VANCOUVER – Nobody wants to build a statue when you lose – especially in the rain.
Just as somewhere in Canucks Nation scaffolding was being erected for construction of the Brock Boeser statue – the Brocket as Sportsnet radio has named him – the Winnipeg Jets’ own young icons drove their team to a 4-2 victory over Vancouver on Thursday.
Euphoria over Boeser’s first-period assist in his long-anticipated National Hockey League season debut (he had to wait all the way until Game 3 to play) dissipated as the Canucks at times looked like last year’s 29th-place team, stuck in their own zone, unable to recover the puck and vulnerable against fast forwards.
With so much young, impactful talent in their lineup, the Jets are already what the Canucks organization is trying to build towards. This is a noble and popular ambition in Vancouver, but it should cause pause among Canucks fans that the Jets, even with their more advanced development, haven’t shown yet that they are actually any good.
The Jets have missed the playoffs the last two years and in the six seasons since Winnipeg got its NHL team back, the Jets have made the playoffs only once and failed to win a game in the Stanley Cup tournament.
So let’s just say the Jets still have some distance to travel, even if general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and coach Paul Maurice have been rewarded contractually like the team has won something.
The Jets are 2-2 this season but were outplayed by the Canucks over the final 40 minutes on Thursday. Yes, there was some “score effect” to the Jets getting outshot 12-5 in the third period when Winnipeg was trying not to blow a 3-1 lead but looked capable of doing it when goalie Connor Hellebuyck whiffed on a knuckle ball from the point by Canuck Chris Tanev with 7:17 remaining.
But the Canucks gave the Jets trouble, even if it came too late for Vancouver to maintain the glow generated by a 3-2 opening-night night win against the Edmonton Oilers last Saturday and nurtured through a 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.
The Canucks are 1-1-1, which sounds about right. One of their biggest problems against the Jets was one of the most debilitating factors last season: a poor power play.
After finishing 29th with the man-advantage last season at 14.1 per cent, the Vancouver power play is off to a 2-for-16 start (12.5 per cent). Daniel Sedin’s rebound goal from Boeser’s shot at 7:25 of the first period was more than offset by a shorthanded goal surrendered to Myers at 18:44 of the second.
After a Tanev turnover, Myers shot bar-down on Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom on a 2-on-1 to put the Jets up 3-1.
“Our penalty kill, I think, has been good,” centre Bo Horvat, the only Canuck in the conversation with the Jets’ young stars, said. “We just have to even it out with some good power play here. Last year wasn’t a good display of power play, and that’s something we need to focus on this year.
“It’s vital that we need to score on it – plain and simple. We had the opportunity there in the third [on the power play] to come within one or tie it and we just didn’t get the job done.”
The Canucks power play finished 1-for-5 but squandered a pair of key opportunities in the final period when Vancouver generated few quality chances.
“You look at their top two lines, they’ve got a lot of skill there,” Canucks defenceman Michael Del Zotto said after leading his team with 27:46 of ice time and a minus-three rating. “Most teams do. The ice was a little bit tilted in their favour in the first. Afterwards, we were playing with pace. You saw it out there. Once we started playing with speed and with pace, took care of the puck in the neutral zone … we were able to play very well. It’s just a matter of trying to do that consistently every game.”
The Canucks are trying to play fast but not aren’t a fast team. Their puck movement won’t be helped by a “lower body” injury suffered in the first period by top defenceman Alex Edler.
By the end of the game, Boeser’s assist was all but forgotten.
“I want to go out there and compete hard, and I think I did that,” Boeser, 20, said. “But it’s not about me, it’s about the team and we didn’t get the win. If I’m fortunate enough to be in the lineup next game, I’m going to do the same thing.”
The Canucks will need to do better to beat the Calgary Flames on Saturday.