A poor defence is no match for a poor attack.
In a clash of weakness versus weakness, the Anaheim Ducks’ pop-gun attack scored four goals for the first time since Oct. 17 and beat the porous Canucks 4-3 Wednesday in California as Vancouver’s National Hockey League losing streak hit seven games.
The Canucks have the second-worst defensive record in the NHL, yielding opponents 3.57 goals per game before Wednesday. The Ducks, who had just one regulation win in 15 games, had the league’s second-worst attack, averaging just 2.09 goals per game.
But Canuck defending and goaltending would not be outdone as the Ducks pumped 37 shots on netminder Jacob Markstrom and pretty much won wire-to-wire, taking the lead on Ryan Getzlaf’s first-period goal from Derrick Pouliot’s failed clearance and holding retaining it for 47 of the final 50 minutes.
Pouliot did tie the game at 4:15 of the second period on a beautiful pass by Sam Gagner, but in the third gave away the puck again on what turned out to be a game-winning goal by Kalle Kossila.
Nikolay Goldobin and Bo Horvat had the other Canucks goals, while Adam Henrique and Ondrej Kase also scored for the Ducks, who passed Vancouver in the Pacific Division standings and bumped the reeling Canucks out of a playoff spot for the first time since early October.
Here are some takeaways from Wednesday’s game…
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
About the worst thing that can be said about the Canucks’ loss is that it looked routine, which isn’t surprising when you are on a 0-6-1 freefall and haven’t collected a point in six games.
It’s certainly not about effort. The Canucks continue to work relentlessly, and again displayed fortitude against the Ducks by twice cutting two-goal deficits to one in the third period. Vancouver might even have manufactured a tying goal in the frantic final minute had it had even a little luck as the puck bounced around the Anaheim crease.
But there’s a sameness to these losses now. The Canucks chase the game, surrender a pile of shots and scoring chances as they press, and with six injured players, including top wingers Brock Boeser and Sven Baertschi, they don’t have enough talent to outscore their defensive mistakes.
The grave danger in this losing streak isn’t what it’s doing to the Canucks’ unexpected playoff battle – with one point since Nov. 8, they’re still only a point out – but what it’s doing to the players’ confidence and spirit.
There was a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm surrounding the Canucks’ 10-6-1 first month. But that has almost entirely evaporated.
Goldobin had another strong game for the Canucks, logging a season-high 20:47 of ice time while setting up one goal, getting credit for another when Jake Virtanen’s shot hit his skate, and helping drive the Vancouver attack with five shot attempts.
Including Goldobin’s goal and assist in Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the 23-year-old has as many goals the last two games as he did the previous 22. But the 23-year-old Russian has 12 points in his last 12 games and finally is building some consistency into his game. He’s playing more directly, and with more speed.
As we’ve noted before, injuries have kept Goldobin in a prime role and it’s vitally important that he take advantage of the opportunity while he can. In November, at least, he has.
At the start of the season, Derrick Pouliot was in the lineup and Ben Hutton wasn’t. It seemed there would be room for only one of them on the left side of the Canucks’ defence, although Alex Edler’s sprained knee has guaranteed both playing time.
But Pouliot’s goal against the Ducks was offset by glaring giveaways on two of the Anaheim goals. Pouliot finished minus-two with a shots-for percentage of 38.71, playing on a pairing with top shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev.
It looks at times like Pouliot has lost his confidence along with his prime power-play spot, now occupied by Hutton. After a poor performance against the Jets, Hutton bounced back in Anaheim and had a power-play assist, five shot attempts and a shots-for percentage of 60.0
If you could choose only one of Hutton and Pouliot right now, it wouldn’t be a difficult call.
MARKSTROM TOO SHORT
We understand goaltending is constantly evolving and is not only the most technical position in hockey but one of the most technical in team sports. Goaltenders are trained to do things now, mostly along the ice, that they’d have been ridiculed for in earlier eras.
But Wednesday was the second straight game that Markstrom was beaten over his shoulder from a sharp angle while he was down on one knee at his near post. Henrique exploited that space to make it 3-1 for Anaheim in the third period, two nights after Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor lifted the puck into the gap between Markstrom’s right shoulder and the crossbar.
We couldn’t even tell you if, technically, those are good goals or not. But for a goaltender who is listed as six-foot-six, Markstrom looks awfully short on those plays.
FRONT OFFICE SHUFFLE
And you thought NHL coaches had little job security. Within the Canucks, job-life expectancy seems equally short for the top executives.
Four months after hockey operations president Trevor Linden abruptly left after a clash with managing owner Francesco Aquilini, ownership is now changing the top employee on the business side of the operation.
After just 2 ½ years on the job, Jeff Stipec is being replaced as chief operating officer by Trent Carroll, who is being promoted from his post as executive vice-president of revenue. Stipec was hired in 2016 after career-employee Victor de Bonis was promoted by the Aquilinis to run the parent company that oversees the family’s business empire.
De Bonis was soon gone from that job, too. He is now a senior member of the Seattle group planning to bring a second NHL franchise to the Pacific Northwest.
Part of Wednesday’s corporate carnage was close Linden friend and former hockey-ops VP T.C. Carling, whose new role – as of last spring – of vice-president of arena operations is being eliminated.
Changes at the top of an NHL organization are always a little unsettling, but the impact of Stipec’s departure should have a negligible effect on hockey operations. General manager Jim Benning has reported directly to the Aquilinis since Linden was forced out in July.
At times in the franchise’s history, the Canucks’ top hockey man has also doubled as the team’s president (Pat Quinn, Mike Gillis). But Gillis’s corporate title was largely symbolic, and there hasn’t been much daily involvement between business and hockey operations since the late 1990s, when John McCaw owned the team.
This is a good thing. No hockey fan wants to see a business employee influencing hockey decisions. It’s bad enough when an owner does it, but at least he owns the team.