Canucks’ loss to Hurricanes doesn’t take away from dominant stretch

The Montreal Canadiens tried to rally late but the Columbus Blue Jackets held on to pick up the 4-3 win.

Over 25 hours against two difficult opponents, the Vancouver Canucks took three out of four points in road games against the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders.

Vancouver’s .750 weekend winning percentage actually lowered the Canucks’ success rate over the last six weeks, which illustrates how well the National Hockey League team has been playing.

For the first time since the league adopted regular-season overtime in 1983, the Canucks lost a tie-breaker to the Carolina-Hartford franchise when the Hurricanes won 4-3 in a shootout Sunday in Raleigh, N.C. The Canucks defeated the Islanders 4-3 in overtime on Saturday.

Hurricanes’ folk hero Justin Williams scored the shootout winner against Canuck goalie Thatcher Demko, who had stopped all seven shootout attempts he faced this season until Williams and Teuvo Teravainen beat him on Sunday.

The Canucks had been 9-0-11 (the NHL began the overtime eras with ties) all-time in overtime and shootouts against the Hurricanes.

The loss only slightly spoiled the weekend for Vancouver, which rallied twice against Carolina to secure a point, tying the game at 9:06 of the third period on Elias Pettersson’s second goal of the game – a savvy finish from a sharp-angle after a give-and-go with J.T. Miller.

The Canucks are 2-0-1 on their five-game trip, which resumes Tuesday in Boston before ending Thursday in Minnesota, and their 14-3-1 tear since Dec. 17 has them three points clear atop the Pacific Division and nine points on the safe side of the playoff cutoff with 29 games remaining.

ANOTHER LOTTO TICKET

For the first time in six games, winger Brock Boeser was re-united full time on the first line with Pettersson and Miller against the Hurricanes. Although Boeser failed to collect a point, the 6-40-9 “Lotto Line” was excellent and combined for 12 of the Canucks’ 35 shots. Pettersson scored twice – his 50th and 51st as a Canuck in his 124th NHL game – and Miller had an assist.

Boeser had spent most of the previous 5.5 games on the third line with Adam Gaudette, replaced on the top unit by Jake Virtanen. Even as Virtanen soared and the Canucks won, there was plenty of public second-guessing over coach Travis Green’s demotion of Boeser, who looked ill-suited to a two-way grinding role beside third-liners Gaudette and Antoine Roussel.

Green’s chief objective, of course, is to win. The team failed to do that Sunday, although surely no one will blame Boeser for that. Back on the third line, Virtanen was held pointless for the second straight game. We’re betting he hasn’t seen the last of the first line.

MORE MIGHTY QUINN

No Canuck looked more involved on the weekend than rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes – whose two goals against the Islanders included the overtime winner – and on Sunday, he collected another assist and led Vancouver skaters with 24:40 of ice time against the Hurricanes.

The 20-year-old was beaten one-on-one by Andrei Svechnikov, the second-overall pick chosen five players ahead of Hughes in the 2018 draft, who made it 3-2 for Carolina on a solo rush through four Canucks. But while his team’s energy oscillated in Vancouver’s second OT game in 24 hours, Hughes motored all over the ice and looked again like a Calder Trophy favourite.

THREE STARS JOKE

Hockey’s post-game honour roll lost much of its credibility (and purpose) years ago when players on the visiting and/or losing team decided it was unconscionable to skate out in front of fans to acknowledge their selection as one of the game’s top three players. Somewhere, the NHL’s murky “code” must have been re-written to made such a selfish act morally abhorrent.

Typically, only victorious players from the home team are allowed to skate out for the three stars these days, which is probably why the ceremony is often little more than a self-congratulatory in-house propaganda pandering to the home fans.

But on Sunday, Pettersson, who scored twice, had six shots on net and is one of the best and most exciting young players in the NHL, was shut out of the three stars by a monopoly of Carolina players who were collectively outshot 35-32 in a 4-3 game they won in a shootout. Apparently, Warren Foegele was better than Pettersson.

We know it’s Carolina. But seriously, why bother?

PP ONLY MATTERS WHEN IT MATTERS

Since the Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 2, Vancouver’s power play is 4-for-41 and has fallen out of the NHL’s top-five. This market correction hasn’t hurt too much because the Canucks have continued to score goals at even-strength and win games. But the Canucks were 0-for-4 in Carolina and a goal on any of those advantages would have given them two points instead of one.

All power plays go in cycles. But a month-long slump is more than just a couple of cold games or hot goaltenders. One strength of power play coach Newell Brown is his collaborative approach. His most-talented players get input into how the power play operates, and a lot of leeway on the ice. But clearly, it’s not working right now.

There shouldn’t be enough GIFs in the world to convince anyone that a reporter knows more about hockey instruction than the coaches who devote their lives to it and whose livelihoods depend on it. But as usually happens when it struggles, the Canuck power play looks overly complicated and overly cramped inside the blueline.

The best penalty-killers in the world struggled for a decade to stop the Sedins’ break-in when all it consisted of was Henrik giving the puck to Daniel at the blueline on the left wing boards, and Daniel immediately skating the puck deeper into the zone to create options in front and space behind him. The Canucks aren’t moving to create space.

Squeezed between penalty-killers at the blueline, Miller, Pettersson and Hughes overpassed the puck out of the phone booth and into a second-period breakaway for Sebastian Aho.

Move the puck, move your feet. That’s our input. Plus that three-stars thingy.

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