VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks have never had a home-opener like this one. Has anybody?
In their first game in front of their paying fans, 11 days into a season in which everyone in the organization believes the National Hockey League playoffs are the baseline goal, the Canucks lost 5-1 Saturday to the Buffalo Sabres and were booed off the ice at Rogers Arena.
Three times late in a listless third period, when the Canucks barely competed despite trailing only 2-1 when it began, Vancouver jerseys had to be scraped off the ice after being discarded like trash by fans who have seen too many losses over too many seasons.
After a winless five-game road trip to start the year, the Canucks are 0-4-2. They have 40 home games remaining. Forty!
A jersey on the ice was the symbolic last straw for the Jim Benning-Travis Green era last season. Both were fired on Dec. 5, the evening after the Canucks came home from a long road trip and were beaten 4-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on a Hockey-Night-in-Canada Saturday night.
The new regime, headed by president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin, can’t possibly wait until December if this continues.
Rutherford told Sportsnet this week that it “would not be fair” to judge the Canucks based on a five-game road trip. But after Game 6, on HNIC’s After Hours segment, Rutherford offered a stinging assessment.
“We may very well be in a rebuild in the direction we’re going,” Rutherford told host Scott Oake.
A few minutes later, the president of hockey operations said: “I’m the same as the fans and everybody: it’s getting frustrating, it’s hard to watch. We’ll just have to be careful as to what our decisions are. I don’t think we can make panic decisions at this point in time.”
Well, then maybe Monday after the Carolina Hurricanes, who are better than any of the six teams that have beaten the Canucks so far, visit Rogers Arena.
Bruce Boudreau, the coach who preceded Rutherford to the Canucks last winter and was denied a contract extension last spring, is talking like someone who has nothing to lose.
“I don’t get how a team that hasn’t won a game — and you have a really good second period — aren’t excited about coming out in the third and doing the same thing as you did in the second,” Boudreau said of his players’ feeble final period when the Sabres scored three times. “It just looked like there was very little effort. I’m seeing it, you’re seeing it.
“The whole thing that concerned me was the effort level, and that’s what I was talking about. I mean, it wasn’t good enough.”
The Canucks finished last season 32-15-10 under Boudreau. Fans chanting “Bruce, there it is! Bruce, there it is!” became a theme song for the team’s revival.
But in the first home game that counted since then, some fans began booing early in the third period after the Canucks, who had just benefitted from an apparent Buffalo goal being overturned on video review, promptly gave up a two-on-one that Sabre Victor Olofsson buried to make it 3-1 at 1:54.
There were further boos on several shifts when the Sabres controlled the puck for long stretches, and when Zemgus Girgensons scored into an empty net at 16:31, and then when Olofsson scored again at 17:21 after the Canucks looked like they’d stopped playing.
And then there were the blue-and-green jerseys — flags of the organization — thrown over the glass by fans.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been involved with that,” Boudreau said. “And obviously, I hope the players feel the same way I feel about it: it’s just totally embarrassing. It’s something you never want to see. I’ve seen it happen in other arenas and everything, but I never thought it would happen here or on a team that I’m coaching. But if I was the fans, I would have been frustrated, too, because they’re watching what we’re watching.”
And what did the coach tell his players after this opening-night catastrophe?
“I told them to look in a mirror,” Boudreau said. “Usually if we’re not successful in the game, I don’t come in (to the dressing room). But I went in today and said that it’s totally unacceptable as a professional athlete. ‘Instead of looking at the other guy, look at yourself.’ I said I’m looking at myself.”
Canuck winger Conor Garland, who scored his team’s only goal when the second-unit power play cut a 2-0 deficit in half in the middle period, said it was “humiliating” to hear the boos and see jerseys tossed on the ice.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said of the team’s performance. “Just not nearly good enough again. It sucks. Just not good enough.”
Second-year winger Vasily Podkolzin said: “That’s hard to see, you know? We’ll see. Let’s go to sleep, and tomorrow morning I hope things feel better. Just keep working. But right now, I feel terrible about this situation. I think it’s just process, part of the season, I hope so. But I can’t believe it, honestly. It’s a terrible feeling.”
There are 76 games remaining.
But probably not for everyone.