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I Watched This Game: Canucks cap off disastrous road trip with another loss to the Ducks

I would describe the Canucks as a train wreck except you can’t look away from a train wreck.
The Vancouver Canucks lost 5-1 to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.

There’s a theory that the Titanic would have survived if it had not tried to avoid the iceberg that sunk it but had instead hit it head on. The theory goes that hitting the iceberg directly would have resulted in flooding two or three of the forward compartments and the ship was built to stay afloat with up to four of those compartments flooded.

In trying to avoid the iceberg, a larger section of the Titanic was impacted, scraping along the side and opening up six compartments to flooding, dooming the ship to a disastrous end.

The Vancouver Canucks are a disaster, though a thankfully less consequential one. But it’s also one that could have been avoided if the pain of crashing to the bottom of the standings head on. Instead, the Canucks under Jim Benning have repeatedly tried to prematurely steer back to the playoffs, only to sink ever further.

Is that a tortured metaphor? Maybe, but watching the Canucks right now feels a bit like torture already. I would describe the Canucks as a train wreck except you can’t look away from a train wreck and plenty of people are tuning out on the Canucks right now.

The 5-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday capped off a brutal road trip where the Canucks gave up 19 goals in just three games. They’re now 5-9-2 and on pace for 26 wins and 62 points, which would be the second-worst 82-game season in franchise history.

This is a team that Benning bet everything on, trading back-to-back first-round picks and leaving the prospect cupboard bare in the process. Not only are the Canucks not close to being a Cup contender, they don’t look like they even have a chance at making the playoffs.

The bar for making the playoffs could be as low as 92 points in the Western Conference. The Canucks have 12 points through 16 games. That means they’ll need 80 points in their remaining 66 games — 40 wins in 66 games or enough overtime and shootout losses to make up for however short of 40 wins they are.

Another way of looking at it is that the Canucks need to play at a 99-point pace for the rest of the season in order to have even a chance at making the playoffs. It could arguably take more than that: 92 points is a very conservative projection.

It may seem silly to talk about the playoffs after just 16 games but when a team starts as poorly as the Canucks have, they’re already putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

Of course, the real reason it’s silly to talk about the playoffs is the Canucks look more like a team that will be competing for the first overall pick in the Shane Wright sweepstakes than a team that has a realistic shot at the postseason.

Something has to change and there are only so many options: players, coaches, management, and ownership. The owner’s not going to sell, so that leaves three things that can change.

Whatever happens, I’ll still be here, watching each new game, just like I watched this one.

Tyler Motte was back for his first game of the season after recovering from neck surgery. It waas great to see him and high-energy game back on the ice. We’ll just try to ignore that he was on the ice for four of the Ducks’ five goals because the Canucks gave up 7 goals in the previous two games when he wasn’t in the lineup, so it doesn’t seem fair to put that on Motte.

I just have to draw attention to this utterly baffling neutral zone pinch by Tyler Myers four minutes into the game. Facing a 3-on-2 situation, Myers seemingly decides that turning it into a 2-on-1 would be favourable, stepping up to throw an entirely ineffective hit on Trevor Zegras. As a result, Elias Pettersson had to take a hooking penalty to prevent a scoring chance, putting the Canucks’ league-worst penalty kill to work.

Incredibly, the Canucks successfully killed off the penalty and Pettersson even got a breakaway out of the box when it ended. Give Pettersson credit, he went for an ambitious Forsbergian deke, one that he’s used successfully in the past Unfortunately, John Gibson alertly poke checked the puck away mid-move.

Even as the Canucks spiral downward, Nils Höglander has been on a tear. He opened the scoring with his fifth goal in six games, going nearly end-to-end with a thrilling rush, dashing through the neutral zone, then using defenceman Josh Manson as a screen to send a well-placed wrist shot just under Gibson’s glove.

The Ducks responded on the power play, taking advantage on the second penalty of a double minor on Justin Bailey. The Ducks won a scrambled draw to get the puck back to Hampus Lindholm, who put the puck on a tee for Zegras, who grooved it upstairs like John Lee Hooker.

Zegras gave the Ducks the lead on another power play goal. Ryan Getzlaf got a shot off yet another cross-seam pass given up by the Canucks’ penalty kill and Madison Bowey put the rebound right on Zegras’s stick and he went Zegrassi High under the bar. 

A few minutes later, it was 3-1. Myers got caught deep on  a pinch, then Conor Garland, covering for him, got beat at the line on an aerial pass. Zegras sent a spinning pass to Sonny Milano that Garland nearly picked off. Nearly doesn’t count for much, unfortunately, and Milano actually backhanded the puck up over Jaroslav Halak.

Absolutely nothing is going right for the Canucks, as illustrated by Brock Boeser getting a clearcut breakaway, making a beautiful move to the backhand, and plunking the puck right off the crossbar. In another timeline, the puck went off the crossbar and then in off Gibson’s butt. In this timeline, the puck hit his back and plopped down harmlessly in the crease.

The Canucks never really came close to a comeback. They had some time in the offensive zone in the third period but struggled to get to the inside as the Ducks collapsed back defensively. Then, when they pulled Halak for the extra attacker, the Canucks struggled to even get into the offensive zone — they had just one shot attempt with the extra attacker, a point shot that went well wide.  

Eventually, the Canucks’ inability to gain the zone and get set up led to an empty net goal. Getzlaf knocked the puck off Boeser’s stick in the neutral zone and Adam Henrique jumped onto the puck and deposited it into the empty net.

The game was figuratively over but it wasn’t literally over. 21 seconds later, the Ducks attacked on the rush and Sam “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt” Steel tipped in a pass from Nick Deslauriers to make it 5-1. 

“I feel confident our team will pull out of this,” said head coach Travis Green after the game. “I know our power play will score. I know we have some players that will produce that have produced before. I know getting some of our defencemen back will also help our game.”