VANCOUVER – They shoot. They score. They still lose.
It had been so long since the Vancouver Canucks scored that it seemed before Saturday’s game that even one measly goal would do. Instead, they scored three against the San Jose Sharks and it still was not enough.
The Canucks overcame a two-goal deficit but lost 5-3 when Timo Meier, who was either scoring goals or taking penalties for the Sharks, broke the tie at 6:07 of the third period with a shot from the faceoff circle that fooled Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Meier had time and space to use defenceman Michael Del Zotto as a screen because the Canucks were halfway through a poorly-timed line change. Tomas Hertl added an empty netter for San Jose.
So while the Canucks ended an embarrassing goalless streak of more than 3 ½ hours, their losing streak stretched to six games. The team managed to lose its final eight games last season when it crashed towards the bottom of the National Hockey League standings.
Could the Canucks lose their final 16 this year? With 10 to go, anything seems possible. On a three-game road trip this week in which they were outscored 7-0, Vancouver goaltending was excellent. The offence non-existent.
Saturday, their power-play scored three times, but Markstrom wasn’t as good as Sharks backup Aaron Dell. It’s always something with the Canucks – even just a bad line change.
“You’ve got to look at the positives: we did score tonight,” Canucks centre Bo Horvat said. “We scored three goals and our power play was clicking and we were generating a lot of opportunities in the offensive zone and drawing penalties. Overall, I thought we had a great game. Just a couple of unfortunate breakdowns that cost us.”
The Canucks outshot the Sharks 31-30, but couldn’t generate another tying goal after erasing a 3-1 deficit in the middle period. Horvat redirected Brendan Leipsic’s shot-pass off the post, Daniel Sedin had his deflection through Dell cleared off the goal-line, and the San Jose goalie made a terrific back-door save on Nikolay Goldobin.
It was loss No. 38 for the Canucks, who have stalled in the standings at 59 points – a threshold the Tampa Bay Lightning, for instance, sailed past on Jan. 2.
“We get three on the power play, and that should be a win in this league,” Sedin said. “But we’re finding ways to lose right now, even though we’re playing well. It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to realize this is how we have to play. The last 10 games and next season, it’s going to take hard work. We don’t have the big No. 1 line or something like that. We have to rely on a team effort.
“I thought we played well the whole game for sure. And if you play the right way over an 82-game season, you’ll get what you deserve. We should have scored a few goals the last three games, but they came today and we’ll build off that.”
Moral victories. We suppose those are better than moral losses. But it would be nice for the Canucks to win a game and suffer a moral loss and see how that feels. Probably better than any of the last six games.
The Buffalo Sabres’ 5-3 win Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks nudged that dismal team within a point of the Canucks, who are 29th among 31 teams with three weeks remaining in another disastrous season on the West Coast.
Considering the Canucks hadn’t scored in their previous three games, a two-goal deficit looked insurmountable after Meier’s deflection put the Sharks ahead 3-1 1:47 into the second period.
But Vancouver’s power play, which was 0-for-9 the last six games, generated goals five minutes apart to tie it against the NHL’s top-ranked penalty-kill unit.
Sam Gagner bounced his centring pass in off Horvat at 5:23, and Alex Edler’s one-timer from 50 feet beat Dell stick-side to make it 3-3 at 11:48 after some sustained Canucks pressure.
It was the Canucks’ second power-play unit that opened scoring at 10:48 of the first period when Goldobin picked his spot and beat Dell with a short-side, top-corner wrist shot past Jake Virtanen’s screen.
The goal ended a scoreless streak of three hours, 42 minutes and 57 seconds for the Canucks – about 10 minutes shy of the frachise’s record drought.
Vancouver didn’t get much time to enjoy the novelty of a lead because San Jose tied it on Kevin Lebanc’s power-play goal at 14:58. Shots were 9-5 for the Canucks when the power play began, but advantages were 3-1 in favour of the Sharks.
The Sharks went ahead just 70 seconds later when Logan Couture established body position on Virtanen and muscled his stick free to chip Hertl’s centring pass over Markstrom’s shoulder.
“I want to win and everybody else does in this room,” Horvat said. “And losing is no fun. You’ve got to keep it collected and think positively and move on to the next game.”
That would be Tuesday in Las Vegas, where the Canucks open another difficult four-game road trip. We’re pretty sure they’ll score next week, but no one is guaranteeing a win.