WASHINGTON – A National Hockey League net is made of steel and weighs up to 125 pounds. When it falls on you, it tends to hurt.
Gravity is not the Vancouver Canucks’ friend these days.
When the net threatened to fall on goalie Jacob Markstrom Tuesday and the Washington Capitals scored a farcical goal, it was the Canucks who collapsed. They stopped playing for 25 minutes and by the time they started again, the Capitals had built their 3-1 win and the Canucks had fallen even farther behind in the standings.
Now 2-11-2 since top forward Bo Horvat’s broken foot sent the Canucks past a tipping point, the team’s free fall has probably already reached terminal velocity. But the injuries alone don’t fully explain Vancouver’s uncontrolled descent the last five weeks.
They are allowing 36 shots per game during this span – shots Tuesday were 38-36 for the Canucks only because they had a 20-7 advantage in the third period when the Capitals were comfortably leading by two – and bleeding goals and scoring chances. There is more wrong with the team than its health.
"We’ve got to find a way here, I don’t care," Markstrom said. "We’re not playing good enough for 60 minutes. That’s what kills us. You can always say it’s fluky goals we get scored on. But overall, we don’t deserve to win. We don’t play for 60 minutes."
Veteran winger Daniel Sedin said: "We’re a team that can’t take five minutes off, and we’re certainly not a team that can take 20 minutes off. That second period wasn’t good enough. We weren’t making plays, we weren’t skating. Everything you need to do to be successful, none of it was there. And then in third period we come out and play great. It can’t be that up and down. Right now, we’re turning five minutes into 20 minutes of bad hockey."
Before John Carlson’s disputed goal erased Sedin’s early power-play goal, the Canucks were outshooting the Capitals 11-6. Starting with the tying goal at 15:13 of the first period, Vancouver was outshot 23-7 over the next 25 minutes.
Shots were 18-4 for Washington in the middle period, when Markstrom was brilliant.
The goalie wasn’t as good in the first, when he swatted unsuccessfully with his catching glove at Lars Ellers’ wrist shot from distance that turned out to be the game-winner at 17:52 of the opening period.
But, really, the game turned on the bizzare sequence 2 ½ minutes earlier when Canuck Nic Dowd was forced by Capital Nicklas Backstrom into the back of the Vancouver net, tipping it on to Markstrom. Strangely, with the 125-pound weight falling over him, the goalie’s self-preservation instincts took over and he pushed his catching hand up against the ceiling of the netting.
As Canucks defencemen Michael Del Zotto also turned to help save his goalie, Carlson scored from above the right-wing circle. Because the posts did not come off their pegs, referees Kevin Pollock and Kendrick Nicholson had no problem with the goal. Presumably, they’d have had no problem had the 125 pounds crushed Markstrom’s neck, although they may have had to blow the whistle.
"If the play would happen again, I would have done the same thing," Del Zotto said. "I see the net falling on Marky, the first thing I think is to try to protect him."
Canucks coach Travis Green challenged the goal, but he was never going to get a reversal for Dowd being pushed into the net by Backstrom. The officials didn’t whistle the play for safety because the posts were still anchored.
And Canucks rookie Brock Boeser was able to crawl 120 feet to the bench when injured against Calgary before Christmas, and defenceman Chris Tanev was still moving, albeit without his stick and gloves, when a puck scattered his teeth like chicklets across the ice in Toronto on Saturday. Why interrupt play by whistling such harmless and inconsequential occurrences such as these?
"I thought the play just would have been blown down, but that’s not the rule," Green said of the Carlson goal. "They said it was a hockey play. I thought Dowd kind of got pushed into the net and they didn’t think so."
Carlson’s shot may as well have been a harpoon to a Vancouver team not strong enough mentally to withstand adversity – even in the form of atrocious luck.
"You see goals like that going in and it’s deflating," defenceman Erik Gudbranson said. "But that doesn’t make our response OK. We got a little bit loose, started stick-checking, not finishing our hits, losing battles at the blue lines. And it cost us. We’ve just got to play better.
"It is deflating a little bit to be in the situation we’re in. Guys come to the rink every day to work hard and try to do the right thing. It just doesn’t seem to be going our way. But also, it’s deflating when you shoot yourself in the foot, too. We’re not running away from that. That second period, we did it to ourselves.
"The way we played in the third period, we’ve got to come out every single game and play that way. We’ve got to be the most desperate team in the NHL."
Instead of the most fragile.