Canucks start well, but flame out in Calgary to close opening road trip
Can home-ice advantage turn the Vancouver Canucks' season around?
They'd better hope so. After going 0-fer in their two games in Calgary, they're tied for last in the Scotia North Division, 23rd overall in the league, and tied with Chicago for the league's worst current streak — three straight losses.
It's almost more frustrating that the table was set for a better result against the Flames on Monday night. They got J.T. Miller out of Covid jail and back with the team, and both Tanner Pearson and Alex Edler were able to play despite looking like they could have been injured on Saturday night.
Out of the gate, there was so much reason for hope. They outshot the Flames 16-4 in the first period and took a 1-0 lead on Jake Virtanen's first goal of the year, breaking Jacob Markstrom's shutout streak against his old team.
Adam Gaudette was buzzing, with five shots on goal, and while the power play didn't connect, it looked much more dynamic on two first-period opportunities.
But the tide turned dramatically in the second period, when the Canucks barely touched the puck. Calgary had a 20-3 edge in shots in the middle frame and took a 3-1 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes, off even-strength goals by Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund, and a power-play marker by Elias Lindholm with just two seconds left in the period.
On a third-period power play, Mark Giordano was served up a pizza by Travis Hamonic.
Later, Tyler Myers responded with the Canucks' first odd-man goal of the season — a shorthanded marker, while Quinn Hughes was serving a tripping penalty.
At 4-2, I appreciated Travis Green boldly pulling his goalie with just under five minutes left to play. The Flames got hemmed into their zone for a long stretch, and Andrew Mangiapane ended up taking a penalty to create a 6-on-4 opportunity. But the offensive confidence simply isn't there right now. Rasmus Andersson effectively sealed the win for Calgary when he hit the empty net with 55 seconds left on the clock.
And it's probably time to start wondering out loud what's up with Elias Pettersson, isn't it? Through four games, he's a team best plus-three, which is pretty incredible considering the Canucks have been outscored 16-9. But despite 11 shots on goal — in line with his usual rate — Petey has yet to score his first goal. He has just one assist so far.
Petey's accuracy was incredible through his first two seasons — 19.4 percent in his rookie year and 16.7 percent last season. I know some people were expected to see a regression this year, but I'm not sure anybody thought he'd regress to zero!
He had two shots and two misses against Calgary — and took two penalties, which is odd for a guy who had just 30 penalty minutes in 142 career games before Monday night. The second one, a high-sticking call against Sean Monahan, also earned him supplemental discipline — a maximum fine of $3.987.07 for slashing.
It was that penalty on Monahan that led to Lindholm's goal, late in the second.
We've seen frustration fuel Pettersson to do some amazing things in the past. Here's hoping that he'll find his mojo when the club returns to Rogers Arena.
One thing Pettersson is right about — the Canucks have to figure out a way to take fewer penalties. After I chastised Tyler Motte for his undisciplined play in the last blog, he managed to stay out of the box on Monday. But the Canucks still took seven minors, compared to just four for Calgary. And other than Tyler Myers' net-front roughing call on Matthew Tkachuk — which I rather liked, to be honest — and a trip by Antoine Roussel, the other five penalties were all committed by skill players: Pettersson's two, plus singles by Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette and Quinn Hughes.
Through four games, the Canucks have been shorthanded 21 times. That's tops in the league. They've given up seven goals while shorthanded — and scored one. That's an easy-to-calculate PK success rate of just 66.7 percent — tied for 24th overall with Ottawa, Philly, Buffalo and Florida. But the Panthers have played just one game — and given up one goal while shorthanded. And the Sabres have only taken three penalties in their first three games, which is even more impressive.
But hey — things could be worse. The St. Louis Blues are 2-1 to start the season, but their penalty kill has allowed eight goals on 14 times shorthanded — including five power-play goals against in their 8-0 shellacking by Colorado last Friday.
Of course, just as the Canucks lost PK stalwart Chris Tanev in free agency, the Blues lost Alex Pietrangelo. And Calgary's 11-for-12 on the penalty kill this season with Tanev in the fold, while Vegas is 7-for-8 with Pietrangelo. Looks like the Canucks and Blues both have some work to do in this department.
I'm not as worried about the Vancouver power play, which is now 0-for-15. As of Tuesday morning, the Canucks are actually one of nine teams that hasn't scored yet this season with the man advantage, along with New Jersey, Detroit, Vegas, St. Louis, Anaheim, Minnesota and Columbus — and Dallas, but they don't play their first game till Friday.
With J.T. Miller back in the fold, all the key power-play guys are present and accounted for.
It should be just a matter of time before the Canucks' power play starts to click again, but they're not going to have much practice time to get things figured out. Starting Wednesday, they've got three games in four nights against Montreal — with the 2-0-1 Canadiens fresh off a pair of wins in Edmonton where they outscored the Oilers 8-2.
Gotta hope the tight schedule means Vancouver will get Jake Allen in net for one of those games, I'd think. It'll be very different having Carey Price in net for Montreal without his usual throng of adoring fans from across his home province in the house.