By the time the Vancouver Canucks changed regimes last December, it was too late to save their National Hockey League season. Even a 32-15-10 sprint to the finish under new head coach Bruce Boudreau did not get the team into the playoffs.
Coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning were fired after Game 25.
On Sunday, the Canucks staggered through Game 16 by losing 5-2 to the Boston Bruins. At 4-9-3, they are a point worse – yes, unbelievably, worse – under Boudreau this fall than they were with Green at the same point last season. Take a minute to process that.
With their entirely rebuilt hockey operations department, a renovation of the coaching staff pushed by general manager Patrik Allvin and president Jim Rutherford, a handful of new players and a power play that is one of the NHL’s best, the 2022-23 Canucks are behind the pace of the team that caused the most sweeping mid-season changes in franchise history just 11 months ago.
Rutherford and Allvin aren’t going anywhere. But their chilly views about Boudreau have been evident since the end of last season, when market happiness over the Canucks’ five-month surge under “Bruce, there it is!” was muted by Rutherford’s first criticism of structure and systems play.
Vancouver has lost three games in regulation after opening its road trip with a win in Ottawa and regressed back to .500 (4-4-1) since the season began with seven straight losses.
Against a Bruins team that has set a franchise record by winning its first nine home games, the Canucks were tied for most of the first period but fell behind 2-1 on Patrice Bergeron’s power-play redirect at 17:29, trailed 4-1 20 minutes later and never seriously threatened Boston.
Vancouver got power-play goals from J.T. Miller and Sheldon Dries and 27 saves on 31 shots from goalie Thatcher Demko, who is 1-8-2 this season and has allowed a minimum of three goals in all 11 of his starts.
Demko’s delay-of-game penalty for sweeping the puck over the glass 44 seconds after the opening faceoff was the first of six minors the Canucks took in the first two periods.
“I didn’t think we played too bad, honest to goodness,” Boudreau said. “We worked our butts off, especially in the third period. But it’s not good enough. You can’t take a penalty at the 20-second mark and have to kill it, and then just go on and on defending for a period and a half. It’s too hard to do to come back against NHL hockey teams.
“They want to win. They want to do good things. But right now, they’re just not doing them.”
Without the contract extension he felt he had earned, Boudreau was a lame-duck coach when this season began. It’s hard to believe management will let this disillusioning slide continue much longer without euthanizing the fowl and choosing their own coach.
The Canuck road trip ends Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
We’re all aboard the accountability train. We just don’t think Canuck rookie Andrei Kuzmenko should be the only rider.
The 26-year-old Russian was a healthy scratch Sunday for the first time as an NHLer. He took the warmup but was sent to the press box by Boudreau just five games removed from a hat trick, which was a part of a five-game run that saw Kuzmenko pile up six goals and nine points. He is third on the Canucks with seven goals, behind only Miller and Bo Horvat.
Kuzmenko had a poor game in Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Toronto, where he made a couple of bad defensive reads that led to Leaf scoring chances. The Canucks were outshot 6-2 while he was on the ice and Kuzmenko did not get a shift in the final 5:34 when the Canucks were: pressing for a tying goal, had a power play and attacked six-against-five at the end. Instead, zero-goal scorer Brock Boeser was in Kuzmenko’s spot.
It’s true that Kuzmenko has a lot of defensive work to learn as an NHL rookie transitioning to a faster game on a smaller surface. It’s also true that even after the Toronto game, he leads Canuck regulars in shots-for percentage (54.2) and is second to linemate Elias Pettersson in expected-goals (56.6 per cent).
Here’s something else that is true: as the most coveted free agent out of Europe last summer, Kuzmenko chose the Canucks over all other teams. And after signing a rookie-capped bargain one-year contract, he will be an unrestricted free agent next summer eligible to go anywhere he likes.
It would be nice if he wants to stay with the Canucks.
Veteran defenceman Tyler Myers took three of the Canucks’ six minor penalties in the first 40 minutes, when the Bruin power play scored twice.
There was an element of bad luck on the puck-over-glass penalty Myers took at 17:10 of the second period – just 13 seconds before Brad Marchand scored short-side on Demko to make it 4-2. And on Myers’ second tripping penalty of the game, eight minutes earlier, the defenceman was trying to sweep the puck with his skate when he kicked out the feet of a Boston player.
But big picture, Myers has now taken 10 minor penalties in 13 games, surpassing injured teammate Tanner Pearson for team-worst, and is tied for the most in the NHL. But Myers still finished Sunday with 18:08 of ice time, including 5:38 of the third period.
“You can’t do that (against) any team in the NHL, especially when your best players are killing your penalties, too,” Boudreau said of the being shorthanded six times. “It makes it an awfully difficult time. It seems every time you take a dumb penalty or a needless penalty, those are the ones that are scored on. The two that they got today (on the power play), both off really dumb penalties.”
HERE IS SOME CULTURE
With Allvin desperate to build better culture and Boudreau desperate to win games, it was a mistake to take Kyle Burroughs out of the lineup for the previous six, four of which were losses. In Boston, the depth defenceman got his first game since Oct. 28.
He had a block on an early Boston power play, a big first-period hit on Bruins star David Pastrnak and beat Tomas Nosek in a fight when challenged. Ultimately, the Canucks need better players at the bottom of their lineup. But until then – or until Burroughs legitimately plays himself out of the lineup – the Canucks need guys who play a hard, simple game and battle like each one could be his last.
Winger Vasily Podkolzin, another tireless worker trying to prove he should be in the lineup each night, was injured in a first-period fight when he challenged A.J. Greer after the Bruin brought his elbow up in an open-ice hit on the Canuck. Greer appeared to catch Podkolzin flush with a punch after the Russian, who had not had an NHL fight, lost his balance.
Greer is the Bruins’ 12th forward. He logged a team-low 8:37 of ice time and shortly before fighting Podkolzin declined an invitation from rugged veteran Luke Schenn, who did not like how aggressively the Bruin skated to the Vancouver net as Demko covered a puck. Schenn let Greer know later that his selectiveness had been noted.