not yet playing, Tuesday was hardly a showcase of the Canucks pending UFAs who may be available in the weeks ahead.
I received a text from retired Vancouver Sun beat writer Elliott Pap prior to Tuesday’s game. He was wondering about the last time the Canucks had gone wire to wire to win a hockey game (opened the scoring and were never tied or trailed). I told him I thought it was likely the 5-1 win over Montreal on October 27th and if not then for certain it was the team’s 3-0 win in Los Angeles in the first week of the season. However, neither of those was the correct answer. After a little digging it was revealed it was a 4-3 win in Arizona on October 30th. With Richard Bachman in goal, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then after a pair of Coyotes goals, Daniel Sedin extended the lead to 4-2 and the Canucks held on for a 4-3 victory. Yeah, it’s been three months since a wire to wire win. These guys don’t make life easy on themselves.
The Canucks are now 50 games into their season. They are 20-19-11. So that’s 20 wins and 30 losses. To their credit and through some significant injuries in the past month, the Canucks have managed to pick up points. The last two losses marked the first time in six weeks that the Canucks have dropped back to back games in regulation. However, they have to start winning games in regulation — they have just five regulation victories in their past 27 outings and their last regulation win against a Western Conference opponent remains November 25th in Minnesota. Now, to be fair they haven’t faced many western foes lately with a couple of lengthy eastern road trips in the past six weeks. But the only way this team will get to the playoffs is by taking two points and giving up none on a bunch of nights after the break. With 32 games to go, the math starts to take care of itself — the Canucks have 51 points points. If they go 20-12 the rest of the way, that gets them to 91 points. I don’t know if that will be enough to make the playoffs, but in the Pacific Division this season it’s possible. I imagine 22-10 would get them where they want to go, but does anyone see this team winning 22 of its final 32 games? That seems like an awfully tall order for a team that hasn’t demonstrated any ability to string wins together to this point of the season.
I have a few non game-related thoughts and ideas rattling around in my head that I will try to blog about during the Canucks downtime here over the next 10 days. If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments section. Thanks as always for your support of this space. Enjoy the All-Star break.