‘Mentally weak’ Canucks making history for all the wrong reasons

The Washington Capitals scored four-straight goals in the third period, including the game-winner from Conor Sheary, to surge back and defeat the Vancouver Canucks 6-4.

WASHINGTON — It has never been difficult envisioning ways for the Vancouver Canucks to lose.

Even in their good years, calamity always seemed to be lurking. They’re the only franchise in the National Hockey League that is 0-3 in Stanley Cup Finals. And in the bad years, which have been multiplying, there is the constant whiff of defeatism surrounding the team. 

Despite what we’ve witnessed the last week, it’s too early to say if this season will be one of the good ones or bad ones because, honestly, it’s impossible to process or find context for the way the Canucks have lost their opening three games.

They remained pointless — and became even more fragile — Monday when they took a two-goal lead into the final period against the Washington Capitals and lost 6-4.

This followed another two-goal choke in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and a three-goal collapse in Wednesday’s season-opening 5-3 setback against the Edmonton Oilers, which already kind of feels like the good old days.

The Canucks surrendered the final five goals in Edmonton, the last three in Philadelphia and the final four in Washington, where Vancouver’s 4-2 lead entering the third period felt like a gag — a setup.

The Capitals scored four straight in the third period, three of them finished or created by Alex Ovechkin. Four goals for the Capitals, four shots for the Canucks. Two of the goals were open-net tap-ins by players unmarked by defenders.

Over three games, the Canucks have blown a cumulative 9-2 lead while being outscored 7-0 in the third period. Even for a team so accustomed to losing, this path to defeat has been untrodden until now.

Sportsnet Stats tweeted Monday that the Canucks are the first team in NHL history to lose its first three games of the season by blowing multi-goal leads in each. But the league is only 105 years old.

“We have a lot of veteran guys that have been there and done that, including myself, where we just can’t let this happen,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said.

“I don’t know if I have been through something like this; I think it might be a first. But enough excuses. We’ve just got to hold each other accountable. Every guy in this room has to be a heckuva lot better. We did great things. We did. We did unreal things in all three games, I thought, in the first 40 minutes. But it takes a full 60 to win a hockey game, and it starts with myself.

“We can’t get down on ourselves and feel sorry for ourselves every time they score. It’s how you bounce back the next shift, no matter what. Right now, we’re just showing some immaturity and, again, it starts with me. I’ve got to do better things, be a better leader, and eventually things are going to turn around.”

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Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau, working without a safety net on an expiring contract that suddenly looks even more tenuous, said: “It did look like we started to — what’s the word I’m looking for —  just sort of collapse and were afraid to win. They came at us pretty good (in the third period), and we just didn’t handle it very well.”

Later, he added to the theme: “I think right now, mentally weak would be a good assessment. When you’re on a roll, you’re waiting for good things to happen. When you’re in something like this, you’re waiting for something bad to happen.”

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The Canucks visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday before their five-game joyride ends Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, which could be the best team Vancouver faces before its home-opener against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

The Canucks’ place in history was not among the topics discussed by players after the game when they sent out the trainers, closed the dressing room doors and talked among themselves about what in the world is going on.

“The only way to win in this league is by defending,” defenceman Luke Schenn told reporters afterwards. “You can let your skill take over and you’re going to put up goals with the power play and you’re going to be able to create offence based on the skill you have. And we’re showing that. But the only true way that teams win in this league and win championships is by defending.

“We’ve got to defend way harder. We’re leaving guys open backdoor, even strength, in the third period. And that’s not singling anyone out. It’s just reality: we don’t defend hard enough, we don’t stop on pucks. The only way is to become detailed in your own end and harder (to play against).

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“The good teams who are consistent and win. . . are the teams that take care of the puck and the teams that defend well. That’s really all there is to it. We’ve had multiple-goal leads in all three games, so clearly scoring isn’t our issue.”

One of the authors of the Bible was also named Luke, and we’d take anything Schenn says about winning as gospel since he returned to the Canucks after collecting consecutive Stanley Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Schenn wasn’t singling anyone out, but Conor Sheary skated untouched past Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes to convert Ovechkin’s slap-pass on Washington’s winning goal at 12:44. And Ovechkin took advantage of the no-touch zone behind Elias Pettersson and Nils Hoglander to score similarly at 17:02.

John Carlsson had tied the game 4-4 at 8:43, finding space between the crossbar and goalie Thatcher Demko’s shoulder, to score shortside from a sharpish angle after Canucks callup Noah Juulsen passed the puck into turnovers twice in a few seconds.

Horvat, Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Curtis Lazar scored earlier for the Canucks. Pettersson and Hughes had two assists apiece, so Vancouver’s best players did some things right.

“It’s pretty tough right now,” veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said as he headed for the bus and a quiet flight to Columbus. “You don’t really have the confidence when you’ve been up two games in a row and they’ve been coming back in the third, so I think it’s a little bit back in your head. But… I believe in this team and I know that we all do. It’s going to be a tough game tomorrow, too. But it’s a perfect game to get out of this.”

Ekman-Larsson has been through a lot of players-only meetings.

“The bottom line is we know what we have to do,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how are we going to do it and how are we going to get over this thing here. A lot of guys spoke up and spoke from the heart. I mean, at the end of the day, we’ve got to play for each other.”

And check somebody.

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