Coming off one of the Canucks’ worst losses in the last 20 years, you might hope for a stronger response.
The 9-2 loss to the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Tuesday was about as ugly as it gets, but one of the few positives was that it would surely be a wakeup call. Perhaps the Canucks had gotten complacent during their seven-game winning streak, becoming over-reliant on their goaltending or their power play to bail them out, but hopefully a seven-goal loss would be just the kind of slap in the face the team needed.
Instead, they gave up two goals on the first two shots of their game against the Florida Panthers and never really recovered.
It was a disastrous start for the Canucks, the exact opposite of what they needed. There was nothing to pin on Thatcher Demko, who started in net: the Canucks were just a hot mess in front of him. There were giveaways galore and long shifts spent chasing in the defensive zone. The Panthers were creating odd-man rushes like a fatalistic Gen Z teenager creating World War III memes, made worse when the Canucks’ defence kept pinching to try to create offence and the forward failed to adequately cover for them at the point.
Everything that could go wrong went wrong, except for one thing: they at least avoided any injuries, as far as we know. Don’t worry, I knocked on wood as soon as I typed that sentence and I’m expecting you’ll do the same as soon as you read it.
The Canucks went into the state of Florida on January 5th in third place in the Pacific Division, flying high into a playoff position after their winning streak. They leave Florida in fifth place in the Pacific Division, two points out of a playoff spot, and with a goal differential 10 goals worse than before they entered the Sunshine State.
Is it time to sound the alarm? Probably not, but the Canucks can’t keep playing the way they did these last two games and, to be honest, at too many points during their winning streak as well. They can’t just depend on Jacob Markstrom and Demko to bail them out every game. They have to clean up their defensive coverage, particularly their rotations, and they have to manage the puck better.
Maybe the Canucks, much like me in the morning, need at least two wake up calls before they’re actually alert. I was regrettably very alert when I watched this game.
- When I wrote about the Canucks’ new practice lines on Wednesday that replaced Brock Boeser with Jake Virtanen on the first line and Adam Gaudette on the first power play unit, I made sure to note that the Canucks under Travis Green have frequently experimented with different looks during practice that never showed up in a game. Sure enough, Boeser was back on the first line and power play unit to start this game. Two ugly losses in a row might result in a more significant change, however.
- The first goal came just a minute into the game on an uncharacteristic mistake by Quinn Hughes. With Vincent Trocheck on the forecheck, Hughes, anticipating a bodycheck, should have taken a raincheck on his pass or picked a different target off his checklist. Instead, his pass bounced like a paycheck from a shady employer, off of Trocheck’s skate to Noel Acciari, who sent the puck up like a checkmark past Demko. Checkmate.
- Two minutes later, it was 2-0 Panthers. Elias Pettersson, covering for Tyler Myers at the blue line, made an ill-advised pinch, like a pickpocket stealing the wallet of a mob boss. Pettersson couldn’t get back to cover Mark Pysyk on the odd-man rush that ensued, and Colton Sceviour sent a pass right on to Pysyk’s tape for the finish.
- The Canucks’ top line responded. After a chance for Myers (off a nifty tip-pass by J.T. Miller) was stopped, Miller stayed on the puck, out-working the Panthers down low to move the puck up to the point. Pettersson relayed it to Myers, whose shot was tipped in by Boeser in the slot. Good thing they kept him on the top line.
- Boeser had a pretty strong game overall, perhaps feeling motivated after getting bumped down the lineup in practice. He had a strong shot off the right win in the opening minute that Sergei Bobrovsky got his blocker on, then had a brilliant chance shortly after his goal: he was all alone in front of the net and tried to wait out Bobrovsky, but the goaltender didn’t bite and robbed him with the glove.
- It’s been over a year since Michael Matheson chokeslammed Elias Pettersson, but you better believe that Canucks fans didn’t forget and were eager to see some sort of fisticuffs or other retributiion. The game passed without much incident, but Pettersson and Matheson did scuffle briefly in the corner after getting tangled up in a puck battle and Matheson appeared to accidentally catch Pettersson in the face with his stick. It wasn’t much of anything, but it’s the closest it got to being something.
- The odd-man rushes came fast and furious: Myers gambled in the offensive zone, leading to a 2-on-1 with Mike Hoffman ringing the post. Brock Boeser didn’t seal the boards on the power play and Demko had to stop Aleksander Barkov on a shorthanded breakaway. And yes, a breakaway is an odd-man rush. One is an odd number, so a 1-on-0 counts.
- The 3-1 goal came on another odd-man rush. Troy Stecher pinched down the boards and Tim Schaller failed to cover properly at the blue line, leading to a 2-on-1. Jordie Benn, in his first game back after being scratched for six games, couldn’t get his feet to cooperate as he skated back to defend and the odd-man rush became an even-man rush: 2-on-0. Demko had little chance of stopping Evgeny Dadanov.
- If it felt like the Panthers were assaulting and peppering Demko, like they were seasoning a steak, it’s because they were. The Panthers had 49 shots on goal, the bulk of them from dangerous areas on the ice: scoring chances were 47-to-23 for the Panthers according to Natural Stat Trick. In one 12-minute stretch across the first and second periods, the Panthers had 14-straight shots on goal without the Canucks recording one.
- The Panthers scored on one of those 14 shots, as Jonathan Huberdeau undressed Chris Tanev on the power play, sending Tanev flailing to the ice with a toe-drag, then set up Hoffman at the right faceoff circle for a one-timer, which Hoffman sent under the bar like it drank 14 shots.
- It didn’t get any better the rest of the night. The Canucks couldn’t muster much offensively and Acciari scored his second of the night on a nice tip to make it 5-1 early in the third period. At that point, the game was basically over, but they cruelly forced the Canucks to play the remaining 13 minutes anyway.
- On the plus side, the fourth line came up with an all-too rare goal in garbage time. The whole line got involved: Tim Schaller got his stick on a breakout pass, which allowed Tyler Motte to steal. He played a nifty give-and-go with Jay Beagle before tickling the twine with a quick one-timer.
- The Canucks have now been out-scored 14-to-4 over their last two games. It was particularly frustrating that they couldn’t create more offence against the Panthers, as Bobrovsky has been, to put it bluntly, “Not great, Bob.” Heck, he gave up 3 goals on 7 shots in his last appearance. Was it just bad luck they ran into the good version of Bob?