The Canucks’ current core keeps finding ways to lose, and they’re running out of chances to prove they can win
Photo credit:© Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
This season was supposed to be different for the Canucks. But we seem to say that every year, don’t we?
The Canucks have lost three straight games to start their season, each in a more embarrassing fashion than the last. Every time, the Canucks have held a multi-goal lead only to fall apart in the latter half through bad penalties, careless mistakes, and a string of unanswered goals.
The latest in that trio was easily the worst of the bunch. The Canucks entered the final frame against the Capitals with a 4-2 lead, only to muster just four shots on goal, allow multiple turnovers in their own end, and give up four straight goals en route to a 6-4 Washington win.
Tanner Pearson put it very succinctly. “(We) just shit the bed pretty much,” Pearson said after the loss Monday night.
Even all the blown leads themselves just tell half the story. Not only have the Canucks scored zero third-period goals in those three games, but their mid-game collapses have been so thorough that they’ve yet to even be presented with an empty net opportunity while protecting a lead.
There’s still been plenty of good to pick out in those games despite the results. Bruce Boudreau certainly felt so after yesterday’s loss.
“I thought we had a good first period. I mean, it was the way we wanted to play. It was a sort of very low-scoring, low-chance period. And then I thought we had a great second period,” Boudreau said. “But it did look like we started to sort of collapse, like we’re afraid to win. They came at us pretty good, and we just didn’t handle it very well.”
His captain echoed similar sentiments.
“I think we just have to show a little bit more maturity in our game and then take it to teams. I mean, we had them on the ropes,” Bo Horvat said. “We know we’re doing a lot of good things.”
“I say this all the time, I feel like a broken record, but it takes a full 60 minutes to win a hockey game and we’ve got to start doing that.”
Broken record indeed.
Some people will say that it’s too early in the season to be panicking, that three games in is too soon to judge a team’s quality, and that if not for injuries on the blue line to Tyler Myers and Travis Dermott that things would be better. And they’d be right, if this were a sudden new problem for a routinely competitive team.
But this isn’t a story that only began on Wednesday. This is a story that began last year, when the Canucks lost 17 of their first 25 games. You could even argue it began two seasons ago in the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, when several popular teammates were shown the door to save a few bucks and the team tumbled into a last-place finish in the North Division.
Even with all the strides the Canucks have seemingly made recently, so many of the same exact problems have remained constant throughout the last few years. They still can’t play a full 60-minute game, the penalty kill is still atrocious, and the power play still lacks the type of cohesion and chemistry that such a talented group of players should be capable of.
Plenty of this reoccurring nightmare sits squarely at the feet of Canucks’ management. The previous regime wasted years of their best players’ primes trying to quick-fix their way into a playoff spot, only to sink into the depths of the NHL standings and set the table for a culture of losing.
The new front office led by Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin already has to share some of the blame too. When they had the opportunity this offseason to reshape the roster and fill major holes in the lineup, they balked and chose to run back the same essential roster as the year before. They even doubled down by giving J.T. Miller a seven-year contract extension, in a seller’s market where top scorers like Matthew Tkachuk cost the Florida Panthers both Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to acquire.
Now, the team is facing a harsh reality and a new major crisis — they’re forgetting how to win.
This is a team that, on paper, should be offensively good enough to beat most of the teams they face, but are so mentally fragile as a group that the game plan completely falls apart at the first sign of adversity.
“I think right now, mentally weak would be a good assessment,” Bruce Boudreau said when asked about his team’s lack of confidence. “Instead of when you’re on a roll and you’re waiting for good things to happen, when you’re in something like this, you’re waiting for something bad to happen.”
Plenty of bad has already happened. The season is barely a week old and players-only meetings are already being called in the locker room. When asked if he thinks those meetings are a good sign, Boudreau simply shrugged and replied, “not usually.”
They’ve tried changing the coaches, and they’ve tried changing the front office. So who does that leave?
The players themselves.
They haven’t reached a point of no return yet, but this core group is running out of chances to prove they can win together fast. And outside of a few elite pieces like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko, no one else has done nearly enough in the last few years to warrant keeping them into the unforeseeable future. No division titles, no playoff spots clinched in a season without a pandemic-induced qualifier, and no proof of sustainable success will do that to you.
Of course, that can all change if they finally put the pieces together, remember what made them each great in the first place and turn these disastrous three games into a small blip during an otherwise successful season. If they come out guns blazing and dismantle the equally-winless Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, it might not wipe the start from people’s memories but it could provide them with the benefit of the doubt.
But if this is the shape of things to come, then the end of the runway for this Canucks core could be approaching a lot sooner than we’d hoped. It’s time for them to show up or pack it up.
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