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I Watched This Game: Canucks can't come back against coma-inducing Kings

The Vancouver Canucks fell behind by two goals in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings, a lead that proved insurmountable.
The Vancouver Canucks fell behind by two goals in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings and could only claw back one in the third.

The Los Angeles Kings are a problem.

The Kings are a pain to play against, with a disciplined, low-event style that forces teams to make mistakes to try to break them down. The Kings then immediately capitalize on every mistake with a quick-strike offence before lapsing back into their dreary defensive game. It makes for a frustrating game to watch for fans and it can’t be any less frustrating for the players who have to actually play against them.

The Vancouver Canucks had already dropped a 5-1 game to the Kings in their last meeting at Rogers Arena but had exacted a measure of revenge with a 2-1 overtime win in Los Angeles. On Monday night in Vancouver, it was more like the former than the latter.

The Kings’ tight-checking game gave the Canucks little to work with. When a couple of bad bounces gave the Kings a two-goal lead in the second period, it felt like the game was already over. The Kings would surely shut down their own offensive attack, sit back in a neutral zone trap, and check all the air of the game.

Sure enough, that’s essentially what happened, with only a late-game push by the Canucks adding any sense of excitement.

Even as the Canucks are still first in the Pacific Division, first in the Western Conference, and tied for first in the NHL, it’s games like this that are worrisome. In the playoffs, the Canucks are going to need to win tight-checking games.

“We're a tight-checking team too,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “They just got a couple of goals around the paint. It was low-event — it was eight or nine chances each and they got a couple out of stuff in the paint…It was just blue-paint stuff. You’ve got to own the blue paint.”

Tocchet called it a “coin flip type of game — they hit heads and won,” though he noted his team’s execution was lacking. Given the bounces that went the Kings’ way, he’s not really wrong. The Canucks have shown they can win this type of low-event game at times this season, so maybe there’s nothing more to this loss than it being a close, hard-fought game that could have gone either way.

“They just played their usual system,” said Sam Lafferty. “But I thought we generated a decent amount and got in on the forecheck, stuck to our gameplan. It just wasn't our night.”

Still, it’s hard to avoid the thought that the Canucks should hope to every god in existence — and a few in nonexistence as well — that the Kings get knocked out in the playoffs before the Canucks have to face them. At the very least, the fans should be praying for that, as an entire playoff series of this kind of death-to-entertainment hockey would be hard to take.

I would rather not watch a series like that. It was enough that I watched this game.

