VANCOUVER – George Costanza’s brilliant breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me,” is probably muttered by every team that loses to the Vancouver Canucks.
I mean, the Canucks? C’mon. On Tuesday, they were a forlorn 28th in the National Hockey League. And to prove that was no fluke, the Canucks sat 29th in scoring and 25th in goals against. They were also 4-13-2 the previous six weeks.
And still the Los Angeles Kings were beaten 6-2 by the Canucks at Rogers Arena. The Canucks!
“It’s not you, it’s me,” the Kings would have told themselves as they trudged to their bus.
And they’d be right. Partly.
The Kings were awful. Losers of six straight until they their power play beat the New York Rangers on Sunday, the Kings suddenly bear no resemblance to the brawny, talented team that has dominated the Canucks physically, technically and spiritually since dumping Vancouver in the 2012 playoffs on its way to their first Stanley Cup.
All-world Kings goalie Jonathan Quick could barely make a save and was hooked when Canucks rookie Brock Boeser made it 5-1 just 24 minutes into the game. The Kings couldn’t get a bounce or call, either. But they also did nothing to dissuade the Canucks, allowing pucks and players to move freely towards their net.
No wonder they’ve fallen out of playoff position six weeks after peaking at 20-8-3.
Trevor Lewis cross-checked Boeser head first into the boards in the second period, but that was the extent of the Kings’ menace.
So, yes, the score had a lot to do with Los Angeles.
But it also had a little to do with the Canucks, who are playing with a healthy lineup for the first time in two months after getting top centre Bo Horvat back from injury last weekend and important shutdown centre Brandon Sutter the weekend before.
It’s so long ago now that it’s easy to forget the Canucks, until the Dec. 5 game when Horvat’s broken foot pushed the team past a tipping point, that Vancouver started the season a surprising 14-10-4 under new coach Travis Green.
The playoffs have drifted hopelessly out of reach after Vancouver’s winter hibernation, but the Canucks still have 34 games left to prove that the autumn version of them was not a mirage. A win like Tuesday’s could push them back towards the team they were. They certainly were a handful for the Kings, although anyone would have been.
“We’ve talked to our group internally about what our expectations are,” Green told reporters after the morning skate. “And for me, a lot is about compete. Nothing has changed for me from Day 1 of training camp. We want to play fast and aggressive. I think our system will allow us to do that. And we want to be harder to play against, and that’s going to make us a better hockey team.
“Even in the first 20, 25 games … we did not win easy. We played hard. We won hard games. We had good goaltending. We had teams that competed and players throughout our lineup that did that. And that is not changing now that everyone is healthy. We are not all of sudden going to win easy games. It’s a very hard league. Every team is a battle and that’s going to continue moving forward. And not just for the rest of this year but progressing into every year and how we build the culture that we want that is a winning one.”
And then the Canucks went out and dominated the team that always seems to dominate them.
It was 3-0 after six minutes as Loui Eriksson, who had three points in his previous 11 games, scored twice and set up Thomas Vanek’s breakaway goal.
Horvat, who returned for Sunday’s 1-0 loss in Winnipeg, collected his first two assists since his injury. And Boeser, the Calder Trophy candidate who had gone a season-high six games without a goal, scored twice to bring his rookie total to 24 in 45 games.
After beating Quick on a rebound, he overpowered reliever Darcy Kuemper with a blast from the top of the circle 12 seconds after Lewis drove him from behind into the boards, giving the Canucks a two-man advantage.
There was an extra twirl in Boeser’s stick as he sheathed it in its imaginary scabbard – the 20-year-old’s standard goal celebration.
“I just wanted to go score after that,” Boeser said. “That (hit) hurt, so I was pretty mad.
“That Winnipeg game was a tough one, but tonight felt like it did earlier in the year. I think we can definitely start building off this one.”
There was a lot of twirl to the Canucks after their best night in a long time.
Horvat said the team is capable of playing the way it did last fall.
“Tonight was a great step in that direction,” he said. “We know that just because we have guys back in the lineup doesn’t mean we just lace up the skates and go out and win. We’ve got to work and get back to the way we were playing in November.”
Making it hard on opponents, and sending them away muttering.