WINNIPEG – If the Vancouver Canucks are as tough mentally as defenceman Chris Tanev is tough physically, then losing back-to-back road games against the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks won’t be a problem.
Everything is new to this rebuilt Canucks team. That October success, yielding an 8-3-1 record, was new. And so is losing two games in 27 hours, as well as the sudden market correction on offence that has seen Vancouver manage just five goals over four of its past five games.
The Canucks lost 4-1 on Friday to the Jets, who seem to be getting their game in order after a chaotic series of events, on the ice and off, over the last two months.
But beating the Canucks is one of the lifestyle benefits here.
There are two certainties when Vancouver comes to Winnipeg, and they aren’t death and taxes because the players don’t hang around long enough for either. The guarantees are frigid weather and a Jets’ win. Occasionally, it’s not too cold.
The Canucks have lost seven straight games in Winnipeg over five-and-a-half years and have been outscored 22-5 in that time. It hasn’t been close, even if Friday’s game was.
The Jets turned the game in the second period when the Canucks took back-to-back penalties, which allowed Winnipeg to generate tremendous pressure and momentum and turn a one-goal deficit into a 2-1 lead with goals five minutes apart from Jack Roslovic and Mark Scheifele.
The best player on either team was Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, whose 32-saves included a desperation reach-back stop on Bo Horvat when it looked like the Canucks’ captain was going to tie the game with about six-and-a-half minutes remaining.
On the next faceoff, Kyle Connor knocked the puck off former teammate Tyler Myers, rocketed in on a breakaway and beat Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko on a forehand deke to make it 3-1 at 13:35. Adam Lowry added an empty-netter and the Canucks returned home empty-handed.
Their hot streak is gone. Their offensive surge has ceased. At least they’re still relatively healthy because Tanev, whose leg was nearly amputated on that first Winnipeg power play when he blocked Patrik Laine’s one-timer, somehow got himself off the ice on one foot, then miraculously returned a few minutes later on two.
When people debate Tanev’s value to the Canucks, and whether the team should trade him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season, they should consider his value to teammates – the example he sets – on nights like this and when things are challenging.
“It’s hockey; everyone does it,” Tanev claimed afterwards, a red welt visible on the outside of his right knee. “I just felt bad for the other three guys out there on the ice. We’re killing a penalty and we only have four guys out there, and then I can’t move out there, so we have three after that.”
When Tanev dipped his right leg in holy water and returned to the ice late in the second period, he immediately stuck his left leg in front of Josh Morrissey’s shot.
Tanev’s survival act should have inspired teammates. Tanev deserved to win Friday even if the Canucks didn’t. But Vancouver, having played poorly in Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, couldn’t beat an upgraded opponent and, specifically, a better goalie in Hellebuyck.
“Last night was definitely the one game of the year we look back on and we really didn’t play that well,” veteran centre Brandon Sutter said. “Tonight, we rebounded really well. We did a lot of things we liked. (The Jets) were pretty sharp, especially the second half of the game. They were moving pretty good. But we’ve had games we’ve played like that and won by three or four goals. Tonight just didn’t go our way.”
“We played a good hockey game,” Canuck defenceman Troy Stecher said after setting up J.T. Miller’s goal that made it 1-0. “The second period, it seemed like they took a lot of momentum off their power play. It’s unfortunate because when you kill a two-minute penalty like that and spend the entire time in your zone, you definitely feel like you gain momentum on the bench. When you take (another penalty) right away, right after, it’s kind of a shot in the foot.”
Jay Beagle was whistled for holding 16 seconds after Horvat’s tripping penalty ended. Tanev went down on the first power play; the rest of the Canucks on the second.
“Teams are going to lose back-to-back games throughout a season,” Stecher said. “It’s not often that that doesn’t happen. We just have to rebound as a group and get ready for Sunday.”
The Canucks face a quick turn-around, opening next week’s four-game home stand with a Sunday afternoon game against the New Jersey Devils.
It was the seventh-straight game for which the Canucks have had to travel.
As they chartered home late Friday, the Canucks seemed in a very different place than when they returned from California six nights earlier after a triumphant 2-0-1 trip in which they outplayed all three opponents. In Winnipeg, Vancouver was outshot (35-33) for the first time in 11 games.
“I think we all know good teams are going to face adversity,” Demko said. “It’s not going to be daisies the whole season.”