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I Watched This Game: Canucks losing streak extends to seven games with loss to Hurricanes

A two-goal game from J.T. Miller wasn't enough for the Vancouver Canucks to survive the Carolina Hurricanes' relentless puck pressure.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 3-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes, extending their season-opening losing streak to seven games. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

This is the worst game-seven loss since 2011.

Okay, maybe that’s too far. But it’s hard to avoid the cynicism after the Vancouver Canucks lost their seventh-straight game to start the season. It’s getting farcical at this point — will the Canucks ever win again?

Of course, they will. Right? They have to win a game at some point.

It’s just that the Canucks were facing a buzzsaw of a team in the Carolina Hurricanes, who are absolutely relentless with how they pressure the puck. With the Canucks missing Quinn Hughes, who was placed on Injured Reserve, and with few other defencemen capable of moving the puck, the task was taller than Tyler Myers on Monday night.

After the game, Boudreau said the Hurricanes played the best against the Canucks of any team they’ve faced and called them “one of the top-five teams in the league.” He heaped praise on them for the way they poured on the pressure. 

“Their pursuit — they never give you a second,” said Boudreau. “They're on you all the time and then they're throwing four lines at you, and their defence is as good a defence as you're gonna see in the league.”

For two periods, the Canucks were up to the challenge. Despite a ramshackle blue line, they gave themselves a chance to win. Thatcher Demko kept his team in it in the first period with 15 saves on 16 shots, the power play chipped in a goal, and the Canucks played a solid low-event second period to go into the third period tied 1-1.

And then, a minute-and-a-half into the third period, the Canucks were down 3-1.

It’s not just that the Canucks gave up two quick goals, it’s that they had no response. The Canucks were out-shot 15-to-3 in the third period, despite trailing by two goals for almost the entire time. 

When asked what the Canucks need to change to get better and start winning some games, Myers metaphorically pointed down the hall to the visitor’s locker room.

“You can take a look at the way they played the game tonight,” said Myers. “It’s a good start.”

Boudreau’s theory is that the Canucks have a “fear of winning” — a fear of trying to make plays to win the game for fear of doing something wrong. 

“They don't want to make the mistake to be the ones that lose the game,” said Boudreau. “But in effect, when you're doing that, that's what you do. You become the player that makes the mistake because you don't play forward, you're playing waiting.”

Meanwhile, Canucks fans will be playing a waiting game of their own: waiting to see which will come first, the team’s first win or management’s first move to fix the team. I don’t know about you, but like The Trews, I am tired of waiting. I watched this game. 