  • A few days after Tocchet hinted that Elias Lindholm was playing through an injury, Lindholm sat out against the Kings and has been labeled “day-to-day” with an injury to his undisclosed. Honestly, hockey players should just get their undisclosed removed like an inflamed appendix because it causes so many problems.
  • The Kings struck first, taking advantage of a crucial error by the Canucks: they only had four skaters on the ice. That would be normal if they were killing a penalty but they weren’t: Quinn Hughes went off on a line change and nobody replaced him. Brock Boeser, tired at the end of a long shift himself, stopped skating, not realizing there was only one defenceman back, which left Kevin Fiala wide open for a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois and a shot into the wide-open net.
  • “Guy didn't jump. He was supposed to jump, he didn't jump,” said Tocchet of why they only had four skaters on the ice. “Footey told the guy to go and for some reason he didn't jump and it was too late.”
  • Given that his defence partner, Ian Cole, was on the ice, “the guy” who didn’t jump was probably Carson Soucy. Considering what later transpired for Soucy, this really wasn’t his game. On the plus side, he avoided a minus on the goal. Despite technically being a five-on-five goal, only the four Canucks skaters on the ice — who were arguably least at fault — got a demerit on their plus/minus.
  • The Canucks tried to wear down the Kings physically, throwing a plethora of hits. They were credited with 46 hits in this game, led by Sam Lafferty’s eight hits. The first period in particular saw heavy hits by Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Miller, and Ian Cole. While it didn’t help in this one game, maybe that kind of physicality could have an impact in a seven-game playoff series.
  • That physical play led to the Canucks’ first goal, as Vasily Podkolzin wreaked havoc on the forecheck. He won the puck three times leading up to the goal, first disrupting the play at the Kings’ blue line, then throwing a puck-separating hit on the near boards, then shoving his man off the puck in the corner. It was exactly the type of relentless puck pursuit by Podkolzin that fans saw when the Canucks drafted him.
  • “It was just a really good forecheck overall,” said Lafferty. “The line before us really wore them down and the puck came to me twice thanks to Podzy just working hard and then just kind of went from there.”
  • Where Lafferty went from there was to the net for an incredible goal. He turned down the left boards while holding off Alex Laferriere, then deked past Vladislav Gavrikov, who was being boxed out by Podkolzin. Lafferty then evaded a stick check from Matt Roy and drove to the far post to tuck the puck around Cam Talbot. That one’s going on the highlight reel to show the grandkids someday.
  • When asked when he had last scored a goal like that, Lafferty could only smile and say, “I don’t know — probably in practice.”
  • The only bad thing about the goal is that Podkolzin didn’t get credit for an assist. He initially got one but replays showed that Ian Cole was the one who played the puck to Lafferty after an ever-so-brief change in possession. Like a kid who did most of a group project but was sick on the day his group gave their presentation, Podkolzin didn’t get any credit for all that hard work.
  • A two-minute lapse in the second period provided the opportunity the Kings needed to win the game, though they got plenty of help from Canucks skates. On a delayed Soucy penalty, the Kings were able to throw puck around the ice with ease at 6-on-5, leading to a shot by Blake Lizotte that hit Cole’s right skate, then Soucy’s left skate, then Soucy’s right skate, and finally Soucy’s left skate again before going in the net. If this was in a video game, that’s when the Canucks would have rage quit because that’s absurd: clearly, the physics engine of reality is broken.
  • Less than two minutes later, another bounce went the Kings’ way. Casey DeSmith gave up a rebound on an Anze Kopitar shot and Hughes tried to kick the puck out of harm’s way. Instead, he kicked it right to Kopitar, who had swooped behind the net, and he happily tucked in the inadvertent pass to make it 3-1.
  • The Kings sat back with their two-goal lead in the third period and gave the Canucks no room to move up the ice with the puck, forcing them to repeatedly dump-and-chase to gain the offensive zone. For most of the period, the Kings beat the Canucks to the chase and immediately dumped the puck right back out of the zone. The Canucks managed just one shot on goal through the first 16 minutes of the third period, only managing more once DeSmith was pulled for the extra attacker.
  • “You know exactly what they're going to do,” said J.T. Miller. “It's all about coming up with pucks and trying to get to the net and you need a bounce or two. We just came up a little bit short.”
  • As the third period progressed with the Canucks unable to generate anything, Tocchet dug out the Line Blender 3000™ from storage, blew the dust that had accumulated on it since Travis Green was fired, and turned it up to full power. Miller with Pettersson and Höglander! Suter with Garland and Boeser! Blueger with Garland and Mikheyev! The Lotto Line! Anything goes!
  • Boeser didn’t seem too happy with an interference call he got in the third period. Boeser stood his ground as Drew Doughty skated into him, then executed a full-on pratfall as if he had just slipped on a cartoon banana peel. Using my admittedly amateurish lip-reading skills, Boeser seemed to say, “I didn’t ****ing move” and “You’re the worst ****ing ref in the NHL,” so it’s probably fair to say he didn’t one hundred per cent agree with the penalty.
  • The ice quality at Rogers Arena has come into question recently and you have to wonder if that played a role in the Canucks’ struggles to create much in the third period. There were occasions where the Canucks seemed to catch an edge and fall or struggled to control the puck. While J.T. Miller didn’t specifically call out the ice quality, he did mention the bouncing puck as an issue late in the game.
  • “The puck was bouncing the whole six-on-five,” said Miller. “I mean, even Petey, he couldn't even pass it because it wouldn't settle. It's no excuse, I just think we weren't as sharp.”
  • The Canucks still managed to get a goal with the bouncing puck. With DeSmith pulled for the extra attacker, Boeser fired a slap-pass into the slot that missed Nils Höglander but hit Kopitar in the skate to deflect into the net to make it 3-2 with three minutes to go. It was the lucky bounce the Canucks were looking for but the only one they got. Ultimately, the Kings won this game two bounces to one.
  • Quinn Hughes had an interesting note when he was asked about his personal puck possession against the Kings, noting that he felt he didn’t do enough to create legitimate scoring chances. There were several occasions where he attacked down the left-hand side in the offensive zone and nothing materialized because of how quickly the Kings closed down passing and shooting lanes.
  • “That's something I gotta be wary of, just making sure that I'm getting to my point and making a grade-A chance instead of just exerting energy,” said Hughes. “[I had] that backhand in the second and a shot in the second I liked, both from the right side of the rink, and I'll take those chances any day, but as far as that I think I'd probably want to have a couple more shots on net throughout the game.”