VANCOUVER — You know it is a bad night for the goalie when his stick, broken in frustration over the crossbar, ends up in the netting above the glass like a stranded salmon and requires freeing by the ice crew.
You know it is a bad night for the team when the double-digit outnumbered rushes surrendered include a pair of two-on-nothings, one of them short-handed.
You know the game is awful when the highlight of the night – as picked by the National Hockey League home team – is a fan sliding a puck into the net during an intermission contest.
You know that the Vancouver Canucks are finally as bad as many people predicted before the season began when they lose 7-1 to the Nashville Predators at Rogers Arena in a game where everything went wrong.
“I think it was not only hard for me, it was hard for the whole team,” the frustrated goalie, Anders Nilsson, said after getting pounded with 48 shots. “It was a tough game for the whole team. Nashville is a good team and they come (at you) pretty hard. But, still, I think everyone including myself needs to play better than this.”
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said: “Three or four goals tonight were strange. But that’s hockey. It’s going to happen. But it’s still about the way we respond. You still have to play within your system and do the right things. That’s the disappointing part. We lost 7-1 on home ice; that’s never fun. But it was just the way we played.”
Stresses on the Canucks lineup seem to have reached a critical mass. They are 0-4 since top player Bo Horvat broke his foot and have been outscored 20-5. The six-goal loss on Wednesday, which followed a 5-1 defeat in Winnipeg two nights earlier, was the Canucks’ worst in nearly four years – since a 9-1 embarrassment against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 15, 2014.
The goals the Canucks surrendered to the Predators were either plain awful or awfully unlucky or both.
The second one was worse than the first, which is quite remarkable because the first was scored on a lob. And the third one was so bad you’ll be seeing it on blooper reels for years. After that, the Nashville goals were a blur.
Nilsson, starting for Vancouver at least partly because Jacob Markstrom allowed the first shot he faced to leak through him on Monday, whiffed on the second shot Wednesday.
Actually, he didn’t whiff because whiffing implies some sort of physiological movement in an attempt to stop the puck. And Nilsson never saw the puck squirt up off the stick of P.K. Subban – brother of recently traded Canucks prospect Jordan – after Michael Del Zotto’s breakout pass was read and intercepted. The puck was struck with so little pace that it arced like a slowpitch softball and dived into the net over Nilsson’s shoulder just 1:33 after the opening faceoff.
But the next goal was worse considering the Canucks managed on their power play to surrender a two-on-zero break that turned into a tap-in for Viktor Arvidsson at 14:38.
Which brings us reluctantly to the third Nashville goal: a slapshot from just inside the centre red line by Subban that appeared to be zipping wide when Nilsson managed to play it into his own net with catching glove to make it 3-0 at 3:05 of the second period.
At least Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot from centre was on target when Dan Cloutier allowed it into the same east-end net during the 2002 playoffs.
Cloutier, now the Canucks goaltending coach, still gets questions about that goal and should know what to tell Nilsson.
“If you’re going to look at the positive side, it’s maybe better they come all in one game instead of spread out,” Nilsson said of the dodgy goals.
Nobody should really expect the Canucks to win these days. There is just too much out of the lineup right now with first-liners Horvat (broken foot) and Sven Baertschi (broken jaw) gone four-to-six weeks, key centre Brandon Sutter (upper body) forever out another week and winger Derek Dorsett forced by a back injury into retirement.
But most of the players remaining look depleted mentally or physically or both. And the violent market-correction for Canucks goaltending has coincided with the injury/energy crisis. So, beating a Stanley Cup contender like the 19-7-4 Nashville Predators, who were healthy and rested? Only if Pekka Rinne is awful or Brock Boeser scores four or, maybe, if the Predators had their rookie dinner in Vancouver and came down with the Roxy (nightclub) flu.
The Canucks need to play almost perfectly to beat anybody, and they’ve been farther from perfect the last week than at any point this season. They looked as bad Wednesday as they did down the stretch last season when former coach Willie Desjardins was a dead man walking.
They didn’t give themselves a chance against the Predators. That rainmaker by Subban 93 seconds into the game had the feel of a winning goal when it occurred.
The change in mood around the Canucks from just two weeks ago is stunning. They’ve lost four games in a row but it feels like 40. They’ve got seven more games in December and, honestly, it’s hard to envision them winning any, although the erratic Montreal Canadiens are in town next Tuesday.
When the San Jose Sharks visit Friday, the Canucks may also be without top-pairing defenceman Chris Tanev, who left Wednesday’s game when hit hard on the boards by Predator Austin Watson.
Just what they needed – more adversity.