VANCOUVER – When you have been beaten 23 times in 32 games, it is not easy to find a new way to lose. So at least the Vancouver Canucks deserve credit for creativity.
In danger of stringing together consecutive wins, which would have matched the team’s longest winning streak since Dec. 5, the Canucks instead blew a three-goal lead and lost 5-4 in overtime Tuesday to the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena.
The Avalanche’s 31st-ranked road power play – yes, the National Hockey League’s worst road power play, which had generated only 12 goals all season – destroyed Canuck penalty killing by going five-for-six and producing Nathan MacKinnon’s winner at 3:36 of overtime.
The Avalanche attack consisted entirely of its power play. That was enough to beat the Canucks, who led 4-1 late in the second period before their inability to manage the game and avoid penalties (and dodge NHL officiating) brought Colorado back to win a game that had looked lost.
But no victory is safe with the Canucks these days, even when the team plays decently at even-strength three nights after it hammered the Boston Bruins 6-1 on the same sheet of ice.
You only think you have seen it all with the Canucks.
“They scored five on the power play,” Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said, speaking that sentence for the first time in a dressing room where most players disappeared faster than the Canucks’ three-goal lead. “That never happens. But it happened tonight, and we’ve got to move on. If we give up three on the power play and they’re 60 per cent, we win this game.
“It’s disappointing, but you have to look at the big picture. We played well. Five-on-five, we didn’t give up a whole lot of chances. It’s on their power play where they come back in the game. As long as we get the effort and the five-on-five play and those things, we should be good. Because, like I said, giving up five power-play goals, that never happens.”
Remarkably, the Avalanche power play required only 5:07 of advantage time to do all its damage. The Canucks had 5:01 of power play time and scored once in three chances.
Colorado tied the game at 16:59 of the third period after Canuck Jake Virtanen, often in error but seldom in doubt, was whistled for hooking after crazily losing the puck outside his blue-line as he dashed to the attack. Tyson Barrie’s one-timer from the point beat Vancouver goalie Anders Nilsson post-and-in. Barrie, the offensive defenceman the Canucks lack and who reportedly is available in trade, finished with five points.
“At least two of those goals our forwards have to do a better job of blocking shots,” Canuck penalty-killer Nic Dowd said. “If you’re not going to commit to it. . . Nilsson would rather see the puck. A couple went through me. It’s not from lack of trying.
“We were up 4-1 and guys were saying ‘they’re (referees Ghislain Hebert and Marc Joannette) looking for one, they’re looking for one.’ But if we stick to our game, those penalties would eliminate themselves anyway. But those penalties happen and you’ve just go to kill them.”
The Canucks couldn’t. The Avalanche power play scored on its final five chances.
After three goals in three minutes gave Vancouver a 4-1 lead late in the second period, the Canucks should have had the game iced. Instead they inflated a life raft for the drowning Avalanche by taking two needless penalties that re-energized Colorado.
Just 17 seconds after Michael Del Zotto cross-checked Alex Kerfoot in the numbers – the Canuck was lucky Kerfoot wasn’t injured or it could have been a major penalty, and goodness knows how many goals Vancouver penalty killers would have surrendered then – Mikko Rantanen wired a shot short-side on Nilsson to cut the Avalanche deficit to 4-2 at 17:57 of the middle period.
And when Thomas Vanek retaliated with a slash on Patrik Nemeth behind the Avalanche net, MacKinnon teed up a tap-in for Gabriel Landeskog that brought Colorado within a goal at 19:23.
It was understandable that Vanek was upset, having gotten no call when Nemeth slashed and hooked the Canuck on a partial breakaway with Vancouver still leading by two goals. But his angry slash was not veteran leadership, it was foolish, selfish.
The power-play goals for the Avalanche undid most of the good accomplished earlier in the period by the Canucks, who responded to Tyson Jost’s tying goal at 10:46 with goals in rapid succession by Nikolay Goldobin, Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat.
Goldobin’s power-play wrister off Nemeth’s stick broke the 1-1 tie at 13:01. Sutter made it 3-1 just 51 seconds later, scoring off goalie Semyon Varlamov’s catching glove on a 2-on-1 after Avalanche defenceman Nikita Zadorov skated the puck into a turnover at the Colorado blue-line.
And Horvat, wide open in the slot, scored from Brock Boeser’s centring pass to make it 4-1 at 15:42.
Up three goals on home ice with 23 minutes to go against a sinking opponent who had lost eight of their previous 12 games, the Canucks just needed to manage their game and play smart. They did neither.
Of course, there are reasons the Canucks have lost seven of their last nine games. But until Tuesday, none was a shorthanded unit that surrendered five goals.