Brock Boeser’s scoring can’t make up for poor Canucks goaltending

Brock Boeser scored his 20th goal of the NHL season but that's all the Vancouver Canucks could muster, losing to the St. Louis Blues 3-1.

VANCOUVER – This would be a lot more fun for Brock Boeser if the Vancouver Canucks won now and then.

Clearly, the rookie’s nightly goals aren’t enough to make the Canucks successful. If the National Hockey League team is really lucky, maybe it will be enough to keep fans excited.

All they need for Christmas are two more Boesers.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old became the first Canucks rookie since Daniel Sedin to score 20 goals – and the fastest ever to that mark.

But while the goal made Boeser rich, it did not make him happy because the Canucks lost 3-1 to the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena.

Boeser, who’ll be able to pay off his holiday bills with the US$212,000 bonus he earned with No. 20, has scored in seven of the last nine games, and 15 times in the last 19. He is the best Vancouver rookie since Pavel Bure, and could be the first Canuck since the Russian Rocket in 1993 to win the Calder Trophy.

But still the Canucks lose. With five or their top 10 or 12 players injured, including first-liners Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi and pivotal defenceman Chris Tanev, the Canucks are 1-7-1 in their last nine games.

Boeser’s goals help the branding, both the Canucks’ and his, and sell hope on the West Coast. But they haven’t meant much lately in the standings.

“I want to be able to produce to help the team win,” Boeser said. “Obviously, it’s been tough lately. I think we just have to take this time off, re-energize over the next couple of days and come back and have a big push. With all the injuries we’ve had, it’s a nice time for our team to have a break.

“Personally, it’s obviously going good. But it would be a lot better if we were winning games.”

A critical problem Saturday, as it has been in so many games lately for the Canucks, was goaltending.

It’s not that Jacob Markstrom didn’t make some great saves. But as has happened often this season, he didn’t stop all the ones he should.

The first goal he allowed was a poor one, and the second one even worse. The third was into an empty net.

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The Blues opened scoring at 11:17 of the first period when Patrik Berglund’s unscreened backhand from high in the slot drifted past a couple of outstretched sticks and beyond Markstrom.

That was smelly. Kyle Brodziak’s goal that broke a 1-1 tie at 18:30 of the second period was putrid. The St. Louis fourth-liner threw the puck at the net from an acute angle and it tumbled between Markstrom and the near post, which the goalie had failed to seal.

Brodziak could be seen on replays giving teammates an apologetic shrug as they approached to congratulate him. Like, “Sorry, wasn’t my fault it went in.”

No, it was Markstrom’s fault.

In six starts since his long-awaited first NHL shutout – a 3-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 5 that became the turning point in the Canucks’ season when Horvat brook his foot – Markstrom has allowed 23 goals. His save percentage in the five games before Thursday was .847. But in most of those games, the Canucks defended poorly and foisted on Markstrom a pile of outnumbered rushes.

That wasn’t the case Saturday. The Blues, also struggling to win amid key injuries, weren’t any better than the Canucks through two periods. But their goaltending was irreproachable.

St. Louis netminder Jake Allen, forced to challenge Thomas Vanek in the high slot after a defensive-zone turnover, was powerless to stop Boeser at 1:46 of the middle period when the puck was dished to him at the side of the crease. Allen stopped everything he should. He finished with 30 saves.

Markstrom had 31 saves, but it was the two that got away that people will remember because they should never have gone in.

“As a goalie, you want to outplay the other goalie,” Markstrom said after falling to 9-12-4 as a starter. “And today, it’s two goals I want back for sure, especially at this (difficult) time, too. When it rains, it pours for us.

“We’re back playing a better game than we have done the last couple of weeks here. We’ve got to take this Christmas break and, you know, come back a refreshed team. We can’t have seven-game stints like this when we don’t play good hockey and don’t win hockey games.”

They can’t have games when their goalies – backup Anders Nilsson has been equally leaky – are giving up clunkers. They can’t have games when the team is surrendering double-digit odd-man rushes. Still, they probably can’t win games when they have five injured players, all of them important, with the team halfway through a rebuild and waiting for another handful of talented prospects to arrive in the NHL.

“It’s on me,” Markstrom concluded. “It’s tough when you lose the game 2-1 and you want both goals back. I’ve got to be better.”

So does everyone else not named Brock Boeser.