Leaky defence, tired legs continue to hinder Canucks

John Tavares and Anders Lee had a goal and assist apiece to help the Islanders top the Canucks 5-2.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – In case you are unacquainted with the $50 continental breakfast or $20-an-hour parking, be warned that New York is an expensive place. Like so many westerners before them, the Vancouver Canucks saved up for the visit but still managed to empty their account in a few days.

The Canucks lost 5-2 Tuesday to the New York Islanders, ending their six days in the area with just one point to show from three games. Prudently, the Canucks began their six-game road trip by depositing four points into their National Hockey League account with impressive back-to-back wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

But the Canucks spent in New York what they earned in Pennsylvania, losing to the Islanders, New Jersey Devils and in a shootout to the New York Rangers.

After such a prosperous start to their trip, the Canucks head to Nashville desperate for a point or two. Beer and guitar music are cheap and plentiful in Music City but NHL wins for visitors are not, as the streaking Predators are 9-1-1 on home ice and one of the league’s hottest teams.

The Canucks only hope of finishing about .500 on a six-game trip that began 2-0 is to be vastly better, quicker and sharper in every sense, than they were against the Islanders.

The Canucks fell behind after five and a half minutes Tuesday by bestowing a shorthanded breakaway to Andrew Ladd, then surrendered two goals in 61 seconds late in the first period to trail 3-1. They never looked capable of catching up.

The downgrade in their play was startling compared to Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers, who are as good as the Islanders but were outplayed by the Canucks. Six nights in the same swanky Manhattan hotel, with only short bus rides to games and the one practice that was held, didn’t seem to do Vancouver any good.

Tuesday, they looked spent.

“We had some guys who looked a little tired tonight,” Canuck coach Travis Green said. “We didn’t play quick enough, and when you don’t play quick, you don’t put yourself in position to defend. You don’t take away time and space. We deserved to lose tonight.”

Partway through a rebuild, waiting for their young players in the NHL – and other leagues – to get better, the Canucks will have problems winning on many nights this season. But not often has their effort and intensity been questionable like they were against the Islanders.

“We just needed to find a little more tonight,” Green continued. “We tried to push in the third … but we can’t play a game and have some guys play a 70-per-cent game. We need everyone to play good, sound hockey and play a quick game. Against a team like this, if you’re not playing a quick game, you don’t get to puck battles quick enough and they’re going to have time and space.”

Green did not name names, but first-line winger Sven Baertschi’s ice time of 13:25 was three minutes below normal, while Thomas Vanek, who scored on the power play, played 11:21, his second-lowest ice time of the season. And Alex Burmistrov (8:59 and no shot attempts) may have played himself back out of the lineup.

Skilled minor-league callup Nikolay Goldobin took the warm-up but was a healthy scratch. He should play Thursday against the Predators. The Canucks need an injection of something.

“We talk about it all the time: we need all the guys, everywhere on the ice, all the time,” defenceman Alex Edler said of the team effort. “In our end, a lot of teams are coming hard on the forecheck and we’ve got to make sure the first guy goes back hard (to get the puck) and then we beat their second and third guy, too. I thought we played really well against the Rangers; we should have won. But today, we weren’t as good as we need to be.”

Canuck goalie Anders Nilsson failed to seize an opportunity to earn more than a win. With starter Jacob Markstrom having allowed fewer than three goals only once in his last eight games, a greater share of playing time is available to Nilsson if he earns it.

It was difficult to fault him on any of the Islander goals, but Nilsson was still beaten five times on 36 shots. As a team, the Canucks have allowed 33 goals while going 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. Over time, allowing three goals a game is a losing formula in the NHL.

In their first 10 games, when the Canucks were 6-3-1, they allowed 24 goals. Some of the change in the two segments can be attributed to a market correction, but Vancouver is yielding too many scoring chances and too many easy goals.

“I don’t think we played at our best level,” Nilsson said. “The whole team, I think can play a lot better than this, myself included. Obviously, I can play better. It’s not good enough for us not to reach 100 per cent (effort). Every game, we come out we need to play at our best to have a chance to win.”

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