VANCOUVER – There has been a lot going on around the Vancouver Canucks.
One game wasn’t enough to honour Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the greatest players in franchise history, so the organization built an entire week around the retirement of the twins’ jerseys on Wednesday.
The surprising Canucks were in first place in the Pacific Division for four weeks, while rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes continued to build on his Calder Trophy campaign alongside other subplots like Brock Boeser’s unknown injury and goalie Jacob Markstrom’s unknown future.
Plenty to watch, lots to talk about.
With all this, it has been easy to overlook the fraying of the Canucks’ game as the team struggled on special teams and bled scoring chances.
But the end of Sedin Week on Sunday and the Canucks’ 5-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, after Daniel and Henrik were honoured one last time for their contributions to the community, put the focus back on a team that is quietly just 2-4-1 in its last seven games. And Vancouver was outshot 49-20 in one of those wins, as Markstrom literally saved them against the Chicago Blackhawks the night the Sedins’ numbers were raised to the rafters at Rogers Arena.
If Sunday’s loss doesn’t get players’ attention, this should: Vancouver fell out of first place as the Edmonton Oilers inched ahead of them by winning in Carolina and, more importantly, the Canucks’ playoff cushion shrunk to four points with the Nashville Predators’ win against St. Louis.
Four points, that’s it.
After the season the Canucks have had, they could be out of a playoff spot with one really bad week.
“Teams lose in this league; it’s how you respond,” veteran Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers said. “Whether we’re in first or second or out of the playoffs, the mindset’s got to be the same. It’s coming to the rink every day trying to build some consistency in our game. We’ve taken some big strides this year, especially the second half. But for us, this is tough night. We don’t like to lose. But we come out next game and play that much harder. You simplify things a little bit and you get right back at it.”
The Minnesota Wild visit the Canucks on Wednesday before Vancouver’s longest homestand of the season ends next Saturday against the Boston Bruins. Then the Canucks travel back across the continent for another difficult four-game trip.
After winning nine straight at Rogers Arena, the Canucks are just 2-2 on this homestand. And they really should have lost to the Blackhawks on Wednesday.
“It’d be nice maybe to make us a little more pissed off and kind of play that way,” defenceman Troy Stecher said when asked about falling out of first place. “We’ve got to get back to taking pride in winning games we deserve to. It’s nice that we find ways to win games we don’t deserve to, but down the stretch that’s not going to happen.
“Just play as a five-man unit and bare down on our details. It seems like (we’re) two feet from the blue line and not getting those pucks out. When that happens, the forwards. . . stretch the zone and we’re not playing as five men. Seems like one little thing spirals into a bigger effect.”
On Sunday, Stecher accidentally knocked the puck into his own net, through goalie Thatcher Demko’s pads, while trying to block Adam Henrique’s goalmouth pass. That made it 1-0 at 5:38 of the first period, and the Ducks’ power play made it 2-0 at 12:22 after referee Chris Lee penalized Stecher for complaining about not getting a call when he was hit high by Anaheim power forward Nick Ritchie.
“I’m just not going to comment on the entire play,” Stecher said. “I’ve got to keep my mouth shut. That’s all I’m going to say. I got pissed off at myself; I never want to sacrifice a man down on our team. We’re a group in here and you become pretty tight with each other. You go to battle every night and you want to win. You want to win for the guy next to you. And when you penalize your team, you don’t feel too good.”
Henrique made it 3-0 on another power-play goal at 7:25 of the second and, despite the Canucks’ best period in a while, Vancouver was unable to build on Elias Pettersson’s goal that made it 3-1. Sam Steel and Brendan Guhle scored third-period goals for the Ducks, who are hopelessly out of the playoff race and lost 6-0 on home ice against the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
“The mindset all the way through the season is you want to be in the top eight,” Canucks centre Brandon Sutter said of the tightening playoff race. “We’ve been in first here for a bit, but we just haven’t really played our best hockey the last 10 or 12 days. Just in a bit of a funk. But we’ve got to keep pushing. We’re in a good spot. We’ve had a good go at it and we’re still in the top eight. Now’s the time of year you want to start putting wins together to separate yourselves form the teams in the ninth and 10th.”
“It’s just been so tight that even though we’ve been in first, we haven’t really been in first,” Hughes said after his assist on Pettersson’s goal gave him 45 points in 58 games. “Things can change overnight. Obviously, this was a special week. I’m glad we won against Chicago. If we’d lost that game, it would have been a huge downer. But at this point, we’ve got to focus on ourselves.”