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I Watched This Game: Canucks give up five goals — again — in loss to Lightning

The Vancouver Canucks should just assume that they need six goals to have any hope of winning at this point.
The Vancouver Canucks gave up five goals for the 19th time this season, falling 5-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks have allowed at least five goals against in nearly half of their games this season.

On Thursday, the Canucks hit the halfway point of the season with game 41 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And, for the 19th time this season, they gave up at least five goals.

That would put the Canucks on pace for 38 games with 5+ goals against this season. Since the Canucks have a long history of sadness, that would not be a franchise record — it would, however, be the second-most games with 5+ goals against in Canucks history.

That dubious record belongs to the 1984-85 Canucks, who gave up at least five goals a whopping 47 times. In fact, they averaged 5.01 goals against per game and their total of 401 goals against isn’t just a franchise record but the sixth-most goals against in NHL history.

This season’s Canucks aren’t quite as bad as one of the worst defensive teams in NHL history. If that seems like small consolation, that’s because it is.

To put it into perspective, since 1991 — the last gasps of high-flying “eighties” hockey — the most games the Canucks have had with 5+ goals against in one season is 20. 

The Canucks are one game away from that and the season is only half over. At this point, the Canucks should just assume they need to score at least six goals to win.

I think everyone knew heading into this season that defence was the Canucks’ biggest weakness but I don’t think anyone could have predicted it would get this bad. The Canucks have given up the third-most goals per game this season and they’re catching up on the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second-most.

At 5-on-5, the Canucks have allowed the second-highest rate of high-danger chances against in the NHL according to Natural Stat Trick. They have a historically bad penalty kill, only managing to kill off 66.9% of their penalties — the lowest ever was 68.2% from the 1979-80 Los Angeles Kings.

It’s not just the defence — the Canucks’ forwards are culpable, as well — but let’s be honest: it’s mostly the defence. Scratching Oliver Ekman-Larsson for this game didn’t make things any better, though it arguably didn’t make things any worse either.

Speaking of things hopefully not getting any worse, there’s still half a season of Canucks hockey left. And I will watch all 41 of those games just like I watched this game.

