Canucks humiliated in loss to Avalanche: 'It's unacceptable'

Mikko Rantanen had a goal and two assists as the Avalanche crushed the Canucks 7-1.

DENVER -- In the first 11 minutes of Thursday’s game, when the Vancouver Canucks had one shot and the Colorado Avalanche had three goals. The visiting team’s best shift of offensive-zone pressure was when three Vancouver forwards converged on the puck in the corner and determinedly froze it for a faceoff.

The Canucks didn’t compete. They skated a little, tried a little, but never came close to actually competing with an Avalanche team that awakened from its opening-month doldrums by humiliating Vancouver 7-1.

It was a convincing display by both teams -- that the Avalanche is a Stanley Cup contender while the Canucks will have to paddle like mad just to stay near the National Hockey League playoff race. They could be out of it sooner than anyone thought, scuffling through their first 14 games at 5-7-2 and now facing a more difficult schedule through the 21-game quarter-pole.

The way the Canucks played Thursday, the word “playoffs” should sound like Jim Mora’s incredulous utterance: “Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”

Vancouver has 68 of them left. They can’t win any the way they played against the Avalanche.

It wasn’t just that they were overmatched against a more talented team that is so disconcerting, it was the Canucks' total lack of pushback, of engagement. They were never in the fight.

“We should be embarrassed,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat acknowledged. “We obviously didn't come to play tonight and it definitely showed. They outworked us, outplayed us, and it's unacceptable. We can't let that happen again.

“It's not the way we have to play and it's not Canuck hockey like we've showed in the past where we've been resilient and not rolled over. Tonight, I don't know. I don't know what happened. Obviously, we know it's not good enough and it's unacceptable, and we can't let that happen again.”

There were numerous early signs of the Canucks’ lack of resolve and competitiveness.

After goalie Thatcher Demko stopped an Avalanche four-on-one rush, teammates further abandoned him and the shift ended with Gabriel Landeskog alone at the side of the net to make it 2-0 at 7:34 of the first period. The Canucks hadn’t yet recorded a shot on net.

Colorado made it 3-0 at 11:10 when Elias Pettersson, who is being paid to be the Canucks’ best forward, carelessly lost the puck in his own zone despite seeing everything that had happened to that point.

And at the start of the second period, after the Canucks had a chance to regroup in the intermission after being outshot 12-3 and outscored 3-0 in the first, the Avalanche were bestowed more easy scoring chances and eventually ran up the shot clock to 17-3.

“We talked between periods about responding and, obviously, that didn't happen throughout the game,” Canucks winger Tanner Pearson said. “It sucks because our goalies are playing so well and games like this, leaving them out to dry, it's pretty embarrassing.

“Everybody's got to be honest with ourselves. If you think you played well, you could be kidding yourself. I think honesty is a big thing, accountability. We’ve got to respond.”

Yes, well, the Canucks play another sleeping Stanley Cup contender, the Vegas Golden Knights, Saturday before finishing their three-game, four-night road trip less than 24 hours later against the Anaheim Ducks.

Then it’s the Avalanche again, and the rest of the November schedule that includes teams like the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.

What was startling about the Canucks’ dismal performance against the Avalanche is that it followed two good games when Vancouver outshot and largely outplayed the Dallas Stars and Ducks to finish a losing homestand by taking three out of four points.

Is it even possible, given their complacency on Thursday, that Canucks players actually thought the worst part of their start was over and that things were going to be easier?

“If they thought it was going to be an easy game coming into play against Colorado, you wouldn't think you'd have to talk about (that),” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “It's never an easy game for starters in the NHL, but obviously we had a lot of guys that weren't ready to play tonight.”

Asked about his largely-invisible top players, like Pettersson, Conor Garland, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, Green said: “Your best players and your leaders definitely need to lead the way in a lot of areas in your game. There's no secret to that. I don't think they're on top of their game, for sure. I'm not going to start with names, but we've got some guys that need to play a lot better.”

Green was still wrestling with the idea of making the team practise Friday in what had been a planned day off in Las Vegas. Given the road schedule, and two weekend games starting 22 hours apart, the coach may have to show his trust in players rather than his frustration.

“I don't know what else to say: I'm very disappointed,” Green said. “We weren't close tonight. They looked like a team that's trying to find their game, a team that's thinking about winning the Stanley Cup. We looked like we had a bunch of guys that were a half step behind.

“You've got to play well every game, you've got to play like it matters every game. And that team was a lot hungrier tonight.”

Travelling without defenceman Travis Hamonic, home in Vancouver fulfilling vaccination guidelines, the Canucks are likely to play Saturday also without blue-liner Tucker Poolman, who is subject to suspension after earning a match penalty in the third period for spinning with one hand on his stick and slashing Kiefer Sherwood across the face.

Of course, the Avalanche beat the Canucks by a touchdown while playing without the second-best player on the planet, injured centre Nathan MacKinnon.

“We've showed a lot of resilience in a lot games, and a lot of times we've fought back and stayed in the fight,” Horvat said. “And tonight, we just didn't have it.”


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