KELOWNA, B.C. — The Vancouver Canucks were unable to score, unable to keep the puck out of their net, and nobody other than Elias Pettersson definitively played his way on to the National Hockey League team desperate for help. Other than that, their pre-season was a success.
Now, go get ’em!
Widely picked to be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, the Canucks finished their September warmups at 1-6 and were outscored 30-10. Given a chance to build momentum and launch themselves into Wednesday’s regular season opener with at least a glimmer of positivity, the Canucks instead were beaten 4-1 Saturday by the Arizona Coyotes, the only team some Vegas oddsmakers believe is worse than Vancouver.
The Canucks finished their seven-game pre-season with just five even-strength goals and were outscored 12-0 during an eight-period stretch encompassing most of their last three games. They were last in the NHL in both shooting percentage (4.5) and save percentage (85.2).
“It just gets frustrating,” Canuck centre Bo Horvat said of the offensive blackout. “But at the same time, you can’t get too discouraged. We’ve just got to treat (the regular season) as a clean slate. We can’t dwell on this. These games don’t count right now and we’re going to have to come to play the ones that matter. We’re going to have to start putting the puck in the net come Wednesday.”
The Canucks open their season against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena.
They’ll say the pre-season games didn’t matter. And in the standings, they didn’t. But if the rebuilding Canucks had gone, say, 6-1, they’d be talking about a fresh outlook and renewed confidence and hopefulness.
Now, they’ll have to try to manufacture those feelings over a couple of practices.
Their bleak September merely piled on what has been three dismal seasons and, despite a media guide of new faces the last couple of years, open the regular season at a dead standstill. Pettersson, the Swedish teenager drafted fifth-overall in 2017, was probably the best Canuck of the pre-season. But there wasn’t much else that went right for the team the last two weeks.
“Now it’s go time,” winger Brock Boeser, goal-less in five pre-season games, told reporters. “Now we have to start building chemistry with whatever team we have. It’s a clean slate going into the real season … and we’ve got to make sure we show up to work every day wanting to get better, and work as a five-man unit on the ice.”
Of all the uneasy signs on the Canucks, the most disconcerting may be Boeser’s inability to score on any of the 30-plus shots he attempted during the pre-season. He led the team with 29 goals last year and finished second on Calder Trophy balloting despite missing the last month of the season with a back injury.
Rehab on his back and an injured wrist prevented Boeser from training fully until July, and when he reported to training camp he was noticeably more muscular after adding 8-10 pounds in the off-season.
“Obviously, it’s tough when you aren’t scoring goals,” he said. “(But) I’m not worried about not scoring in the pre-season. Like I told you guys, I’m coming off injury, trying to get the rhythm back. I felt a lot better out there tonight. I felt I was moving the puck, moving better, and we were getting chances when I was out there. I feel like I took a step in the right direction.”
With limited stats available at the Canucks’ home game in the Okanagan Valley, Boeser was not credited with a shot on net Saturday.
Nikolay Goldobin had one, and the winger scored on it in the third period when Vancouver was behind 3-0.
Goldobin and Brendan Leipsic, another fifth-year pro with a make-it-or-break-it opportunity to stick in the NHL in an offensive role, didn’t exactly seize the chances given to them by the Canucks in the pre-season.
But they’ll probably start on coach Travis Green’s team anyway, so anxious are the Canucks for offensive help after the retirement last spring of Hall-of-Fame scorers Daniel and Hank Sedin.
Vancouver is expected to trim two forwards Sunday to get down to the 23-player limit for opening night.
“I think I had a pretty good camp,” Goldobin, 22, said. “I could have done better, of course. Hopefully, the coach decides to keep me. I’ve done everything … given my best.”
To be fair, Vancouver’s lack of saves and offensive finish — they hit three posts against the Coyotes — overshadowed pretty good efforts in two or three of their losses. But their dress-rehearsal performance against the Coyotes was not encouraging after the Canucks fell behind 2-0 in the first period and did not much trouble Arizona after that.
“It’s hard, you know?” Goldobin said. “But that’s what exhibition is for: you learn from your mistakes. Hopefully we’ll start the season good with a win.”
Yet again, hope is mainly what they have to go on.