VANCOUVER – Well, at least we’re guaranteed another couple of days without martial law on the West Coast.
After terrorizing the fan base with their performance, and the spectacularly quotable criticisms by their coach and president in their home-opener on Saturday, the Vancouver Canucks had a more noble 3-2 loss Monday to the formidable Carolina Hurricanes.
But it was still wholly unsatisfactory, as Vancouver dipped to 0-5-2 and remain the National Hockey League’s only winless team.
And the worst part of what could have been a bounceback night for the franchise, was that yet again the game was there for the Canucks in the third period, tied 1-1, only to have them yield easy goals to Sebastian Aho and Jesper Fast on the second and third shifts of the final frame.
In their seven games, the Canucks have been outscored 17-2 after the second intermission.
“I’m not a psychiatrist, although, I mean, sometimes coaches have to be,” Canuck boss Bruce Boudreau said. “But I think the fear of winning is something. They don’t want to make the mistake, to be the ones that lose the game. But in effect, when you’re doing that. . . you become the player that makes the mistake.”
J.T. Miller, a lightning rod for fan anger in Saturday’s meek 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres and for the worst start in Canucks’ history, scored both goals for Vancouver, including one he conjured out of thin air at 10:40 of the third period to cut Carolina’s lead to a single goal and give his team some life.
But Vancouver was still outshot 15-3 in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s hard when you lose,” Boudreau said. “You look at all the positives and then the positives don’t mean a thing when you lose. Just the starts in the third period. Here you are tied with Carolina, one of the top five teams in the league going into the third period. . . and we’re afraid to push. I mean, you saw when we scored the goal, we pushed and we finally got some zone time and everything else. But they’re standing around and looking like, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen now?’ And it’s unfortunate because I think they all care.”
The Canucks don’t play again until Thursday in Seattle, then return home on a difficult back-to-back to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
It was a 4-1 loss at Rogers Arena to the Penguins last December that convinced owner Francesco Aquilini to fire coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning the next day.
Boudreau brought instant positivity to the group when he was hired Dec. 6. His players could use a dose of that now.
“I mean, there’s (75) games left,” Boudreau said. “What do I say? We’ll think of something. They’ll have a day off tomorrow, and we’ll build them back up and then we’ll go at it again the next game. As bad as it is, it’s only four points out of the playoffs right now. You can look at it either way you want to look at it, but we’re going to get better. Once we find the way, we’ll be fine. We’ll be a good team; we’ve got good players.”
Miller’s pair of goals doubled his season total, and it was easily last year’s 99-point scorer’s best game this season. It came on the night he was shifted back to wing from centre, partnered with Bo Horvat.
“I didn’t really feel like I was close, prior to this game, producing,” Miller said. “I was nowhere near the puck a lot of the game. I wouldn’t say fighting it, but I wasn’t that comfortable. I thought today, I mean, we didn’t have a ton of zone time but I just felt better skating and it opened up. I guess it feels good. But, like you said, it’s hard to really take it in right now without a win in the column. It’s pretty frustrating.”
It was a much more endearing evening for Miller than the morning had been, as the emotional team leader had his angry game face on when asked about the hat trick of Canuck jerseys thrown on the ice on Saturday.
“If they want to throw their shit on the ice, it’s up to them,” he said of fans. “I’m not worried if people want to come to the game, pay all that money and throw their jersey on the ice, go ahead. I’ve got a job to do. I’m worried about beating the Hurricanes today and having a good start to the game and really trying to come together as a team, not whether people want to toss their gear on the ice or not.”
ENOUGH FOR A SOCCER TEAM
And in their seventh game, the Canucks used their 10th defenceman of the season.
Boudreau revealed after the morning skate that star defenceman Quinn Hughes, who missed the end of the preseason with illness and then was playing through an undisclosed injury, is now out “week to week.”
The coach applied the same time frame to concussed blue-liner Travis Dermott, who was injured at practice four weeks ago. Defenceman Tucker Poolman, in and out of the lineup due to neurological complications from migraines, was moved Monday to injured reserve. Depth defenceman Riley Stillman (suspected concussion) is also out. Winger Brock Boeser is out “day to day” with an undisclosed injury.
Minor-league defenceman Guillaume Brisebois was recalled from the American League and played 15:21, mostly on the third pairing with Luke Schenn against the Hurricanes. Jack Rathbone played his second NHL game this month alongside Kyle Burroughs on the second pair, while struggling Oliver Ekman-Larsson, beaten on Aho’s tie-breaker, played on the top unit with Tyler Myers.
“When you have injuries, you’ve got to have the next man up and you have to be ready to go,” president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford said Saturday. “And I believe if our team has a real strong structure, you can play through those things. (But) when you start talking about injuries, you’re just . . . admitting you’re a losing team. I don’t like it. I don’t like using that as an excuse. We all have to be better.”