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I Watched This Game: Canucks season continues to spiral down the drain in Boston

The Bruins dispatched the Canucks 5-2 and made it look all too easy.
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The Vancouver Canucks scored twice on the power play but couldn't get anything at even-strength against the first-place Boston Bruins. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Good teams get the benefit of the doubt. Bad teams don’t.

There are reasons why the Vancouver Canucks might be forgiven for their lacklustre performance against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. 

For instance, they were playing in the second half of back-to-back games after facing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. More than that, it was an earlier start in the second game, with a 6 p.m. local start time that gave them an hour less rest, and the Canucks had to travel between games.

Only, the Bruins were also playing their second game in two nights and also had to travel essentially the same distance, as they played in Buffalo on Saturday. So, that excuse is out the window. 

You might excuse the Canucks because they were facing a team that has yet to lose a single game on home ice and sits in first place in the NHL. But the Canucks came into the season talking a big game about being a playoff team and feeling like they could compete with any team in the league.  

This is the type of game that a good Canucks team would gear up for, eager to prove that they can be right there with the best teams in the NHL. But this isn’t a good Canucks team. They are repeatedly proving that they are, in fact, a very bad Canucks team.

There were stretches of the game where it seemed like the Bruins and Canucks belonged in different leagues. It felt like the Bruins were toying with the Canucks with how they possessed the puck and skated circles around them in the Canucks’ zone. Even when the Canucks managed some pushback, it felt like it was only because the Bruins let them — they were trying exactly as hard as they needed to in order to comfortably beat the Canucks and no harder.

At this point, it seems like the only way the Canucks can compete with the best teams in the league is if those teams treat them far too lightly and play down to their level.

So no, the Canucks don’t get the benefit of the doubt for losing 4-2 to the Bruins on Sunday, their 12th loss in 16 games. I refused to give it to them when I watched this game.

  • Andrei Kuzmenko was a healthy scratch for this game, which means it is, in fact, possible to scratch one of the team’s leading scorers. I mean, as long as they're a rookie and not a highly-paid veteran. Let's not get crazy!
     
  • Scratching Kuzmenko doesn’t make a ton of sense. He was separated from Elias Pettersson last game when that duo has been one of the Canucks’ strongest. If anything, they should be cycling wingers through their line trying to find the right third winger to complement them. Instead, they kept Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev together and I feel they play very different styles and haven’t found much chemistry yet. 
     
  • The opening goal was the culmination of seven minutes of relentless pressure by the Bruins from the opening faceoff, with the puck barely leaving the Canucks’ zone. It didn’t help that Thatcher Demko cleared the puck over the glass for a penalty in the opening minute but given how this game fell apart, if he didn’t take a penalty someone else would’ve. Barely half of this game was played 5-on-5, with 54 total minutes of penalties called. 
     
  • Tyler Myers was the main offender in the penalty column, taking three minor penalties, also known as the Tyler Myers Hattrick. Given how terrible the Canucks’ penalty kill is right now, players that take excessive penalties like Myers are a massive liability, and not just because he’s literally massive as the tallest player in the NHL.
     
  • The line of Conor Garland, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller got caught running around the defensive zone and couldn’t keep pace with the Bruins’ dizzying puck and player movement. When Horvat lost his footing trying to check Taylor Hall, Miller did the right thing by moving to cover Hall. Unfortunately, Ethan Bear didn’t pick up Miller’s previous check, Connor Clifton, and he hammered a one-timer past a bumped Demko to make it 1-0.
     
  • Kyle Burroughs made his presence felt in his return to the lineup, throwing a big open-ice hit on David Pastrnak in the first period, which would have been very difficult to do if he wasn’t present. He might’ve taken the worst of the hit, really, and then he had to fight Tomas Nosek and took the worst of that too. It wasn’t all bad — he drew an instigator penalty to put the Canucks on the power play.
     
  • The Canucks tied the game on that power play, with Quinn Hughes springing Miller on a breakaway. Miller finished with aplomb, sending Linus Ullmark sliding to the left with a hard deke to the backhand before cutting back to the forehand and tucking the puck inside the post. Unlike re-signing Miller until he’s 37, it was a fantastic move.
     
  • In further “fighting is dumb” news, Vasily Podkolzin dropped the gloves with A.J. Greer in the first period for his first NHL fight, got his face split open by a right hand, and didn’t return for the rest of the game. Some day, the NHL might question why they’re letting players get injured in a sideshow that has nothing to do with the actual game of hockey, but that day is not today.
     
  • The Canucks’ penalty kill stinks on ice, which is unfortunate, as that’s where the game is played. Patrice Bergeron was left all alone in the slot while Myers mostly just looked at him before swinging his stick vaguely in his direction as he deflected the puck past Demko to make it 2-0. The plus side to Myers taking all those penalties is that at least he’s not on the penalty kill, where he has consistently been one of the team’s most frequently used and undeniably worst penalty killers.
     
  • The Canucks didn’t get a lot of chances in the first two periods but, when they did, Linus Ullmark was there to stymie them. His best save came after Bo Horvat won a battle down low and fed Ilya Mikheyev in front, who made a strong move to the backhand but Ullmark stabbed out his left toe to make an incredible save. All I get when I stab out my left toe is my wife complaining that I need to trim my toenails.
  • The Bruins made it 3-1 when Bear was caught up ice, leaving Garland to cover for him alongside Burroughs to defend a 3-on-2. They did a disastrous job playing the odd-man rush — I haven’t seen a gap that big since I went to Times Square — and Pavel Zacha and Hampus Lindholm were free to pass back and forth to set up a Zacha one-timer that Demko didn’t have a hope of stopping.
     
  • The Canucks had their strongest offensive zone puck possession after that, with the Horvat line pressing hard for a goal, only to have it end on Hughes snapping his stick in half on a shot and taking a penalty for playing the puck with the broken half of his stick like it was mini-sticks in the basement. It’s like literally nothing can go right for this team.
  • The Canucks killed off that penalty but couldn’t kill of Myers’ third penalty of the game shortly after. Horvat won the faceoff, but Luke Schenn lost the race to the puck, allowing the Bruins to gain possession and get set up. Pettersson and Horvat didn’t take away the cross-seam pass a moment later and that gave Brad Marchand all the time and space he needed to snipe the top corner. 
     
  • The third period was pretty good for the Canucks but it never felt like they really had a chance at coming back. It just seemed that at any moment the Bruins could flip a switch a go back to dominating the game. The Canucks only hope would be that the Bruins would lose track of how many times they flipped the switch and accidentally leave it flipped to the “play down to the opponent’s level” setting. 
     
  • The Canucks did pull one goal back in the third period, with the second power play unit coming through. Oliver Ekman-Larsson kept the puck in at the point and got some help from Jake DeBrusk, who poke-checked the puck down low to Sheldon Dries. The Dehydrated One fired a hard pass in front to Jake Studnicka but it deflected in off Ullmark’s stick instead to make it 4-2.
     
  • That was as close as the Canucks would come. Mikheyev rang the post on another power play and was robbed again by Ullmark late in the third but the Canucks just couldn’t find that third goal. Nosek finally sealed the game with an empty-netter to make it 5-2.
     
  • If there is a positive to take from this game, it’s that Thatcher Demko looked a lot better. Of course, he still allowed 4 goals on 31 shots, so “better” is somewhat relative. But he made several huge saves, including stopping several breakaways, so he deserves a modicum of credit — a soupçon of praise — a trace of acclaim. 


 

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