It says something that as bad as the Vancouver Canucks were with the puck on Monday, the team has played worse during their erratic start to the National Hockey League season. But no game was more disappointing than their 6-2 implosion against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canucks surged into Montreal after four-straight wins, and on Saturday played their best game of the year, dominating the Winnipeg Jets in a 4-1 victory in a place that had been like Death Valley (with snow) to them.
And only nine days removed from their atrocious three-game series at home against the Canadiens, who pumped in 17 goals mostly by letting Vancouver hurt itself with turnovers, the Canucks knew acutely how important it was on Monday to take care of the puck in Montreal.
The Canucks would show off their rediscovered selves: the direct, smart team that plays to its strengths and makes it difficult on opponents.
And then they gift-wrapped a pile of goals for the Canadiens, whose only difficulty was keeping track of their scoring. Make it 23 goals in four games, and a fifth game looming Tuesday like a root-canal appointment for the Canucks.
Canucks head coach Travis Green and his staff essentially had an intervention with Vancouver players after that dismal series with Montreal. Now, they need another.
“Games like tonight probably frustrate me more than others because ... as good a team as they are, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot again,” Green told reporters. “And that can drive you crazy as a coach. The saying, the definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over and expecting different results, that was kind of the story tonight.
“You turn over the puck against this team, you’re going to lose. You’re soft in puck battles, you’re going to lose. They’re a quick team, they work hard, they’re structured, they’re deep. (But) we’d already played them three times.”
That’s what made the fourth game worse than the others.
Knowing what they knew, having game-planned for Monday by emphasizing the need to play quickly and simply and, for goodness sakes, to stop passing to players dressed in uniforms other than their own, the Canucks still scattered pucks as if they were throwing rice at a wedding. Or sowing seeds for defeat.
It was almost unfathomable.
The first goal started as bad luck — the puck skipped off a broken stick and past J.T. Miller for the Canadiens’ outnumbered rush — and ended with bad defending as Vancouver had plenty of bodies back but no one checking Nick Suzuki, who scored from the top of the crease. Sixty seconds into the game.
Quinn Hughes’ weak rim around the boards was intercepted and turned into Jeff Petry’s goal late in the first. Brendan Gallagher made it 4-1 on another breakaway at 7:15 of the second period after a turnover by Jalen Chatfield, and Petry scored again just 75 seconds later after Miller gave away the puck up ice, coasted on the backcheck, and defencemen Hughes and Chatfield somehow played a four-on-three into a two-on-zero. And in between these two catastrophes, Holtby stopped Tyler Toffoli on another breakaway.
Holtby couldn’t make enough saves, but that kind of play in front of him is unsalvageable.
“They’re quick, they get on you fast,” Green said of the Canadiens. “As a player, you know it’s coming and you have to be ready for it, you have to be able to handle it. But then it’s also decision-making. You try to make plays standing still, you try to make cross-ice plays inside the blue line, it’s a recipe for disaster.
“The part for me that’s frustrating is we knew that coming into the game.”
As bad as they were in the first period, the Canucks surrendered only 10 shots and still trailed by just two goals. And then they were worse in the second. That was their response.
“You have to make better plays with the puck when you’re in those high-danger areas than we did tonight and than we have done, so far,” veteran defenceman Nate Schmidt said.
A newcomer to the Canucks after spending his career on winning teams in Washington and Las Vegas, Schmidt said players have to remember how hard it is to win, and understand that one bad period can’t turn into a bad game or worse.
“Good teams have periods like that,” Schmidt said of the Canucks’ first. “It’s very normal, especially on the road. You have periods like that where it’s just not going to be there for you. But it’s your response. It’s how you come back out and claw your way back into a game. That’s the mentality you need to have moving out of the first period. You can’t let those things (mistakes) linger and bleed into the rest of your game. Because when it bleeds into the rest of your game ... that’s what it looks like.”
The trio was outshot 9-1 at even-strength and outscored 3-0. Green broke up the Lotto Line after using his timeout following Petry making it 5-1 to plead for sanity from his players.
Miller led Canucks forwards in ice time but did not register a shot, committed a team-high three giveaways and was personally outshot 17-4 at five-on-five.
“I’m not just going to sit here and criticize J.T. Miller,” Green said. “He’s a great player for our team. He’s ultra-competitive. Sometimes ultra-competitive people do force things. But you’ve also got to understand the type of game it’s going to be. We did some things with the puck that we just can’t do.”
The same things they did against the same team just over a week ago.