This wasn’t how the Vancouver Canucks were hoping to cap off an up-and-down road trip.
A win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday would have put them at a disappointing-but-passable .500 on their gruelling six-game excursion. Instead, the Canucks took a 4–3 loss at Scottrade Center and their playoff hopes continued to fade.
Here are four takeaways from Vancouver’s loss to St. Louis.
Time to sell
There’s no question this is a hard-working group, capable of at least frequently keeping themselves in games — often thanks to some third-period heroics — even while looking outmatched against more talented teams.
But Vancouver left too many points on the table on this long road trip.
Vancouver has 56 points through 58 games — the exact situation the team was in following Game 58 last year. This road trip wasn’t bad enough to cause a steep drop-off, but neither did it do the team any good. The Canucks started off this stretch five points back of the second wild-card spot — held by the Calgary Flames — which is the exact situation they found themselves in after the loss.
According to Sports Club Stats, Vancouver currently has a 2.2 per cent chance of making the playoffs. Cue the song: “I See a Darkness.”
Canucks GM Jim Benning admitted this week that he has yet to speak with players who have no-trade clauses in their contracts. The Canucks face a back-to-back this weekend — hosting the Flames on Saturday, and the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. After that, they’ll have five days off between games, which should give management time to try to work something out for Jannik Hansen, Alex Burrows and/or Ryan Miller.
The trade deadline is less than two weeks away; the clock is ticking.
Dreams of a goaltending duel go unfulfilled
The Canucks and Blues each took 21 shots on Thursday, good for shooting percentages of 14.3 and 19.0 respectively. Jacob Markstrom allowed goals on four of the first 18 shots he faced. With an average shooting percentage of 9.3 league-wide (as of Thursday), it’s fair to say neither goalie was at his best.
St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen entered Thursday’s game having won four of his last five starts, a sudden turnaround after earning only one win in his previous nine appearances. His poor play had led to rumours the Blues might seek a replacement via trade, and while Allen looked shaky at times on Thursday, the Canucks were unable to take advantage. Though had the Canucks put more than four shots on net in the third period — or any shots on goal at all with their net empty to end the game — we might be discussing a different outcome.
Bo Horvat back, but for the grace of skate guards
Having credited his skate guard for saving his foot (and potentially his season) after he blocked a shot at the end of Sunday’s game versus Buffalo, Bo Horvat delivered Vancouver’s first goal against St. Louis midway through the first to tie the game 1–1. The goal was Horvat’s 18th of the season (his career high, which came last year, was 16.
And how about that pass from Nikita Tryamkin? The hulking 22-year-old anticipated and intercepted a St. Louis clearing attempt before delivering a perfect pass to set up the goal.
After being underused the last time he was available for a Canucks late-game push with the net empty, Horvat was on the ice this time, playing for all but eight seconds of Vancouver’s six-on-five effort.
Sutter is playing through pain
After sitting out Tuesday’s game with a wrist injury, Brandon Sutter returned to the lineup on Thursday, but he looked to be in pain over the course of the night. Despite struggling to take strong shots early, Sutter still netted his 15th goal of the season, scoring via a tip-in redirecting an Alex Edler shot.
With no timetable for Sven Baertschi’s return — he flew home to Vancouver after suffering a concussion in the first game of the road trip — the rapid return of both Sutter and Horvat helped keep things close in what was a winnable game against the Blues.