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IWTG: Canucks' third period collapse wastes fantastic first-line effort against the Blue Jackets

In order to restore some sanity, even a few keels, and balance everyone’s mentals, the Canucks need to nip this losing streak in the bud.
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graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Are you getting nervous?

A week ago, Canucks fans were exuberant, celebrating a dominant 9-3 win over their most hated rivals that had them second in the Pacific Division, with two games in hand on the Vegas Golden Knights, who were just two points ahead of them in the standings.

What a difference a week can make. First there was the news that their All-Star goaltender got injured, then they barely eked out an overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens, and now they've lost three straight. They’ve slipped to fourth in the Pacific and are just two points up on the Winnipeg Jets and Arizona Coyotes to stay in the playoffs.

Things aren’t quite dire yet. The Canucks still have two games in hand on the Jets and Coyotes and their road trip is over, so they’ll be returning home, where they’ve been dominant. Of course, most of that dominance has come with Jacob Markstrom in net; can they continue that dominance with Thatcher Demko and Louis Domingue?

It would take a lot for the Canucks to miss the playoffs given the cushion they built up, but this March is looking like a lot, with multiple back-to-backs and one stretch with six games in just nine days, all against Pacific Division opponents. 

One positive, however, is that the Canucks have been very good this season at arresting losing streaks before they get too terrible. The longest the Canucks have gone without getting at least a point is just three games. Three times this season, the Canucks have had three regulation losses in a row, and then they’ve pulled out a win to right the ship. 

In order to restore some sanity, even a few keels, and balance everyone’s mentals, the Canucks need to nip this losing streak in the bud. Because this particular poisonous flower was near blooming when I watched this game.

  • On the second night of back-to-backs and a couple shaky starts by Thatcher Demko, Louis Domingue got his first start with the Canucks. For 52 minutes of the game, he was solid, much like the rest of the Canucks. After that, he and the Canucks changed states and got a little gaseous. He went from sublime to sublimation in a hurry.
     
  • The Canucks’ top line faltered against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and Elias Pettersson hasn’t been his usual self for a couple weeks now, but they were a force to be reckoned with against the Blue Jackets. The Canucks out-shot the Blue Jackets 12-3 when Pettersson was on the ice at 5-on-5 and he had a game-high 9 shot attempts in all situations.
     
  • After Tanner Pearson drew a penalty on the second shift of the game, the Canucks’ power play quickly converted. The power play was whipping it around like Messala, then Pettersson took advantage of the penalty kill cheating towards him and sent a hard pass to Bo Horvat in the slot. He tipped it just inside the post for his team-leading 11th goal on the power play.
     
  • It didn’t take long for the Canucks to make it 2-0. Tyler Myers played a nifty give-and-go with Miller, creating space for Myers to take a wrist shot from the point. Pettersson cut across the shooting lane at exactly the right time and got his stick on the shot. Like an extravagant gratuity from an overdrawn chequing account, the tip bounced, going off the ice over the left pad of Joonas Korpisalo. 
     
  • Midway through the first period, Antoine Roussel did something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in an NHL game. Wanting to get behind the net on the forecheck, but realizing he was coming from the wrong angle, he hooked his arm around the post, slingshotting around the net like Batman’s grappling hook turn with the Batmobile. It didn't accomplish anything, but it was kinda neat.
     
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  • Sidenote: the Mythbusters busted the grappling-hook-assisted turn in their superhero episode. Unfortunately, there is no cable that currently exists that is light enough to be fired from a car-mounted grappling gun, yet strong enough to withstand the immense force caused by a high-speed vehicle.
     
  • The Blue Jackets got one back in the first period: Domingue gave up a rebound on a shot through traffic. Quinn Hughes tried to pull the puck away from danger, but it went off Domingue’s pad instead and out to Riley Nash, who knocked it in front to Kevin Stenlund, who was as wide open as the net into which he put the puck.
     
  • Both the Canucks’ first period goals came on tips/deflections, and it proved to be a trend: 7 of their 39 shots were tips or deflections, which is well-above average. They typically average under 3 per game, and that’s on the high end when it comes to the NHL.
     
  • Even their one non-tipped goal involved a tip along the way. Miller’s tip-in of Troy Stecher’s stretch pass was nifty, getting just a piece of it as it came to him two feet in the air. The puck came around the boards to Pettersson on the opposite side, and he set up Miller for a blistering one-timer that went off the post and in.
     
  • The Canucks were cruising and in control in the third period: they had a two-goal lead and didn’t allow a single Blue Jacket shot until 8:10 into the period, then didn’t allow another until 12:08. It was a smothering defensive performance, until there was a sudden reminder why some consider the two-goal lead the worst lead in hockey: because it can disappear in a hurry.
     
  • The Blue Jackets’ second goal was a brutal defensive breakdown for the Canucks. As Alex Edler tracked Zach Werenski across the top of the offensive zone, one of Pearson or Horvat had to pick up Nash going to the net. Neither of them did. By the time Ryan Murray relayed the puck to Nash, he was all alone with all sorts of time to pick a corner.
     
  • I’d be inclined to place the blame on that goal solely on Horvat, as Pearson had Stenlund directly in front of him, but Pearson didn’t take Stenlund either, so he has no excuses.
     
  • Everything fell apart after that. Brandon Sutter took a bad penalty in the offensive zone and Werenski made him pay, drilling a one-timer right through Domingue. Honestly, I’m surprised there wasn’t a hole in Domingue’s chest like in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, the way the puck went right through him.
     
  • Then Roussel took a bad penalty on a backcheck, tripping Emil Bemstrom when there was little danger. The Blue Jackets power play struck again, with Bemstrom’s shot deflecting in off Oscar Fantenberg to give them the one-goal lead.
     
  • Given what I recently wrote about the Canucks getting badly out-chanced when Hughes isn’t on the ice, it seems noteworthy how little Hughes played during the third period collapse. In the time it took for the Blue Jackets to score three goals and take the lead, Hughes played all of two seconds. Yes, Hughes doesn’t play on the penalty kill, but the Canucks also didn’t get him on the ice immediately following the Blue Jackets’ power play goals to help change the momentum. By the time Hughes got back on the ice for a full shift, the Canucks were down by one and pulling the goaltender for the extra attacker.
     
  • The Blue Jackets sealed the comeback victory with an empty net goal, giving them four unanswered in the third period. In the space of eight minutes, the Canucks squandered a solid performance. It was the worst eight minutes since “Precious Palm Tree” by Malinda Jackson Parker.
     
  • I’m getting nervous.