VANCOUVER — A lot of things went right for the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Except the biggest thing.
Good first game since last season for starting goalie Thatcher Demko? Check. Sling the puck around and score on the power play? Check. Get National Hockey League goals from Kontinental Hockey League free agent Andrei Kuzmenko? Check. Positive start for the Quinn Hughes-Oliver Ekman-Larsson experiment on defence? Check.
Hold on to a two- goal third period lead against an inferior Seattle Kraken lineup and start a pattern of winning?
Hey, how about Kuzmenko and that power play?
The Canucks fell to 0-2-1 in the pre-season when they blew a 3-1 lead at Rogers Arena and lost 4-3 to the Kraken in overtime as Ryan Donato scored on a breakaway after a Tanner Pearson turnover.
“That’s pretty disappointing,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said. “And that’s what we talked about in between periods: winning teams protect the lead. And for the most part in the past, we were OK. But, I mean, tonight obviously we didn’t get it done.
“The power play I thought was moving it around pretty good. We got a couple of goals from it but, I mean, you need more than the power play to win games. We’ve scored five goals in three games. The five-on-five game has got to get better.”
After getting swept in two split-squad games against the Calgary Flames on Sunday, the Canucks dressed a far stronger lineup than the one the Kraken brought north from Seattle. The Canucks outshot the Kraken 36-29 and either missed the net or had shots blocked another 36 times. But Vancouver generated just one even-strength goal: a rocket wrister by Kuzmenko from Hughes’ pass just 2:51 into the game.
“My biggest thing is it’s two games at home against what I think were inferior lineups. . . and we didn’t do what we needed to do to get success,” Boudreau said.
The Canucks reach the mid-point of their pre-season when they visit the Kraken on Saturday.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THAT POWER PLAY?
With Kuzmenko joining a power-play that was one of the NHL’s best in the second half of last season, the Canucks were 2-for-5 with the man-advantage. Kuzmenko made it 2-0 with a tap-in at 9:56 of the first period after terrific, one-touch passing by Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller.
Pearson’s power-play knuckler made it 3-1 at 16:55 after a quick passout by Kuzmenko, who looks like a natural as the goal-front player on a unit that includes Hughes up top and, if he were playing, Bo Horvat in the bumper. Pearson filled in for Horvat on Thursday.
“We could have had a couple more in the third,” Hughes said. “I think this year could be the best year with our power play. I’ve been playing with these guys for four years now and them with me, and Kuzmenko looked really good out there as well. It’s exciting for sure.”
Asked about what appears to be a world-class release by Kuzmenko, Hughes said: “Upper echelon. Like, really, really skilled. Great shot, great hands, hockey sense — he’s pretty much got it all. And he competes, too. I don’t know if you saw, but him screening the goalie, too. He’s not afraid to get hit by a shot or get gritty. Very impressive.”
Demko didn’t look like a goalie whose last game save was April 23. In his first pre-season appearance, last season’s team MVP stopped 17 of 18 shots and, importantly, appeared to be moving around his net quickly and fluidly.
Demko revealed at training camp in Whistler, B.C., that he had undergone a “procedure” at the end of last season on the undisclosed lower-body injury he suffered in an April 19 game against Ottawa. He said the recovery time gave him a chance to reflect on how he needs to be even better this season after a breakthrough campaign that saw him play 64 games and finish among NHL leaders in several statistical categories.
The Canucks want to manage Demko’s time this season – goaltending coach Ian Clark has said the ideal number of starts is in the 57-62 range over 82 games – but the 26-year-old made it clear to Sportsnet that his injury last spring was an isolated event, not due to playing too much.
He looked close to mid-season form against the Kraken, making several saves look easier than they were. In the second period, he effortlessly slid across his net to stop Morgan Geekie on a backdoor chance.
The only goal Demko allowed was a power-play chip by Kole Lind, who reached for the puck past Danny Dekeyser when the defenceman took neither the puck nor the Seattle player.
Arturs Silovs, who has had an excellent camp and is trying to push presumed backup Spencer Martin, played the final 24 minutes and allowed three goals on just 11 shots.
THUMB UP, THUMB DOWN
The more we watch Kyle Burroughs, the more he looks like an NHL defenceman the Canucks will need this season. The 27-year-old from Vancouver had been a career minor-leaguer until he became a semi-regular for his hometown Canucks last season after passing a bunch of people on the depth chart during the pre-season.
He’s in another fierce competition this fall to secure a depth spot on the blueline, competing against veterans like Luke Schenn, Tucker Poolman and Dekeyser, and impressive rookie Jack Rathbone. But Burroughs looked again Thursday like a player who has figured out what he needs to do to stick in the NHL: safely move the puck and make simple plays well, play physically without taking penalties, stand up for teammates and be versatile and ready for whatever playing time becomes available. Guys have built long careers with less.
On the other hand, we’re still waiting for Dekeyser to really join the competition. Granted, it’s easy to nitpick flaws in players on a professional tryout. If they didn’t have any, they wouldn’t be on a PTO. But through training camp and two pre-season appearances, Dekeyser has done little to distinguish himself. He is likely to get another couple of at-bats in the Canucks’ pre-season. But if the 32-year-old former Detroit Red Wing is going to earn another NHL contract, he’s going to have to show that he can be a defensive stopper who kills penalties.
HUGHES-OEL CHAPTER ONE
After switching to the right side to begin training camp last week, Hughes made his game debut on his off-side across from left defenceman Ekman-Larsson in what the team hopes may become a super-pairing.
Hughes’ assessment: “I loved it. I mean, I thought we pretty much dominated the first and second. I thought we were really, really good. We were reading off each other. I thought he had lots of chances, I had lots of chances. Then in the third, I don’t think we played as well — mainly me. But I think the overall package, were really, really good together and I think over a long period of time, we can really help each other. So there’s definitely a positive thing there.”