VANCOUVER — The worst officiating call of the Vancouver Canucks’ season led to their best penalty kill, which somehow felt perfectly logical given the team’s unconventional start to the National Hockey League season.
Expected to score, the Canucks are instead defending solidly but getting crushed on special teams.
But Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, their putrid penalty killing was pumped up at the end by an influx of their most skilled players, who managed to tie the game shorthanded but with the Vancouver net empty when Elias Pettersson half-fanned on a shot that ricocheted through goalie John Gibson with 54.3 seconds remaining.
Down 2-0 after J.T. Miller’s own goal — yes, there were several peculiar events in the final 10 minutes of the third period — the Canucks rallied for a point by losing 3-2 in overtime when Troy Terry converted Ryan Getzlaf’s pass on a two-on-one at 3:52.
The Ducks’ redemptive goal came after Gibson made breakaway saves on Miller and Bo Horvat.
So the Canucks got one point when they could have had none but nearly got two. And this, too, kind of figures in the context of their 2-4-1 homestand and 5-6-2 start to the season.
“We played a good game again,” Miller lamented. “It was a good push, but we’re here for two (points), not one. I guess you could take a lot of good tonight, though.”
“We had chances in OT to win it,” Pettersson said. “I’m not happy we lost, but I’m happy that we at least got one point and we found a way to get back into the game in the end.”
Amid the getting back in, after Miller whipped a shot through traffic with 6:31 remaining in regulation time to start the comeback and before Pettersson scored the tying goal, referee Brad Meier made an astonishingly bad penalty call that should have sealed an Anaheim victory.
Meier whistled Canucks goalie Jaroslav Halak for tripping with 2:49 remaining when it seemed pretty clear to everyone else — and should have been clear to Meier, who had an unobstructed front-row view — that Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf simply toe-picked and fell several feet beyond Halak.
Vancouver coach Travis Green eventually calmed himself enough to put out his most dangerous offensive players as Halak dashed to the bench to allow the Canucks to skate five-on-five.
“Yeah, maybe the ref wants that one back,” Pettersson said, before adding diplomatically, but “it’s easy for us. We can look at replays, and the ref’s just got to make a call in a split second. It is what it is. We all make mistakes.”
Canucks penalty killers have made more than anyone.
When Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler shot through a screen and into the top corner on Halak to make it 1-0 at 11:18 of the first period on Anaheim’s first power play, it was the ninth time in just 14 chances over four-plus games that the Canucks were torched while shorthanded.
In a game when Anaheim was badly outplayed for stretches and outshot 43-30 overall, the Ducks ended up with four of the six power plays. The Canucks killed the final three, and added the positive asterisk of Pettersson’s shorthanded goal in the last minute.
The Canucks’ 31st-ranked penalty killing has been atrocious — so bad it’s darkening most of the good things Vancouver has been doing.
By getting scored on once in four opportunities on Tuesday, Vancouver’s success rate shorthanded actually “improved” to 65 per cent.
It’s why the Canucks open a challenging three-game, four-night road trip Thursday in Denver with just 12 points from 13 games, instead of 16 or 18 points. It’s why Vancouver is three points out of a playoff spot four weeks into their season.
“I don’t think we’re sitting around feeling like we’re close to going off the deep end or something,” Miller said. “We’ve been playing well. We have to keep evaluating ourselves honestly. And honestly, we played another good hockey game.
“We still have things to take care of on special teams… but I think those will come. We have to stay on the same page five-on-five, and trust that if we play like this, more nights than not we’re going to get four, five, maybe six goals. We’re defending really well. We’re creating our chances from good defence and it’s just a matter of time.”
The Canucks could use more bounces like Pettersson got on his tying goal or, especially, like the Ducks got on their second goal when the rebound from Halak’s save on Isac Lundestrom bounced off both of Miller’s legs and back across the goal-line.
“We certainly would take one of those, no doubt,” Miller said. “But it was pretty awesome after that. It’s easy to sit around and pout, feel bad for ourselves because it’s not going our way after we’re playing a pretty darn good game. But we found a way to get a point.”