The tank is dead. Long live the tank!
The Vancouver Canucks were never going to be able to tank with the best — or worst — of them in the race to the bottom of the standings for the best odds to draft Connor Bedard. A lousy stretch of play in January and February suggested the Canucks might have a true tank job in them, but some improved play under head coach Rick Tocchet, a soft schedule, and the return of Thatcher Demko nipped that particular Team Tank dream in the bud.
The Canucks started bouncing back heading into the trade deadline, then rattled off five-straight wins once the deadline passed and, with it, the uncertainty of who would be left on the roster. With the winning streak, the Canucks are now nine points clear of the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks for 29th and 30th in the NHL.
But the Canucks are only four points up on the Philadelphia Flyers to slide into the bottom five in the NHL standings and ensure they get a top-seven pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, which is expected to have a dropoff after the top-seven picks.
Are the Canucks likely to lose enough in the final 15 games of the season to fall that far? Perhaps not, as they still have a pillowy-soft schedule to finish the season and a revitalized team eager to prove themselves, but Thursday night’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes was an excellent start.
The Canucks and Coyotes are currently neck-and-neck in the NHL standings. Heading into Thursday’s game, the Coyotes were two points back of the Canucks. A win for the Canucks would have put four points between the two teams — disastrous for the tank — but a loss gave them both an identical 63 points.
Call it micro-tanking: losing just enough to get below one or two teams to give themselves slightly better odds of winning the draft lottery or picking a star even if they don’t win the lottery.
The odds are long that the Canucks will slide any further in the standings — they’re more likely to win too many games to close out the season and climb out of the top-ten picks entirely — but if they can pull out a few more clutch losses like this one, they might be able to pull it off.
Less probable things have happened. For instance, I just saw Travis Boyd score two goals when I watched this game.
- I kind of dug the vibe of Mullett Arena, the college rink that the Arizona Coyotes are calling a temporary home. Like T-Pain covering “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, it was way better than it had any right to be.
- The Canucks’ power play couldn’t buy a goal in this game despite getting lots of opportunities, as they drew five penalties. They were drawing more calls than Sue Johanson on a Sunday night.
- This might have been Anthony Beauvillier’s best game as a Canuck, which is impressive considering it looked like his night was done just a few minutes in. He took a Vitaly Kravtsov shot to the back of the leg and collapsed to the ice before crawling halfway to the bench, then hobbling the rest of the way. Fortunately, it was just a stinger, and Beauvillier didn’t miss a shift.
- On that very next shift, Michael Kesselring made a brutal giveaway to Elias Pettersson, with both Beauvillier and Andrei Kuzmenko wide open, as the Coyotes were all getting ready for the breakout. Pettersson made a great pass to Beauvillier, who made a heads-up play and gifted Kuzmenko with his one thousandth tap-in goal of the season.
- Kuzmenko is on a remarkable run. He’s got goals in four-straight games and, in the last month, he’s scored 12 goals in 13 games. No wonder he’s so eager to give away sticks; he keeps wearing them out.
- A bad giveaway led to the opening goal and a bad giveaway helped tie it up. Tyler Myers coughed up the puck in the defensive zone, then found his long reach wasn’t quite long enough to keep Travis Boyd from dragging the puck around his outstretched stick to rip a wicked wristshot off the far post and in.
- Ivan Prosvetov was outstanding in the Coyotes’ net in just his second start of the season and sixth start of his career. He made 29 saves on 31 shots, none better than his left-toe stop on a Pettersson power play one-timer. The big Russian just got his first NHL win a week ago, five years after he was drafted, but it didn’t take anywhere near as long to get his second.
- The Coyotes were buoyed by another Boyd goal in the second period. On the penalty kill, Myers chased the puck-carrier up the boards until he was as far out of position as the moon in the movie Moonfall. That left Boyd with plenty of room to attack the net and attempt a backhand feed to Brett Ritchie. Instead of completing the pass, however, the puck rolled off his stick, fooling Demko, who left his five-hole option in anticipation of the pass.
- Another power play goal in the third period gave the Coyotes a two-goal lead. Lawson Crouse found a soft spot between J.T. Miller and Tyler Myers, then took advantage of Demko committing to the shot too early to cut down low and sling the puck behind Demko.
- Yes, Myers was on the ice for all three Coyotes goals. He also saw the Canucks get out-chanced 14-to-4 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 according to Natural Stat Trick. Sometimes, when you let a giraffe roam free, you get a heartwarming scene in a prestige drama; other times, you get a disastrous performance like we saw on Thursday night.
- The Canucks were getting clear of the 1979-80 Los Angeles Kings for the worst penalty kill of all time, but giving up two power play goals on three opportunities caused them to take a step back. Rounding has them tied with the Kings at 68.2%, but the Canucks are still ever so slightly better: 68.18% to the Kings’ 68.15%. The Canucks still have a chance to make history this season; stay tuned.
- You could tell things were going awry in this game because Rick Tocchet dug the Line Blender 3000™ out of storage and ran through a few different combos in the third period. Vasily Podkolzin skated with Miller and Brock Boeser, Kuzmenko with Sheldon Dries and Kravtsov, and Garland got a turn with Pettersson and Beauvillier. At one point, the Lotto Line of Boeser, Pettersson, and Miller were briefly reunited too.
- Beauvillier showed incredible determination on the Canucks’ second goal. He outbattled Juuso Valimaki to prevent the breakout, poking the puck to Conor Garland at the point. Then Beauvillier bolted towards the net and took Garland’s return feed, then found Pettersson, who had smartly backed off into open space in the right faceoff circle. Pettersson had all the time he needed to send a shot that not only went top shelf but also brushed the dirt off Prosvetov’s shoulder.
- That’s as close as the Canucks would come. “We were sleepy tonight,” said Tocchet, like they had a one-way ticket to Snoozetown. “It just wasn’t a good effort from our team…They outworked us tonight.”