  • J.T. Miller absolutely looked like he was playing with more fire and spirit in this game than he has up to this point, which seems notable given it was his first game back on the wing. He scored two goals and had a golden opportunity late to score the redemption hattrick but for a sliding shot block by Brent Burns. Was it the boos every time he touched the puck in the third period on Saturday night that lit a fire under his backside or just the freedom of not having to play centre?
  • “I think that I could skate so much more and it gets me into the game,” said Miller about playing on the wing. “I was physical, I was on the puck a lot more — I definitely felt better today.”
  • Let’s be clear: one goal on the power play and a fluke bounce off an opposing players face for a second goal does not mean he’s back to the old J.T. Miller. He still had the Canucks’ worst corsi percentage in this game, as the Hurricanes out-attempted the Canucks 17-to-5 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5; shots on goal were 12-to-2. 
  • To be fair to Miller, everyone was out-shot in this game, even Elias Pettersson, who looked like the team’s best forward. The shots on goal were 39-to-16 for the Hurricanes. It’s not necessarily Miller’s fault or any of the forwards — the Canucks defence can’t break the puck out cleanly with possession. That’s the number one issue and focusing too much on the forwards inability to get shots would be missing the mark like the Funky Bunch after Mark Wahlberg took up acting. 
  • At the same time, it’s not really the fault of the Canucks defencemen that the blue line is so poorly constructed. They don’t have a lot of depth on defence to begin with and the absence of Quinn Hughes really hurts. Add in a few more injuries beyond Hughes and you have a group that was doing their best — their best just wasn’t good enough. 
  • “When you have however many guys out, it's not about doing more, it's about doing your job the same way,” said Myers. “It's the same focus — you focus on the same two or three things going into the game. And it's not about trying to do more. Trying to start forcing things is just going to create bad habits.”
  • Guillaume Brisebois — the third-longest tenured player in the Canucks organization after Bo Horvat and Thatcher Demko — got the call-up for this game and he faced an old Utica Comets’ teammate: former Canucks prospect and preseason star Jalen Chatfield, who has settled into a bottom pairing role for the Hurricanes. 
  • With both Ethan Bear and Calvin De Haan as healthy scratches for the Hurricanes, we joked in the press box that it should be like when a team doesn’t have enough players show up for a beer league game — just borrow a player or two from the other team so you can at least play a game. 
  • The Hurricanes struck first on the power play, taking advantage of both Curtis Lazar and Bo Horvat coming up above the hashmarks, which is not a recipe for success on the penalty kill. Horvat needed to drop back into the slot with Lazar chasing up high, but he instead looked like he was playing man-to-man defence like it was 5-on-5. That left the middle of the ice wide open for a cross-seam pass and a one-time finish by Andrei Svechnikov for his seventh goal of the season. 
  • Boudreau called the goal “too easy” and shook up the penalty killing units after that. Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller started the next penalty kill and Miller heaped praise on Pettersson’s work on the PK: “He made two great reads and it kind of got a little momentum for us…he’s really becoming a hell of a penalty killer.”
  • It looked like the Hurricanes took a 2-0 lead shortly after, but the goal was disallowed for goaltender interference, as Paul Stastny had his skate in the crease, preventing Demko from kicking out his pad to make the save. Was Stastny pushed into the crease by Curtis Lazar? Sure, but like a construction crew in the summer heat, the Canucks will take all the breaks they can get.
  • The disallowed goal turned into a two-goal swing. The Hurricanes challenged the ruling on the ice and got a delay of game penalty when the call was upheld. The Canucks turned around and scored on the power play. Horvat pulled a puck out of skates down low and took advantage of one of the worst penalty-killing reads I have ever seen as Teuvo Teravainen left Miller wide open in front of the net in order to take away a passing lane to the point. Miller happily accepted the tap-in goal.
  • There were some weird icing calls in this game and Horvat was absolutely livid after an icing that he was certain he had beat out. He uncharacteristically swore directly at the official, yelling, “No, f*** you!”
  • You have to love the tag team of Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin rocking Seth Jarvis on the forecheck. Did it lead to anything? No, but it got the crowd pumped up, which is an accomplishment at this point. 
  • Pettersson has been playing well all season and looked good against the Hurricanes, but he just couldn’t get any results. Boudreau mixed up the lines in the third period, rotating him with Podkolzin, Nils Höglander, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Connor Garland, trying to get something going, to no avail.
  • “I was trying to find somebody that would go with him,” said Boudreau, emphasizing the word “go” to mean keep up with how well he’s playing. “Podz was pretty constant on his line but trying to find that other winger is sometimes a little more difficult.”
  • Pettersson had a lapse on the 2-1 goal early in the third period after Jarvis burned past Oliver Ekman-Larsson for a point-blank chance. Demko made the save, but the puck squeaked through his pads to sit in the crease. Sebastian Aho beat Pettersson to the loose puck for the easy finish — but maybe that’s because Aho grabbed hold of Pettersson a moment earlier and didn’t get a penalty for it.
  • Less than a minute later, it was 3-1. The Hurricanes attacked quickly off a regroup in the neutral zone, with Andrei Kuzmenko failing to stay on the defensive side of his man. That left Jack Rathbone in no-man’s land trying to stop a sudden 2-on-1. Eric Staal sent the puck to Jesper Fast and he made like Mats Hummels and sent a beautiful volley into the top corner.
  • For anyone asking why Boudreau didn’t challenge the kicked-in goal, that’s not a challengable play for a coach — it’s automatically reviewed by the NHL’s situation room. That means it was reviewed and determined to not be a kick. I mean, it looked like a kick to me, but that’s only because I have eyes.
  • The Canucks got one back on their second shot of the third, over 10 minutes into the period. An attempted dump-in by Tyler Myers hit Jesper Kotkaniemi in the face and bounced into the high slot instead of rimming around the boards like Myers intended. Miller was Johnny on the spot and drilled the puck into the top shelf like he was making a hockey-themed accent wall.  
  • That should have been the shot of life the Canucks needed to mount a comeback but they only got one more shot on goal — a Jack Rathbone backhand from 81 feet. In other words, the Canucks’ only shot the rest of the game was actually just a dump-in that happened to be on goal.
  • Sigh.