If their penalty killing doesn’t get the Vancouver Canucks, then Brad Marchand will. On Sunday, it was both. Only those two things.
Marchand, who has been bullying the Canucks since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, did it again on Sunday, piling on to Vancouver’s miserable start to the National Hockey League season by scoring the tying goal in the third period and then setting up the winner in the Bruins’ 3-2 victory.
Those two power-play goals in eight minutes made it six straight road losses for Vancouver and eight defeats in nine games.
Marchand was on another level. And so too, sadly, are the Canucks, whose 6-14-2 start is a point worse than Vancouver’s 22-game record from the infamous 1997-98 season of chaos when Mark Messier and Mike Keenan came in, Pat Quinn and Trevor Linden left and half the roster ended up being traded.
Twenty-four years later, the team has performed even worse but without any of the upheaval -- yet.
Jim Benning is still the Canucks’ general manager and Travis Green the coach, who nightly has to go out and explain to reporters how this team is supposed to turn things around when there is little chance Green will be part of any solution.
The Canucks five-game road trip feels like a funeral procession.
“We played well,” Vancouver winger Conor Garland said after the Canucks snatched another loss. “I say that a lot but, man, it stinks. That's a good team to give them two power plays. That's not to say they were bad penalties or anything, it's just, you know, it's what (the Bruins) do. They win games. That's why they're always deep in the playoffs. They wait for their chances. We held them to nothing, and then all of a sudden their top line ends up with two. That's what happens.”
Garland should know. He grew up south of Boston in Scituate, Mass., saw the Bruins as a kid, watched how Marchand, both filthy and fabulous, could play a foot taller than his frame.
Marchand pounced on a loose puck to score from a scramble at 8:45 of the third period, then beautifully set up David Pastrnak at the back post for the game-winner at 16:36.
That goal, in which Marchand badly dangled past defenceman Kyle Burroughs, came after Canucks blue-liner Oliver Ekman-Larsson stapled Anton Blidh in the numbers for a boarding penalty at 15:23.
Nils Hoglander took a careless tripping penalty at 7:21. These horribly-timed penalties enabled the Canucks’ league-worst shorthanded unit to surrender two or more power-play goals for the ninth time in 14 games.
The trio of Marchand, Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron combined for two goals, three assists and 15 shots. Marchand also contributed five hits, not including the unpenalized slew foot he delivered to Ekman-Larsson early in the first period.
“Probably a top-five winger in the league,” Garland said. “He was a big inspiration growing up for small guys (in) Boston -- probably after Sergei Samsonov. I watched him a lot growing up. He did what he does. It seems like he does it every night.”
To the Canucks, at least.
Garland’s low shot through Jason Dickinson’s screen at 12:31 of the second period, his first NHL goal in his hometown, had broken a 1-1 tie after Tanner Pearson and Blidh exchanged early goals. Ex-Bruin goalie Jaroslav Halak whiffed on Blidh’s unscreened wrist shot, but finished with 39 saves.
“I'm probably going to sound a little repetitive: it's a tough game to lose again,” Green said. “I think it magnifies the way things are going. A lot of good efforts tonight. It was a heavy, heavy, hard-fought game. At the end there, their top guys find a way to get it done.
“I think almost to a man, a lot of guys are playing well (for the Canucks). They're just not finding ways to score when we need it. We need a couple of goals. Even tonight, Motte gets the shorthanded breakaway. It would have been nice for him to score there. You feel for your group on nights like tonight.”
About 40 seconds before Marchand’s tying goal, Tyler Motte had a breakaway for the Canucks but was stuffed by Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark.
After scoring first for just the sixth game out of 22 and carrying a lead into the third period for only the fifth time, Vancouver found another way to lose.
“I guess you could say that,” Green said. “When things are going well, you kind of find ways to win. I feel like our team, they're playing hard and they want to win badly. You can feel the disappointment at the end of the game. Unfortunately, we've played some good hockey here and haven't got the results we want.”
They’ll try again Monday against the Montreal Canadiens, who on Sunday fired general manager Marc Bergevin and two other senior executives, and aggressively hired former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to oversee the franchise’s restoration as executive vice-president of hockey operations.
The Canucks, meanwhile, wait. Although it's unclear for what.