DALLAS – When they needed one of their best games of the season, the Vancouver Canucks delivered one of their worst, which tells you how bad things have suddenly become for October’s team.
The Canucks were hammered 6-1 by the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, easily Vancouver’s most lopsided loss of the season.
The margin of defeat wasn’t as alarming as how the Canucks got there, though.
Vancouver, which had one win in its previous seven games coming in, arrived a day early in Dallas to practise. The team received positive injury news, with checking centre Jay Beagle returning to a lineup desperate to start a daunting six-game road trip with a positive result.
But when the puck dropped, the Canucks looked frozen in the ice and a fell behind 1-0 within the first eight minutes. Technically, they fell behind twice, with Dallas’s first goal coming 86 seconds in before being overturned on an offside challenge. Later, Vancouver surrendered the actual first goal at 7:53 on a brutal line change.
Under the circumstances, how do you explain a start like that?
“I don’t. You can’t,” Beagle said. “I don’t think anyone can. We were just talking about it in the room as a group. We don’t know. We have to figure that out, though.”
Playing from behind from the start for the 15th time in 22 games this season, the Canucks tried chasing the game with a ragged, high-risk, strung-out kind of game that wouldn’t allow them to beat anyone — let alone the NHL’s hottest team.
Five of the Stars’ goals came on the rush with Canucks caught out of position. The other was on the power play.
“That was tough to be a part of,” Beagle said. “The main thing was we got outworked. I mean, really. From their top line to their fourth line, they outworked us.
“There’s a lot of other little things, too, that we have to clean up. And it’s not just something the last couple of games that has happened; it’s been, I think, a little too long where. . . our game hasn’t been as tight and detailed as we need it to be. In October, it was pretty easy. Things were coming easy. We were getting a lot of goals. Some of the older guys have been around long enough to know it was going to shift.”
The Canucks are 1-5-2 since their 9-3-2 start. They’ve allowed 29 goals in seven games. In the 12 games before that, they’d yielded only 27. Their power play went 0-for-5 on Tuesday, and a 76-second five-on-three in the second period (when the game was still close) produced two shots by Brock Boeser: an unscreened one-timer and a 50-foot wrister. And goalie Jacob Markstrom was beaten six times on 31 shots, as his save percentage dipped, again, to .906.
The Canucks steeled themselves at the start of this dive by noting how well they were still playing. There was nothing redeeming about Tuesday except no one was injured.
Their two-week road trip continues Thursday against the Nashville Predators (9-8-3), who at the moment are the worst team the Canucks will face on this odyssey.
“We’re not playing as good as we can and we all know that,” Markstrom said. “It’s frustrating. It shows. It’s pretty obvious when we’re on our game or not.”
How do they get back on it?
“Work,” Markstrom said. “As easy as it sounds, you’ve got to work. That’s in practice, in the gym, during the game. Just work.”
Ironically, the Canucks have an off-day planned Wednesday in the Music City.
“We’re playing too loose right now,” defenceman Tyler Myers said. “We’re not playing tight enough. We’re not playing as a five-man unit on the ice when we’re out there. We’re getting too much separation to where we’re not supporting each other enough. It’s resulting in a lot of odd-man rushes against. It’s something we need to clean up for sure.
“It’s a mindset. It’s making sure you know what your job is. Right now…we’re playing a little bit of shinny hockey and we’ve got to tighten up. That’s what seems to be the most noticeable. We’ve got to make sure we’re buying into a certain way we have to play. We were playing that way the first 10 or 12 games, and we’ve got to get back to that.”
It’s hard to remember October when the Canucks were one of the NHL’s big surprises. That month is starting to feel like a hoax, but Vancouver has five more games in this trip – and in November – to prove that it wasn’t.
Jamie Benn led the Stars with two goals and he and linemates Tyler Seguin and Justin Dowling combined for seven points. When Bo Horvat scored Vancouver’s lone goal on a breakaway to bring his team within one in the second period, Sven Baertschi’s soft backcheck allowed the Stars’ Taylor Fedun to score two minutes later.
“When you have a game like that against a team like this, they’re going to make you pay,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “We had a lot of holes in our game, and when you have a lot of holes in your game, your game is going to look a lot like it did tonight and the score is going to get like it did.”
One way or another, the Canucks will reveal themselves before Dec. 1.
“It’s when you go through the valley where the true test is,” Beagle said. “It’s going to define us for the season. It’s going to define the type of team we are. It might take one, two, three, four games, but you have to figure it out. And you have to grow from it and become stronger to figure out what works as a team to be successful. You’re not going to figure that out when you’re on top.”