After players Conor Garland and Tyler Motte trudged away from the Zoom room following yet another loss for the Vancouver Canucks, there was a slight delay before Travis Green appeared as the final guest in the post-game media conference.
Normally, the delay would have been nothing. But under these dire circumstances, in which it feels any game could be his last as the National Hockey League team’s coach, it was natural to wonder if Green would appear. Or was he already heading for the arena exit in Columbus, looking for a cab while the Canucks headed to the airport and Sunday’s game in Boston?
Green did show up. On Friday, so did his team.
But the Canucks’ performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets, impressive in every way for Vancouver except the 4-2 score, did little to change the desperately bleak environment around a team that is now, incredibly, 6-13-2.
Yes, the players showed how much they care, dramatically outplaying the strong Blue Jackets through two periods and outshooting them 41-21 overall.
That display of will was important coming off another disillusioning loss on Wednesday — 4-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But Friday didn’t change anything. The Canucks lost in regulation for the seventh time in eight games, lost more distance in the standings, lost more hope in what was supposed to be a playoff race for them this season. And isn’t effort and combativeness and determination the least anyone should expect from the Canucks?
They delivered that again Friday, but nothing more.
“They played a helluva game,” Green said of his team. “I feel bad for our group tonight. That was one of our better games of the year. “Our details were sharp. I give our group a lot of credit; they played a strong game and they're going to have to bounce back. It's tough to lose when you play well, especially when things are going the way they are.”
The way they are.
Since opening the season with a solid 3-2-1 road trip, the Canucks have lost 12 of their last 15 games. They’ve lost five straight on the road and been outscored 27-9. They’ve scored two or fewer goals in 11 of the last 15 games, and more than four goals only once. And the Vancouver power play, which surrendered a key shorthanded goal Friday to Gustav Nyquist on a turnover by Tanner Pearson, has been blanked in 12 of 14 games.
But they did badly outshoot Columbus while losing 4-2, just like they badly outshot the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday while losing 1-0.
Green said then that he would take that game (but not the score) from his team every night if the Canucks could offer it, and if they did they’d probably win “eight or nine” times out of 10.
It must be eight, because the Canucks are 0-2 this week when dominating the shot clock.
“It's hard,” Motte said. “There's no way around it. The only way is through. No one's going to feel sorry for us. No one's going to help us out. Guys in that room have got to figure it out. We've got to find a way to get better and win hockey games. Like I said, that's the bottom line.
“We played some good hockey at times. They capitalized on their opportunities more than we did. The bottom line, you've got to win games. That's just the bottom line.”
Motte’s deflection tied the game 2-2 late in the second period before Jack Roslovic won it for Columbus with a shot from distance through traffic that Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko never saw at 6:06 of the third period.
Blue Jacket goalie Elvis Merzlikins made 39 saves, including a stop against Garland on a partial breakaway in the third period. He also benefited from some errant shooting, like when Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat missed the target from excellent positions late in regulation time.
After games like this and the one against Chicago, after 13 losses in the first quarter of the season, how does Green keep his team believing?
“You worry about it, for sure,” the coach said. “This is an easier game to have them believe and not get too down; they know they played a good hockey game tonight. I thought throughout our lineup that everyone was buying in to play the right way. We had a lot of good energy on the bench. They're going to be disappointed, though, for sure. I don't blame them.”
The belief of the coach has never been in doubt. If Friday turns out to be Green’s final night in charge after four-and-a-half years as coach, he’ll leave having fiercely defended his players.
In his pre-game media availability, Green vociferously refuted a podcast report that his locker room was divided, players siding either with captain Horvat or veteran leader J.T. Miller.
“Players obviously will hear things that come out in the media,” Green said. “And I think with our market, sometimes you hear things that are flat out not true. And we've heard a lot of things lately that are going on inside our locker room that are fabricated. They're made up. Whoever is saying them are lies. We've got a close group in there.
"There was something about Horvat and Miller yesterday, which is ridiculous. These two guys sit in the room (next to each other). They're good friends. They get along, they care for each other. There's zero rift at all between anyone of our team. They're a close-knit team. They want to win. They don't like losing.”
But they’ve just done it too often.