Putrid penalty kill continues to haunt slumping Canucks

The Colorado Avalanche scored three straight goals in the third period as they handed the Vancouver Canucks their fifth straight loss, with a final score of 4-2.

VANCOUVER — How do you spell self-destruct? The Vancouver Canucks spell it with a P and a K.

In this rabid market, there are two concurrent jury debates raging about the National Hockey League team’s past and future: one based on the last eight years, and one on the last 11 games.

The investigation into the latter isn’t nearly as complex or, even, very subjective: the Canucks are losing because they are bleeding goals on their penalty kill at a historic rate while their own power play, along with marquee forwards Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, hibernates.

Home from a disillusioning road trip in which they were outscored 19-6, the Canucks on Wednesday looked again like a decent hockey team, dominating the Colorado Avalanche for about 30 minutes mid-game and outshooting the Stanley Cup contenders 32-19 at even-strength overall.

But they lost for the ninth time in 11 games, 4-2, because the Canucks’ penalty kill, so named because just about every penalty kills them, yielded three more power-play goals to the powerful Avalanche, which did all this damage over just four minutes and 11 seconds of advantages.

Vancouver’s power play managed only two shots (and no goals, of course) over roughly the same time: 4:04. In 17 games this season, Canucks special teams have built an unfathomable deficit of minus-14 goals.

Until Gabriel Landeskog’s empty-netter with 10 seconds remaining, the Canucks were headed to their sixth one-goal loss while getting blown out on special teams.

You would think this level of short-handed ineptitude would have Vancouver players terrified about taking penalties. But they took three questionable ones early in the third period after working all game to build a 2-1 lead on an Avalanche team that embarrassed the Canucks 7-1 in Denver just last Thursday.

On the two penalties that resulted in Colorado power plays — an elbow behind the play by Alex Chiasson, and an uncharacteristic, retaliatory penalty by Quinn Hughes on Samuel Girard — Nazem Kadri and Cale Makar scored for the Avalance and that was the game.

The Canucks are 2-8-1 in the last 11 games and have been outscored 19-4 on special teams. You read that correctly.

No wonder they are losing.

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“Frustrating to lose, especially with an effort like that,” coach Travis Green said. “Five on five was one of our better games of the year and, obviously, the penalty kill let us down.”

But discipline let them down before their penalty kill did.

Makar’s game-winning slapshot at 3:12 of the third period came just 10 seconds after Hughes broke his stick cross-checking Girard, who had hammered the Canuck with a check at the other end of the ice. The penalty gave the Avalanche a four-on-three power play, which for all the available space on the ice may as well have been a five-on-three.

“I got hit and then I don’t think I was planning on doing anything, and then he curled up and I just saw him (on the back check) and cross-checked him,” Hughes admitted. “Not a good penalty for me to take there at that time, and I can’t do anything about it now. I was upset at the hit . . . but I can’t be doing that.”

Hughes has been one of the best Canucks during their dreadful start, and one of the best defencemen in the NHL for most of his short time in the league. Part of the reason the penalty stood out as so reckless was because of its unlikely perpetrator.

“He’s not a guy that does that a lot,” Green said. “Probably a little frustrated just on the hit. I was kind of surprised. You know, I will say this: Quinn will learn from it. He’s a smart guy. I don’t think you’ll see him take that kind of penalty again.”

Despite the Canucks’ renewed competitiveness after their lost road trip, the loss won’t change the debate among the fan base about Green and general manager Jim Benning. There were very small but enthusiastic pockets of fans chanting “Fire Benning!” late in the game, but it didn’t feel like the fan revolt that preceded Mike Gillis’ firing as GM in 2014.

Still, there are two games to go on this homestand, starting with the Winnipeg Jets’ visit to Rogers Arena on Friday.

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“I don’t spend too much time on social media, so I wouldn’t even see it,” Hughes said. “But any time you lose like that, you know, there’s going to be pressure. For me, I take that personal, too, because the reason there’s those conversations is because guys aren’t doing their jobs. We didn’t score on the power play and PK hasn’t been good enough. It’s the personnel on the ice. So it starts with us and we’ve got to be better.”

Hughes agreed it’s not possible for the Canucks to have success as long as they’re getting routed whenever anyone is in the penalty box.

“I feel like we’ve been the better team at five-on-five for the majority the games,” he said. “Everyone knows that (special teams) is the problem. There’s no secret.”

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