  • The Canucks came out flying in the first period, playing like they had something to prove after a couple of bad losses. They were all over the Lightning in the early going, out-shooting them 8-0 through the opening minutes. It was enough to make you wonder if the real Canucks had finally woken up or if it was just that the Lightning were still asleep.
  • J.T. Miller helped open the scoring with his physical play, knocking Ian Cole on his tuchus in a battle along the boards before relaying the puck to Luke Schenn at the point. Schenn’s shot took a deflection and was stopped by Andrei Vasilevksiy, who also robbed Bo Horvat on the rebound, but, like the short king he is, Conor Garland immediately asked, “What about second rebound?” and popped the loose puck into the net.
  • This was a rough night for the officiating, with so many blown calls that it was laughable. It wasn’t one-sided, mind you — they were equal opportunity with their awfulness, such as somehow failing to call a boarding penalty when Lane Pederson ran Vladislav Namestnikov through the numbers and sent him face-first into the boards.
  • The Lightning got a power play eventually, however, and tied up the game after some relentless pressure. Mikhail Sergachev’s point shot was going about six feet wide, but intentionally so. Like Lucifer reaching out to bring John Constantine back from the brink of Heaven, Corey Perry reached out and dragged the puck back to the net.
  • Travis Dermott left the game in the first period, returned for the second period, and then left again. There was speculation that he got cut by a skate but the Canucks had no update on his status after the game. With the Canucks down to five defencemen for half the game, Quinn Hughes had 27:35 in ice time, while Tyler Myers was right behind at 26:28.
  • I cannot emphasize enough how much it wasn’t Collin Delia’s fault that the Canucks gave up five goals. He made some fantastic saves, such as robbing Brayden Point on a breakaway late in the first period. Like Raul Julia when he was handed the Street Fighter script, Delia did the best he could with what he was given, but he couldn’t save the entire game/movie.
  • The Lightning took the lead early in the second period. Elias Pettersson blocked a shot in front, but Tyler Myers didn’t stick with his man, Alex Killorn, who jumped on the loose puck, spun, and snapped the puck past Delia’s glove.
  • It’s a shame that Pettersson’s block led to the goal, as his commitment to putting his body on the line in this game was commendable, with a team-high three blocked shots and even a blocked pass at the blue line that temporarily hobbled him. He wore an “A” in place of the scratched Ekman-Larsson and certainly led by example in this game.
  • The Canucks responded on the power play with a beautiful goal. Quinn Hughes sprung Miller on a breakaway with a slick stretch pass, then Miller moved in on Vasilevskiy and, with quicker hands than Roy Jones Jr., deked to the backhand to make it 2-2. 
  • The Lightning regained the lead off the rush, taking advantage of some chaos from the Canucks’ defensive “structure.” Brayden Point blew through Bo Horvat and Luke Schenn at the blue line, forcing Hughes to come across. Schenn never got reset, sliding to his knees for an attempted shot block that took him right out of the play. Delia stopped Nikita Kucherov, then Steven Stamkos on the rebound, but couldn’t stop another shot from Kucherov, who was left open by Dakota Joshua.
  • The Lightning’s fourth goal was maddening. The puck was chipped into the Canucks’ zone for Killorn and Hughes chased him down. Unfortunately, so did Ethan Bear, who seemed to think Hughes was beaten. As both defencemen went to one man, Brandon “Wilhelm Friedrich” Hagel was left wide open and he freely self-determined that the puck should go into the net.
  • Hughes and Bear misplayed the rush but what made it extra maddening was watching Miller see all of this happen and never once show any sense of urgency to backcheck. Miller did so many good things in this game — he had a goal, an assist, and drew a penalty — but when you’re F1 coming back into the defensive zone, you can’t just let a man skate by you and peel off into the corner. You could argue that his responsibility was to watch for a potential third man coming into the zone but he didn’t even do that; he was heading to the boards for a breakout pass, hoping that one of Hughes or Bear would come up with the puck.
  • Even more maddening is that the goal came with just 31 seconds left in the second period and just nine seconds after an offensive zone faceoff. The Canucks could have escaped the second period only down by one goal but they couldn’t keep the puck in the offensive zone. 
  • Tyler Myers had a pretty good game overall. He was active in jumping up in the play and had seven shots on goal. Unfortunately, his lack of discipline cost the Canucks when he took a bad slashing penalty on Corey Perry while already shorthanded, giving the Lightning a 5-on-3. I mean, I get it, slashing Corey Perry is fun, but there’s a time and place.
  • Stamkos hammered a one-timer past Delia on the two-man advantage to make it 5-2. It was the 499th goal of Stamkos’s career. A minute later, Delia made like Benjamin Franklin Gates and stole history: he robbed Stamkos of his 500th when he had a point-blank chance while still on the power play. 
  • Once Stamkos scored number 499, the goal of the game for the Lightning was no longer to beat the Canucks — that seemed to be a given at that point — but to get Stamkos his 500th career goal at home before they embark on a five-game road trip. They repeatedly looked to set up Stamkos instead of just trying to score, most notably when Point was on a 2-on-1 and forced a pass instead of taking the open shot. That single-minded focus nearly cost them. 
  • Hughes got the Canucks on the comeback trail with a Stamkosian wrist shot off a feed from Pettersson. Hughes sent the puck ripping into the top corner with a perfectly-placed shot like he does it every day or something, instead of it being just his third goal of the season. 
  • Then, with Delia pulled for the extra attacker, Pettersson used one of his 11 shot attempts of the night to get the Canucks within one. Hughes put the puck right in Pettersson’s wheelhouse and he blasted a one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle. I would call it a Stamkosian one-timer but Pettersson has made that shot all his own.
  • A Killorn penalty put the Canucks on the power play for the final two minutes of the game and it should have turned into a 5-on-3 — 6-on-3 with the extra attacker — when Sergachev sucker-punched Conor Garland during a scrum around the net. 
  • Whatever the circumstances surrounding that moment, nothing ever justifies a sucker punch like that. Frankly, Sergachev should get a suspension for that — it’s unfathomable that it happened right in front of referee Kyle Rehman and there was no penalty. 
  • The Canucks still got one last-second — literally last-second — chance to tie the game. Hughes drew in two penalty killers on a zone entry and slipped the puck cross-ice to Horvat, who relayed the puck back to Brock Boeser, who was in alone. But the pass was behind Boeser, preventing him from taking the shot himself, so he passed it back across the crease to a wide-open Curtis Lazar, who was robbed with 1.0 seconds remaining by Vasilevskiy.
  • Here’s the thing: why on earth was Lazar, who has one goal this season, even on the ice in that situation? He was put on the ice in place of Garland, whose helmet was broken in the fracas with Sergachev, but why Lazar and not, say, the Canucks’ fourth-leading scorer, Andrei Kuzmenko? It makes no sense.
  • Finally, there was an odd post-game quote from Hughes about Tanner Pearson, who it was announced will not be returning this season following a third surgery on his hand. Hughes said, “That wasn’t handled right,” when asked about Pearson’s season being over. That’s a very ambiguous statement: was the announcement not handled right? Was his injury not handled right? How was it mishandled?
  • That Hughes said anything at all seems significant — players rarely speak publicly about such things — but his quote just raises further questions.