ANAHEIM, Calif. — With a more talented roster, a better schedule, a full training camp, almost full health and an emphatic desire by everyone involved to prove that last year’s disaster was a one-off, the Vancouver Canucks are back exactly where they were after the first 16 nights of chaos last season.
Their 5-1 loss Sunday to the Anaheim Ducks capped the most disillusioning three-game road trip of the Jim Benning-Travis Green era and sunk the Canucks to 5-9-2 — matching the 12 points Vancouver managed in their 6-10-0 false start to 2021’s pandemic season.
They were outscored 19-6 over a span of four nights by Anaheim, the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. Vancouver is already six points out of a playoff spot.
— Iain MacIntyre (@imacSportsnet) November 15, 2021
The traction the Canucks had managed to gain over the preceding seven-game homestand, when they were generally defending well and outplaying teams at five-on-five but losing games due to awful special teams, was lost in the thin air of Denver on Thursday and the team has looked untethered since.
Reporters aren’t allowed in National Hockey League dressing rooms these days, but you can still whiff the self doubt of Canuck players who on this road trip lost touch with most of the concepts required to be successful.
The only thing they maintained from their homestand is the inexplicably bad special teams. Canuck penalty-killers yielded on Sunday two more power-play goals for the seventh time in eight games, which is unfathomable.
Their league-worst 20 power-play goals against are at least double the figure surrendered by 22 teams, and Vancouver’s special-teams deficit is now 11 goals through 16 games.
The only thing worse than that odour of self doubt is the sad stench of hopelessness. The Canucks could be there soon if they play the next three games at home as badly as the three they just played on the road.
“We haven’t given up, that’s for sure,” Tyler Motte, whose belated return to the lineup Sunday after off-season spinal surgery did not help the penalty kill, told reporters after the game. “We believe in ourselves, we believe in this group. Again, get the first domino to fall and I think we’re going to get some momentum from it. We just haven’t been quite good enough to put one across the finish line.”
The Canucks weren’t quite good enough at home. On the road, they weren’t close to good enough although they did battle admirably in Vegas and were tied in the third period there on Saturday before a bad penalty call was enough to collapse them and lead to a 7-4 loss.
Vancouver’s 7-1 loss Thursday to the Avalanche was one of its worst games in years.
These Canucks are badly underperforming both their talent level and payroll and — giving the team a mulligan for last season when there was a perfect storm of disadvantageous circumstances aligned against it — this is the first time you can say that about Green’s group.
“I feel confident our team will pull out of this,” the coach said Sunday. “I think our penalty kill is going to have to help get us going. I think it will come around. I know our power player will score. I know we have some players that will produce (because) they’ve produced before. I know getting some of our defencemen back will also help our game.
“Things haven’t gone the way we’ve wanted to, but I will say that I’m confident that our team will turn it around.”
Green added that the team must play better, too, which means he buried his lead like reporters sometimes do.
“They’re not the efforts that we wanted,” veteran defenceman Tyler Myers said of the three dog nights. “I thought our effort in Vegas was good; it was a good hockey game right up until towards the end of the third. Other than that, we didn’t play the way we need to to win. We have to find a way as a group to respond when things go badly within a game. If a game doesn’t go our way, we have to respond coming into that next game, too. It’s part of maturing as a group and working together to get out of it.”
Vancouver’s three-game homestand opens Wednesday with a visit from the Avalanche, and then there’s another five-game odyssey that starts with three difficult opponents.
These are critical days. The team is teetering.
Top Canuck forward Elias Pettersson had two shots on Sunday, which doubled his volume from the first two games of his pointless road trip in which he was minus-four. Pettersson will make it to Game 17 without an even-strength goal this season.
Captain Bo Horvat was also pointless on the trip and Conor Garland, so dynamic at home, vanished on the road, managing one assist and getting outscored by four goals at even strength. And goalie Thatcher Demko was blown up in Denver and Las Vegas — and was still one of the least culpable Canucks.
Other than Nils Hoglander, who scored Vancouver’s only goal and had six shots against the Ducks, J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes, few Canucks distinguished themselves amid the adversity.
“It can turn quick,” Myers insisted. “You know, a lot of things can change. We just have to make sure we keep pushing forward to get out of it. It’s not something that we can just accept and hope it starts to turn our way. We’ve got to fight to get out of it.”