VANCOUVER – Marc-Andre Fleury’s downgrade didn’t help the Vancouver Canucks. But then, not much helps them these days.
Traded in July from the top-tier Vegas Golden Knights to the bottom-tier Chicago Blackhawks, Fleury still played like a Vezina Trophy winner on Sunday with a 40-save shutout against the Canucks, who lost 1-0 in a game they should have won by a couple of goals.
The words “should have” have become like an extension of the Vancouver franchise’s name. Like, the Canucks Should Have done this, or the Canucks Should Have done that. But what they actually did Sunday was lose for the 10th time in 13 games.
They’ve lost playing badly, and they’ve lost several times while playing well. Their solid play during a three-game homestand that generated only one win may have saved the jobs of general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green for now, but it did little to save the Canucks’ National Hockey League season.
The team doesn’t even pass the quarter-pole until after Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, the start of another five-game trip, but already the 6-11-2 Canucks are five points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and that deficit has almost always proven insurmountable for NHL teams at U.S. Thanksgiving.
“I'm tired, tired of making excuses,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “Again, we've got to find a way to score. At the end of the day, we didn’t get the job done. There is good we can take out of it... but it wasn’t good enough.”
Winger Conor Garland said: “It stinks obviously. It would have been nice to win this one and hit the road with some confidence. There's a lot of hockey left, so we've just got to keep going. We played pretty well again; it sucks saying that when your record doesn't look great. We just have to find a way to win some games.”
That’s plural. The Canucks are having a hard time winning singular. They found a new way to lose on Sunday, blanked for the first time this season.
Of course, it would be by Fleury, the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer who is now 13-0-2 in his last 15 games against Vancouver.
Awful at the beginning of this season, along with the Blackhawks, Fleury has won his last four starts, allowing only five goals in 140 shots.
A hot goalie is what losing looks like when you are the Canucks.
But here’s what else losing looks like: four goal posts, rung Sunday by Canucks Tanner Pearson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser; a power-play that generated 13 shots on four advantages but still couldn’t find a way to score; a winning goal by Blackhawk Brandon Hagel on a deflection at 4:12 of the third period – just after the winger probably should have been penalized for chopping down Canuck J.T. Miller at the other end of the ice.
This is how you lose when outshooting a tired team 30-13 through two periods.
“A tough game to lose,” Canucks coach Travis Green lamented. “You lose 1-0, especially the way we played, it's a tough game to lose. “It's frustrating that we lost tonight (but) I'm not disappointed in how we played. We'd probably take that game every night, probably win it eight or nine times out of 10. I'm just being honest with how we played.”
Yeah, well, it’s probably not what people want to hear or many will even believe. People choose their facts, now.
Struggling Boeser had only one shot on net (plus his second-period post) for the Canucks, but equally dormant linemate Pettersson had five shots and nine attempts, which was encouraging. The $13-million-US duo has combined for one assist in the last six games.
The Vancouver forwards who have been scoring, Miller and Garland, combined for 10 shots. But only one of them is happy with his game lately.
“I don't think I'm playing that great right now to be honest with you,” Miller, who leads the Canucks with 19 points, 47 hits and 21:39 of average ice time among forwards, told reporters. “I think I’m finding ways to contribute at other ends of the rink, but offensively, I mean, I feel like I have a whole other gear to get to and I think I could help this team a lot more.
“I don't think I'm creating that much five-on-five. That's frustrating for me. I know I have more. I feel like I'm a leader on this team and I need to be better, and I think a lot of onus is on me in that regard.”
If you listed the Canucks most culpable for this false start, Miller would be in the bottom five.
“I'm pretty frustrated right now,” he said. “But, you know, we need to mentally be tough right now and keep bringing our game like we've been talking about for the last little while. It's going to come, I think.”