On the winning goal, by Drew Doughty at 6:49 of the final frame, half the Kings’ lineup seemed to be on the ice, although there were extra Canucks, too, involved in a commotion at the bench after Los Angeles defenceman Jake Muzzin took a run at Vancouver super-rookie Brock Boeser.
The puck also bounced conveniently for Doughty, off Canucks defenceman Alex Edler’s shin pads, the way it bounced for the Kings’ Kyle Clifford off Erik Gudbranson’s skate on Los Angeles’ tying goal at 2:22.
But don’t let the bad bounces and questionable (non) call fool you, the Canucks led 3-2 in the third period at Rogers Arena and failed to get a point. And that encapsulates the calendar year 2017 for the Canucks, who were awful last winter, encouraging this fall, but clearly are still not good enough as they wait for key components of their rebuild to make it to the National Hockey League.
The Canucks went 29-43-11 over these 12 months.
What they have now, however, that they lacked when 2017 began is tangible hope.
Boeser is the best rookie the Canucks have had since Pavel Bure 25 years ago, and the 20-year-old winger with 21 goals in 36 games this season is having one of the most prolific starts to a career in NHL history.
His four-game goal-scoring streak was extinguished by the Kings, but the Canucks did get goals from second-year defenceman Troy Stecher and 22-year-old winger Nikolay Goldobin, the talented prospect lost in the Boeser vortex.
“I love where we’re going,” Stecher said Saturday when asked about the organization’s direction at year end. “And we’re not even out of it this year. We’re right there. Throw out the game film from that [1-7-1] stretch before the Christmas break; we weren’t very good and we know that as a group. Other than that, we’ve played some good hockey. It’s not like we played a terrible game tonight, but we didn’t find a way to win. The future is bright.”
“I think the young guys have taken steps,” veteran Daniel Sedin said. “Look at Bo and Sven and Boes. Our D-corps is playing a lot better, too. We’ve got to keep battling. Keep playing the system and it will pay off when we get guys back. I know it’s tough right now, but we have to battle to get wins and then get healthy again.”
The encouragement of the big picture does little to make the little snapshots prettier these days.
The Canucks failed to build on their 5-2 win Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks and got nothing from a game against the powerful Kings when they pushed back late after being badly outplayed the first 30 minutes.
Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom kept his team close, down just 2-1, until Goldobin tied it at 17:31 of the third period with his finest moment as a Canuck.
The winger, stuck on one goal through nine games after leading the Utica Comets in scoring earned him a recall by the Canucks, dragged the puck around Doughty to cut to the slot and beat Jonathan Quick with a backhand to make it 2-2.
The goal withstood a coach’s challenge for goaltender interference, which gave everyone time to rub their eyes and make sure it was, in fact, former Norris Trophy-winner Doughty who went fishing for the puck on Goldobin and came up with nothing.
Former King Nic Dowd gave the Canucks the lead 41 seconds into the third period, scoring from Markus Granlund’s pass on a three-on-one for his first Vancouver goal in nine games since his trade from Los Angeles three weeks ago.
But the puck pinballed for Clifford on the tying goal and fell kindly for Doughty on the winner. Canucks captain Henrik Sedin tried arguing the non-call for too many Kingsmen after Doughty scored.
“I have the utmost respect for the officiating in this league, they’re the best in the world at what they do,” Gudbranson said. “But they have 10 guys on the ice when they score. I don’t care if they’re standing at the bench. There’s 10 guys on the ice and [the officials] are standing there watching it. Their argument, I think, is that we were stopping them [from changing], but I don’t think we were closing their door.
“We’re not going to hang the game on that. There are other plays we’d take back, but that was a strange one.”
The Canucks dipped to 16-18-5 for the season, six points adrift of the playoff spot they held when Horvat broke his foot on Dec. 5.
“We’ve got to find a way to get a point there,” Stecher said. “[But] that’s a good hockey team. It’s a good league.”
It seems to get tougher all the time.