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I Watched This Game: Hurricanes flatten the Canucks on Saturday morning

The Canucks kept pace with the Hurricanes early but the game got away from them in the second period.
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The Vancouver Canucks couldn't withstand the Carolina Hurricanes during a Saturday matinee on January 15.

The most deflating aspect of the Vancouver Canucks’ three-game losing streak on this road trip is that they haven’t played particularly poorly. 

Sure, the Canucks haven’t looked exceptional, by any means, but they’ve generally looked pretty similar to the team that rattled off an 8-0-1 record in the first nine games under Bruce Boudreau. It’s the same aggressive tactics in the neutral zone, the same uptempo forecheck, the same focus on attacking the net.

It’s just that against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes, the Canucks have come up short.

Sure, there are reasons why the Canucks haven’t been able to have the same success in the last three games as they had in the previous nine. Against the Panthers, the Canucks were coming off 10 days without a game, which can throw off your rhythm. They were better against the Lightning and just needed some power play success to tie the game. 

Against the Hurricanes, Thatcher Demko was unexpectedly thrown into the game to start when Jaroslav Halak tested positive for COVID-19 and had to enter the NHL’s COVID protocol. Also, the Hurricanes were particularly hungry to prove themselves after an ugly 6-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

But the primary reason the Canucks haven’t seen success is that they’re just plain not as good as the Panthers, Lightning, and Hurricanes.

It’s not just that the Canucks have lost three straight; it’s that the Canucks haven’t even been a threat to win any of the games. They haven’t led for a single second. Each game gave the impression that the opposition was in complete control of the outcome. 

Of course, these kinds of losing streaks happen all the time in a season. Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into three regulation losses, particularly when the Canucks just went nine games without one. Only, the team themselves have said that this road trip is a measuring stick.

“We’re gonna have a real tough road trip in January,” said Jim Rutherford when he was hired as president of hockey operations in mid-December. “Going through the gauntlet of Florida and Carolina and Washington — we’ll get a better read on this team at that time.”

Keep in mind, if the Canucks manage to sneak into the playoffs, this is the calibre of team they’ll be facing in the first round, or their Western Conference equivalent. If you want the team to see playoff success and not just make the playoffs and hope for the best, they need to be aiming to be as good or better than the Panthers, Lightning, and Hurricanes.

Rutherford likely got a pretty good read on the Canucks as he watched this game. Also, I watched this game. 

  • This game featured moment after moment of things going wrong for Elias Pettersson. He had a terrible giveaway at the blue line in the first period, rung the inside of the post on his best scoring chance in the second, and even blocked a shot at an open net from Nils Höglander while battling for the puck in front. He didn’t even play that poorly, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong. 
     
  • That includes getting hit in the face by Vasily Podkolzin’s skate during a puck battle after a faceoff. Pettersson was extremely fortunate that his visor took the brunt of the blow and he was left with a bloody nose rather than a skate cut to the eye.
  • Then, in the third, there was the final insult or, rather, a trifecta of insults. Pettersson had a chance and his stick snapped in his hands. At that point, who could blame him for feeling utterly defeated? As he slumped his shoulders and looked skyward, Frederik Andersen poked for the puck and took Pettersson’s feet out from under him, sending him crashing into the boards. The final insult to complete the trilogy is that the refs somehow missed the blatant trip and there was no penalty call.
  • Sebastian Aho wasn’t in the Hurricanes lineup when they lost to the Canucks in December and he quickly made it known that he was in the lineup this time around with the game’s opening goal. On the power play, Aho made a subtle shift from the bumper to the top of the left faceoff circle, opening up for a one-timer that went top shelf where Grandma hides the edibles.
     
  • The Canucks’ power play was once again powerless, going 0-for-5. Pettersson had probably their best chance with one of his patented one-timers from the top of the right faceoff circle, but he wasn’t put in that spot on the power play until late in the game. As a sign of how poorly things went for the Canucks power play, they nearly got out-shot by the Hurricanes, who had four shorthanded shots to the Canucks’ five power play shots.
     
  • Bo Horvat managed to tie the game before the end of the first period. He took a pass from Luke Schenn at full flight, gained the Hurricanes’ blue line, shaded to the left, and let loose a laserbeam that used Brett Pesce’s stick like a mirror to reflect ever-so-slightly over the glove of Andersen.
     
  • The Hurricanes quickly regained the lead in the second period. Off a faceoff in the Vancouver zone, both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers lost their feet while battling Hurricanes forwards, leaving all kinds of time and space for Andrei Svechnikov to set up Vincent Trocheck for a point-blank chance at the top of the crease. Trocheck made no mistake. 
     
  • It was a rough game overall for Ekman-Larsson and Myers. Shots on goal were 13-to-4 for the Hurricanes with Ekman-Larsson on the ice at 5-on-5 and 15-to-5 with Myers. They don’t even have the excuse that they were matched up against the first line — they actually saw more of the third line and got dominated by Steven Lorentz, Jordan Staal, and Jesper Fast.  
     
  • This clip shows a little of what was going wrong for that pairing. Myers got the puck down low below the goal line with plenty of time to make a play but was bizarrely indecisive and got caught by a Hurricanes forechecker, leading to a great scoring chance. Both Myers and Ekman-Larsson struggled to break the puck out and got hemmed in for some long shifts in the defensive zone. 
  • A few minutes later, after a couple of Canucks chances, Martin Necas made it 3-1. Brad Hunt tried to step up for an open-ice hit on Svechnikov, but the big winger spun off the check with a nimble pirouette to create a 3-on-1 for the Hurricanes. He fed Necas down the right wing and Necas sniped the puck bardown. 
     
  • Down by two heading into the third, the Canucks had 16 shots on goal in the final frame but couldn’t find the back of the net with any of them. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes extended their lead to 4-1 after Ekman-Larsson and Myers again couldn’t escape the zone. A bad angle shot by Brady Skej from the boards was cleverly tipped in by Lorentz just inside the post. Like a $5000 gratuity on a $311.76 bill, it was a ridiculous tip. 
     
  • The score could’ve been worse. I’m still in disbelief that Necas didn’t finish off this 2-on-1 chance that left Demko sliding literally into the boards out of his net. Somehow, with the puck on his stick and a wide-open net, he missed.

Canucks @ Hurricanes 1_15_22 _ NHL Highlights 7-32 screenshot

  • Seriously, look at where Demko ended up. How in the world did this not result in a Hurricanes goal?

Canucks @ Hurricanes 1_15_22 _ NHL Highlights 7-35 screenshot

  • Honestly, the most encouraging sign from the third period was Pettersson back at the top of the right faceoff circle on the power play where he belongs. The Canucks’ two best chances to score in the third period came off his stick: a one-timer that forced a nice blocker save from Andersen and a perfectly-placed wristshot for a Brock Boeser tip that nearly went five-hole.  
     
  • I really like Boudreau as a coach but I'm not going to lie: this kind of stuff really worries me. Juho Lammikko, Tyler Motte, and Matthew Highmore are fourth liners and should not be playing third-line minutes. While power play time factored into it in this game, it's still concerning to see those three getting more 5-on-5 time than Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, and Nils Höglander.