RALEIGH, N.C. – The hurricane the Vancouver Canucks face was not here in Carolina. It wasn’t even Hurricane Michael, which the Canucks were to skirt on their post-game flight Tuesday over the Florida Panhandle.
The hurricane the Canucks face is still coming: Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, then next week against two more Stanley Cup contenders in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets. There’s also a difficult game Saturday against the Florida Panthers.
The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat the Canucks 5-3 here Tuesday, were the figurative calm before the storm for a Vancouver team struggling mightily to defend its net.
Two games into their six-game road trip, which started Saturday with a 7-4 loss to the Calgary Flames, the Canucks have scored seven goals. This is the National Hockey League; seven road goals in two games should translate to three or four points. Instead, the Canucks have none because either their defending (Saturday) or goaltending (Tuesday) has been so damaging that their surprising offence isn’t enough to save them.
“If you score seven in three games, I’d like to get three wins,” Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom said. “So we’ve got to be better goalies, better D, better everything. We get our goals, but right now, today, I was not good.”
“Losing sucks,” Canucks leader Bo Horvat said. “No matter how many goals you score, if you lose at the end of the day, it’s still a loss. For us, that’s our main focus: we want to win hockey games.”
Then they better get profoundly better in their half of the ice.
Given three days to rouse and prepare themselves after fading badly in the third period in Calgary, the Canucks fell behind 1-0 Tuesday after just 43 seconds when Markstrom was beaten by Jordan Staal’s 60-foot floater from the blue line.
And after Canuck Sven Baertschi tied it with a breakaway finish even prettier than Alex Edler’s stretch pass that set it up, Markstrom let Brett Pesce’s point shot drift past him to make it 2-1 for the Hurricanes at 11:17 of the first period. Carolina led the rest of the way.
“I was frustrated, especially with the first goal,” Markstrom said. “And the second goal, I kind of whiffed on. I was going to head it in the corner and it’s a knuckle puck and goes to the side of my head. Those are frustrating goals to let in.”
It was only when Markstrom’s press scrum was transcribed that we realized he said he had planned to head the puck into the corner. Most goalies would use a blocker or something instead of channelling Cristiano Ronaldo or Harry Kane, but the Canucks are not conventional defenders.
They were a little cleaner with the puck in their zone than they were against the Flames, but still gave it away at critical points (like Brock Boeser on Warren Foegele’s third-period goal for Carolina) and lost coverage at times (like when Canucks defencemen Derrick Pouliot and Erik Gudbranson both ended up behind the net as Sebastian Aho was scoring from the slot to make it 3-1).
In the third period, which began with the Canucks behind 4-3, Vancouver was outshot 10-5 and failed to generate sustained pressure around Curtis McElhinney, the goalie plucked off waivers last week who is now 2-0 for the Hurricanes.
Boeser, last season’s Rookie of the Year runner-up who scored 29 goals in just 62 games, had a power-play second assist for his first point of the season but managed just one shot on net. This season’s Calder Trophy candidate, Elias Pettersson, led Canucks forwards with 19:10 of ice time and extended his points streak to three games – the only ones he has played in the NHL – with a power-play assist.
“I think a lot of things we’re doing to ourselves, whether it’s turning the puck over or losing a battle or not being in position and protecting the front of the net,” Edler said. “Just little details that are so important. Those are things that decide the games.
“You’re not going to win that many games if you give up five goals. We talk about it, and that’s something we’ve got to improve. We’ve got to play strong defensively.”
Centre Brandon Sutter said: “After last game, we just kind of had a dull feeling (because) we thought we didn’t play well. Tonight feels completely different. I thought we did a lot of good things. We have to stay positive and get a road win here. Sometimes for young guys, keeping your confidence and keeping your step is more important than a lot of the other stuff. We have to try to keep pushing.”
Or risk getting blown away.