VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks’ great November crash is just a rumour to Josh Leivo.
The depth forward was punted by the Toronto Maple Leafs to make roster room for William Nylander and arrived in Vancouver two weeks ago. He scored on his first shot for the Canucks, has played with star rookie Elias Pettersson ever since and has watched his new team go 4-1-1.
Leivo scored again on Saturday – giving him three goals in six games since his trade – as the Canucks made it five straight without a regulation loss by piling on the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 at Rogers Arena.
"We didn’t get the win in my first game, but it was a close one," Leivo said of the Canucks’ 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 4. "I could see the team fighting. And then obviously we’ve been on a pretty good run here; one loss after that. It’s been fun. We’ve just got to continue it.
"It didn’t seem like they were down (when I arrived). I guess they see a new face, they probably forget about it. I hope I helped boost their confidence a bit. Obviously getting that goal right away, contributing right away, was another boost for me and for the team. After that you could see the boys were rolling."
It takes some convincing to get Leivo to believe the Canucks were on a 1-10-1 nosedive when he arrived. But if he needed visual evidence of what a desperate, forlorn team looks like, the Flyers were an excellent example.
Just 3-8-3 since Remembrance Day, with general manager Ron Hextall already fired and undertakers jostling to bury coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers fell behind the Canucks 3-0 in the first 11 minutes.
Third-string goalie Anthony Stolarz allowed a couple of wonky goals on four shots before leaving the game injured at 8:14 of the first period, bringing in fourth-stringer Alex Lyon, whose save percentage in two National Hockey League appearances this season is .806.
The Flyers weren’t awful. But worse, they were hopeless. That’s something the Canucks never were during their points famine when eight of their 12 losses were by a goal.
But whatever their problems, at least the Canucks are loaded with young players learning to win in the NHL and had a pile of key injuries.
The Flyers’ lineup was headlined Saturday by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbere. When the beleaguered Hakstol called a timeout with six minutes remaining, shortly before the Canucks’ Markus Granlund scored into an empty net with 4:31 to go, we wondered if it was to say goodbye to his players. And maybe thanks for nothing.
But the Canucks, so recently in their own long, bleak losing streak, weren’t feeling sorry for anyone.
"We knew they might have a little goalie trouble right now; a lot of injuries," Leivo said. "So, attack the net. You know, they’re still a good team. I don’t think the game is the same if Marky’s not there stopping the puck."
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 31 of 32 shots, improving his save percentage to .956 in his last three starts. He stuffed Nolan Patrick on a breakaway 20 seconds in. But Markstrom quickly had the luxury of playing with a fat lead.
Stolarz looked slightly handcuffed on shots by Loui Eriksson and Chris Tanev, the Canucks’ stay-at-defencemen who could have brought a 747 with him along with the puck given the runway to the net the Flyers offered him on a delayed penalty.
Leivo then banked a centring pass in off Philadelphia defenceman Andrew MacDonald to make it 3-0 at 11:12 and that was the game. Brock Boeser scored for the Canucks from a faceoff play in the second period, giving him seven goals in eight games soon after returning from a troublesome groin injury.
"Early on we won a lot of games and then we went through that tough stretch," Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher said after his two-assist night. "I think it was important for our team to understand the peaks and valleys of the season. Right now, we’re on an up trend. At the same time… we’ve definitely got to be better in a lot of areas."
How have things changed so dramatically for the Canucks?
"It’s just the swings of the hockey season, honestly," Stecher said. "We got rejuvenated when (centre Jay Beagle) came back and we got some fresh bodies. Everybody gets excited. And I think you learn a lot about your team when you go through a losing streak."