Canucks appear to have finally found their game and they're still losing

Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan each had two points as the Calgary Flames beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1.

VANCOUVER – The hockey gods heard the plaintive cries for help from a desperate Canucks Nation and they laughed. And it was not good.

Having squandered most of their first 16 games through inept defensive play amid a lack of cohesion and intensity, the Vancouver Canucks are finally playing with urgency and appear to be finding their game. And they’re still losing.

The Calgary Flames, also known as the Southern Alberta chapter of the Canucks alumni, were outplayed, outchanced and outshot Thursday in Vancouver but still won 3-1. It helped them immensely that ex-Canuck Jacob Markstrom was in the Calgary goal, and former Vancouver blue-liner Chris Tanev on the Flames’ defence.

But what helped them the most is that the Flames banked two shots off Canuck defenders and into the Vancouver net to lead a game starkly against the run of play.

Actually, the second shot, by Andrew Mangiapane, was a double-banker that hit both Canucks Jordie Benn and Nate Schmidt to break a 1-1 tie at 14:31 of the second period. The puck appeared to be headed back toward the Alberta border when it took the second bounce off Schmidt and angled sharply back behind goalie Thatcher Demko.

Calgary’s first goal, by Mark Giordano at 18:35 of the first period, struck Benn on its way into the net. Both bank shots came one second after a Canucks penalty expired.

“I don’t know even really what to say there,” Demko said as the Canucks lost their sixth straight game. “It’s kind of how it goes sometimes. A lot of positives we can take from this game (but) a tough couple of bounces there.”

Schmidt, who spent his career winning games with the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals before joining the Canucks in an autumn trade, said of Magiapane’s billiards shot:

“That's never happened to me before where it bounces off of a guy and hit me and went in the net. In all my years of playing, I don't think that's ever happened to me. I kicked (a loose puck) back to a guy last game and put it on his tape and it went in the net. I don't think that's ever happened to me. So I guess you could say those two things never happened in my career so far. I've had pucks go off me ... but never a double redirect and off the guy. Things are happening like that.”

Welcome to Vancouver, the city the Stanley Cup forgot.

The Canucks lost Monday in Toronto by outshooting the best team in the NHL 27-7 through two periods before the Maple Leafs scored twice in 11 seconds in the third period to also win 3-1.

On Thursday, shots were 14-5 for the Canucks late in the first period, and 24-14 after 40 minutes. It didn’t matter.

The Flames’ breakaway clincher by Johnny Gaudreau, after a third-period turnover by Tyler Myers, came 10 seconds after a Canucks power play ended. So that was 12 seconds of post-penalties play that cost Vancouver, after their 11 seconds of undoing in Toronto.

So, no, Canucks prayers have not been answered.

“Today, I think we played good enough to win the game,” Vancouver centre Elias Petteresson said. “We had our looks, we created chances, we spent most of the time in their zone. Two unlucky bounces. I don't know, it's frustrating. Everyone in our group, everyone in the locker room, just wants to win a game and get back at it because we know what we're capable of. Like I said, it's not going our way, but we'll figure it out.”

Alas, it may already be too late.

The Canucks are 6-11-0, in their darkest spot since Travis Green became coach in 2017 and only now, nearly one-third through the pandemic-shortened season, are starting to look like the team that surprised everyone in the Stanley Cup playoffs last summer.

Markstrom, their hero then, has already beaten the Canucks three times this season. And Tanev had another solid game on the Flames’ defence as Calgary outshot Vancouver 11-5 with him on the ice at even-strength.

It is not surprising that the Canucks should miss these quality veterans, but no one in Vancouver was arguing back in October that the team here should have matched the Flames’ free-agent offers of $36 million and $18 million for 30-year-olds with injury histories.

What’s surprising is how utterly chaotic the Canucks initially looked this season without Markstrom and Tanev. Either their value to team chemistry was underestimated, or Vancouver’s leadership without them was overestimated.

But for two games, at least, the Canucks have played very well against good teams and still lost. And they’ll probably see Markstrom again the next three games, starting Saturday.

Before Thursday, the 7-5-1 Flames had played only three-quarters of the games the Canucks had (12 vs 16). But one month into the season, they have played only one-quarter of Vancouver’s back-to-backs (one vs four). Markstrom is fresh.

“I'm a positive person,” Schmidt said. “I like to think that we are playing better hockey. And if we continue to play better hockey, we will pull each other up by our straps and get out of this.”

Pull harder and keep praying.

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