Canucks deliver dull performance without Brock Boeser

Derek Stepan scored his 12th goal of the season in the final minute of regulation to help the Arizona Coyotes defeat the Vancouver Canucks.

VANCOUVER – So this is what the Vancouver Canucks look like without Brock Boeser.

Like a beach without sunshine. Like Stanley Park without trees. Like a world without music. And cat videos.

Actually, maybe it’s not as bad as any of those things, this just being hockey and all. But there was a forlorn joylessness about the Canucks on Wednesday that did not exist before Boeser, the best Vancouver rookie since Brian Mulroney was taking visitors in the Prime Minister’s office, was injured two nights earlier.

The grim reality of life without Brock set in for the Canucks and those who watch them when the National Hockey League team struggled to generate anything, let alone excitement, in a tedious 2-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena.

The Coyotes are no longer the worst team in the NHL. They haven’t been for a while, but they were still last in the standings due to their epic 11-game losing streak to start the season.

But on a night when the Canucks helped them look like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Coyotes edged ahead of the rancid Buffalo Sabres on winning percentage.

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Shots were 34-17 in favour of what had been the 31st-place team – the three periods went 16-7, 8-4, 10-6 for the Coyotes – but Arizona had to wait until Derek Stepan’s partially screened shot from between the faceoff circles with 58 seconds left in regulation to collect its ninth win in 13 games.

At least nobody got hurt. Except for anyone who paid full price for their ticket.

Even the many West Coast draftists hoping for losses would have been jeering the Canucks if any of them actually watched the games.

“We’re professionals; we have to go out there and perform,” Canucks veteran Daniel Sedin said. “We’ve got guys playing for spots on this team and we want to finish this season the right way, otherwise (losing) is going to drag on to next season, too. We’ve been harping on consistency and obviously we took a step back tonight.”

The Canucks were re-energized by the trade deadline last week when young, speedy forwards Brendan Leipsic and Tyler Motte came to Vancouver hoping to prove they are NHL players.

In their first three games with the Canucks, Vancouver scored 12 goals, took four of six points and entertained their fans with consecutive overtime games against the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators and New York Islanders. That, of course, was with Boeser in the lineup.

The 29-goal scorer and Calder Trophy candidate suffered a small fracture in his lower back when he was checked into the door frame at the Canucks’ bench in the final minute of the third period in Monday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Islanders.

The Canucks announced the next day that Boeser would miss four to six weeks – the rest of the season.

“We miss him, but we still have to come out and compete,” defenceman Derrick Pouliot said Wednesday after the Canucks fell within six points of the Coyotes at the bottom of the Western Conference. “Obviously, he’s a big piece to this puzzle. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for some of other players to step up and try to fill his role.”

But against Arizona, no one came remotely close, although Leipsic, the 23-year-old who has six points in four games in Vancouver, was probably the best Canuck.

He set up Jussi Jokinen’s first-period goal that tied the game and would have had another first assist had Jake Virtanen managed to hit an open net from close range on Leipsic’s second-period setup.

Virtanen was just OK after being one of the best Canucks against the Islanders. Motte was not noticeable and Nikolay Goldobin, who stands to gain or lose more than anyone down the stretch, was so poor that coach Travis Green gave him only nine shifts and 7:50 of ice time.

Boeser is the fifth Canuck forward out with a long-term injury, sixth if you include Derek Dorsett, who was forced by a spinal injury to retire in November. These next four weeks will be the best chance some players may ever get to prove they belong in the NHL and should be considered for next year’s team.

Only Wednesday morning, Green reiterated his challenge: “For me, these games are just as important as the games at the start of the year. I want to see who’s a player, who plays to win every time they’re on the ice. There’s a lot of opportunity right now with all the injuries we have. When that opportunity knocks, you’ve got to answer the door. We’ll find out who does.

“You’re always evaluated. That never changes. I don’t care if you’re in your fifth-year pro, first year, 10th year, unless you’re a top top-end player, you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to bring it. We’re not looking to stand pat. We want to get better. And if there are better players available, then they’re the ones that will play.”

The Canucks are expected to add NCAA scoring leader Adam Gaudette as soon as his season at Northeastern ends. Other elite prospects like Elias Pettersson and Kole Lind will have the chance to make the team next fall, when Boeser and the rest of the injured players will be healthy.

“I hope it’s going to get a lot harder,” Green said of the competition for jobs. “I want it to be as hard as possible for guys to play. I don’t think spots are gifted; I think you have to earn them. We’ve got lots of good, young players coming that are going to push guys, and if they’re better than other players or close to it, then the other guys are going to be in trouble.”

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