SAN JOSE, Calif. – The effects of six injuries can be seen in the Vancouver Canucks’ ice times. Rookie Elias Pettersson played 17 minutes in the first two periods Saturday against the San Jose Sharks, while depth defenceman Alex Biega logged 17:30 in the game.
One of those numbers is more problematic than the other. Pettersson is one of the most skilled players in the National Hockey League. Biega is merely one of the most determined; he comes by the nickname “Bulldog” honestly.
But Biega, mostly a healthy scratch this season, played one shift too many on Saturday.
With seven minutes remaining in a tied game – a game in which the Canucks badly outplayed the mighty Sharks in the middle 40 minutes, outshooting them 28-13 – Biega fanned on an outlet pass when he had time and space, lost the puck and watched Joe Pavelski whip in a rebound after Timo Meier’s shot on a two-on-one drilled Canuck goalie Jacob Markstrom on the mask.
Virtually every goal in every league is the product of a mistake somewhere.
Markstrom was not sound on the first two San Jose goals, which he said he wanted back. Referees Chris Lee and Garrett Rank allowed Brent Burns to interfere with Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson on one of them, turning a 3-on-2 into a breakaway for Logan Couture. And with a lot of net open, Canucks winger Josh Leivo hit the post on a first-period power play when Vancouver was dominating.
But at the end of the night, after Pavelski’s opportunistic goal gave San Jose a 3-2 win and dropped the Canucks to 2-5-1 in the eight games since their injury crisis began to form two weeks ago, it’s impossible to downplay Biega’s error.
“I’m sure he wants to take that one back, but they’re a good team with good sticks and they made a good play on that goal,” Canuck centre Bo Horvat said. “Bulldog played a great game tonight. But one little thing and it costs you.”
“Just a mistake,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “It was a relentless effort by our group. You feel bad when a guy scores a goal off a mistake, but the way our guys played, they deserved a better (result) than they got tonight.”
Shots finished 34-26 for the Canucks, although Vancouver forced only one save from Martin Jones in the final seven minutes. The Sharks embarrassed the Canucks 7-2 in Vancouver on Monday, when junior goalie Michael DiPietro was lit up.
Vancouver twice rallied to tie on Saturday, making it 2-2 when Pettersson won a race to the puck on the end boards and reversed it to Brock Boeser, who skated to the side of the net and fooled Jones with a knuckler at 4:31 of the third period.
The Canucks played well enough to win, but lost again.
“At the same time, we’ve had some games where we haven’t played very well and won,” Horvat said “It’s funny how the league works like that. For us, sticking with it and sticking with our structure and our game, eventually things will go our way.
“We just didn’t find a way to get it done. You want to win these games; they’re important points to get. But I thought we did a good job against a hard team in a hard building, coming off a back-to-back.”
Markstrom said: “Third game of a California road trip, with a limited lineup, guys have really stepped up. To be 2-2 coming into the third, and with 10 minutes left in the third, and to lose in regulation, that’s tough.”
San Jose is 19-5-4 at home.
The game plan for most teams visiting the Shark Tank is to survive the first 10 minutes. The Canucks didn’t make it through the first four.
Vancouver defenceman Derrick Pouliot flipped the puck into the crowd just 2:03 into the game. Before the San Jose power play was over, Meier found space where there should have been none – right in front of the net, between all four Canucks penalty killers, and shot under Markstrom at 3:45.
Of course, by that stage five days earlier, the Sharks already led the Canucks 2-0 in what became a blowout.
But lest the rematch also get away from the Canucks in a hurry, Antoine Roussel tied it on a breakaway just 57 seconds later. It was Biega who took advantage of a poor San Jose line change and sent a stretch pass to Roussel, who got just enough on his shot to squeeze the puck between San Jose goalie Martin Jones’ left arm and torso.
The Canucks were the better team after that. Leivo and Nikolay Goldobin sent shots off the iron during Vancouver power plays.
But it was the Sharks who retook the lead, at 11:08 of the second period, when Gudbranson was tripped to the ice by Burns, allowing Couture to walk the puck in on goal. He waited for Markstrom to go down and tucked the puck past him.
Green, who rarely publicly criticizes the officiating, said: “I don’t think we got any breaks with the refs tonight, and yet our group stuck with it. I was proud of them.”
The Canucks lost two of their three-games-in-four-nights California tour.
“Overall I thought we played some pretty good hockey,” defenceman Ben Hutton said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get all the points we wanted.”
- Green stayed with the same lineup that beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout on Thursday. Newly-acquired winger Ryan Spooner will join the Canucks this week in Vancouver. Minor-league callup Zack MacEwen, who could be demoted to make room for Spooner, won a spirited fight with Barclay Goodrow after the faceoff that followed Couture’s go-ahead goal. But MacEwen did not get another shift and finished with just 2:34 of ice time.