One game after junior call-up Mike DiPietro was forced by injuries to start for the Canucks and got ventilated in his National Hockey League debut, Vancouver was unable to get even a single puck past Kevin Boyle as the Anaheim Ducks’ fourth-string goalie won his first NHL start 1-0 on Wednesday.
Jacob Markstrom, whose unexpected “tightness” prevented him from playing Monday’s 7-2 debacle against the San Jose Sharks, was back in net for Vancouver and looked good. But he wasn’t quite as impenetrable as Boyle as the Canucks fell to 1-4-1 in their last six games and failed to take anything off a Ducks team that had lost seven in a row.
“It felt good today,” Markstrom, who has been brilliant the last two months, told reporters. “It was nice to be back. I haven’t played in four days. It was nice to be out there and those four days were huge for me to kind of get my body back in game shape again.”
We’ll find out Thursday if Markstrom’s shape is good enough for him to play twice in 24 hours when the Canucks visit the Los Angeles Kings.
The idea of sitting him out Monday, which forced DiPietro to start during his emergency call-up from junior, was based on the hope that Markstrom would be well enough to play the Canucks’ three-game road trip in California.
“We talked, and it was either (miss) that game or back-to-back here,” Markstrom said, unequivocally denying he had back spasms as was reported. “And if I sit out the game in San Jose, I get four days to kind of get back to where I want to be to play and that’s the decision we made.
“We’re trying to figure out everything tomorrow.”
If Markstrom can’t play, new backup Marek Mazanec will make his Canucks debut. Vancouver acquired the minor-leaguer on Tuesday from the New York Rangers. DiPietro was returned to the Ottawa 67’s on Wednesday.
The Ducks’ Jakob Silfverberg scored the game’s only goal at 6:30 of the first period on a couple of accidental assists from Canucks forward Bo Horvat.
To collect a loose puck, Horvat skated across Markstrom and knocked the paddle from the goalie’s hand. After Horvat turned over the puck as he headed up ice, Markstrom was still stick-less when Devin Shore centred to Silfverberg, whose close-range shot rattled through the goalie on his blocker side.
It was as much bad luck as bad play, but at least the Canucks still had 53 minutes to get the game back.
“I’ll take blame for that one,” Horvat said. “I should have got the puck out. It went of the shaft of his stick and they kept it in. It’s tough when you’re left without a stick as a goaltender, and I blame myself on that one.
“I thought we played a pretty good game tonight. We got lots of shots, lots of opportunities to score but we didn’t find it a way to get it done.”
Would Markstrom have made the save had he possessed a stick?
“We’re never going to find that out for sure,” he said. “Obviously it helps when you have a stick. I was using my hand to locate my post and it took my blocker a little bit out of position.”
Boyle was never out of position. He stopped all 35 Canucks shots as the Ducks were outplayed and outshot (35-21) in the first game since general manager Bob Murray fired coach Randy Carlyle and went behind the Anaheim bench.
The 26-year-old Boyle, undrafted out of college and having spent the last 2 ½ seasons in the minors, got his first NHL start because John Gibson and Chad Johnson are injured and Ryan Miller is just back from missing two months with a sprained knee.
Even making his first start after just one 40-minute relief appearance in the NHL, Boyle’s experience and polish put him far ahead of DiPietro, the 19-year-old who was thrown to the Sharks.
His best saves were glove stops against Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser late in the second period, and one-on-one against Josh Leivo during a third-period power play. The Canucks were 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
“It’s a production-based league,” Canucks point man Troy Stecher said. “We need results. We had some looks. I don’t think we’re mad with how we performed on the power play. It just sucks sometimes when you’re not getting results.”
Possibly as costly as the loss, the Canucks also played the last 15 minutes without key defenceman Chris Tanev, who limped off the ice after Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf appeared to fall on his leg behind the play. Vancouver is already without top defenceman Alex Edler due to a concussion.
Getzlaf also injured Jake Virtanen in the first period, when he blindsided the Canucks winger away from the puck in the neutral zone after Virtanen knocked Anaheim forward Corey Perry off the puck. Getzlaf was assessed a minor penalty for interference and Virtanen returned to the game in the second period.