Canucks need to rediscover situational discipline, composure after loss to Wild

Joel Erikkson Ek and Kirill Kaprizov went off with both forwards posting hat tricks and adding three assists each as the Minnesota Wild rallied from an early three-goal deficit to defeat the Vancouver Canucks 10-7 in an offensive slugfest.

The last thing the Vancouver Canucks need right now is some jingoistic narrative that referees are conspiring against them.

We understand this storyline can be popular on social media. It gets clicks. But if the Canucks are to move on from their sporting catastrophe Monday in Minnesota, they have to own it. Because this is not how a team with championship aspirations should play under pressure, and complaining about officiating is certainly not how championship teams behave.

In their 10-7 loss to the Minnesota Wild – yes, the mere sight of this score is absurd – the Canucks turned a three-goal lead into a three-goal deficit by allowing six goals in less than six minutes, starting with 33 seconds remaining in the second period.

The first four of these goals were on Minnesota power plays, three of them at five-on-three, as the Canucks threw away a game against a thorny opponent that had almost nothing going at even strength before Vancouver’s stampede to the penalty box.

And while the Wild’s four five-on-three advantages began with a joke roughing call against Canuck Elias Lindholm in the first period, Vancouver killed that disadvantage and by then had also benefitted from a non-call for a pick by Tyler Myers on the game-opening goal by Ian Cole.

The worst thing about the first period for the Canucks was that they allowed the Wild to cut into a 2-0 deficit in the final minute when Matt Boldy got a step on defenceman Filip Hronek and bounced a centring pass in off Joel Eriksson Ek, who had inside position on Quinn Hughes.

In the final minute of the second period, a huddle by referees Jon McIsaac and Pierre Lambert with linesmen Jon Murray and Tyson Baker resulted in a good-goal-on-the-ice call for Minnesota (immediately corrected by the National Hockey League’s war room in Toronto) that was embarrassing for everyone involved. 

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And the refusal of the referees to blow a whistle during the six-car pileup in front of the Canucks net, seconds before Kirill Kapriozv made it 5-5 at five-on-three 1:23 into the third period, can only be explained by X-ray vision as goalie Casey DeSmith appeared at one point to have the puck covered with both pads as he sat on the ice.

But these decisions were not why the Canucks lost a second-straight game for just the fourth time this season. 

They lost because their players failed utterly to display the composure that coach Rick Tocchet demanded after Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, when he said his players’ frustration hurt them as the Canucks surrendered two even-strength goals on poorly-defended outnumbered rushes early in the third period.

“Just don’t get frustrated,” Tocchet said then. “I think we were getting frustrated with some things out there, and just don’t let it fester. Because then what happens when you get frustrated, you run out of position or you do something that’s uncharacteristic. We’ve got to build a resolve when you’re in tight situations that you’ve got to make sure you keep your head. That’s all.”

On Monday, after the Canucks built a 5-2 lead on J.T. Miller’s hat trick, Teddy Blueger hit Boldy in the face with his stick while Vancouver was shorthanded. Minnesota’s Mats Zuccarello bounced a puck in off Cole’s skate at five-on-three to start the collapse at 19:27 of the middle period.

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With Minnesota still on a five-on-four power play, the Canucks were anchored like pylons at the blueline on a late rush by Brock Faber, which led to Elias Pettersson’s hooking penalty and another five-on-three goal for Eriksson Ek on fresh ice 29 seconds into the third period. 

And 19 seconds after that, still shorthanded, Miller flipped the puck over the glass on an attempted clear, gifting the Wild a fourth five-on-three that ended with Kaprizov’s tying goal against a stick-less DeSmith in the aftermath of the scramble.

Then, just because, Canuck penalty killers left Eriksson Ek open in the high slot to one-time a shot past DeSmith’s glove for the Wild’s go-ahead goal at 1:44.

So that was four power-play goals for Minnesota in 138 seconds. 

“It’s actually stupid stick penalties,” Tocchet told reporters in St. Paul. “You know, you can’t do it, and we’ve got to learn. When you play under pressure, you cannot do those things.”

The Wild got another bounce at 4:48 when Jacob Lucchini’s centring pass caromed through DeSmith off Marco Rossi’s skate. And Kaprizov made it 8-5, and six goals in less than six minutes, at 5:12 when the Canucks failed to defend the low slot at even strength.

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That level of ineptitude, exacerbated by bad luck, is not on officiating. 

“You’ve got to learn how to play under pressure,” Tocchet said. “We gave them, what is it, four five-on-threes? Gave them a goal at the end of the first, and then we take a penalty after the second. These are lessons that we have to learn, how to play under pressure.

“Take away the five-on-fours or, whatever, five-on-threes, take away the stupid stick penalties, giving up the goal at the end of the first. . . the five-on-five play was good. I mean, we had a lot of possession time, we had a lot of chances.”

The other stuff was not good. 

Playing back-to-back Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche, the Canucks must be better on special teams. Mostly, they have to be stronger mentally and play with more composure and situational discipline than they did Monday. That’s how a championship team would respond.

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