Canucks Finding New Ways to Lose…
The Vancouver Canucks are playing like a team which neither wants, nor deserves, to be in the playoffs.
Over the past two games, in back-to-back nights against the Calgary Flames (a four-pointer that could have seen the Canucks in a tie with Calgary for second) and the Colorado Avalanche (a game in which the winner moves to the seventh spot in the Northwest Division), Vancouver went ahead early, only to blow the lead and ultimately lose the game.
Against Calgary, the Canucks scored two goals within 12 seconds before the half-way mark of the first period (Naslund with just his 24th of the season (and first in 15 games!) on the power play and Daniel Sedin with his 28th on an impossible-angle bank in from behind the goal line). Vancouver out shot Calgary by a whopping 21-7 margin. That should have left Calgary feeling a bit demoralized and ripe for the finishing blow. Instead, the Canucks took the rest of the night off and the Flames came out in the second and third periods looking like a team that not only wants a shot at the playoffs but is willing to fight, hard, to get there.
As is so often the case, team leader Jerome Iginla potted his 49th goal of the season just 2:11 into the second period, and the Flames made it look like the first and second periods were from two different games: they out shot the Canucks in the second period 18-3.
Halfway through the third period, Damon Langkow tied up the game with his 29th goal of the campaign on a Calgary power play. Less than a minute later, Dion Phaneuf scored what would be the game winner with another Flames power play goal. On that play, Kevin Bieksa broke his stick and decided to take a leisurely skate back to the bench, leaving the left side wide open for Phaneuf’s rush. Calgary out shot Vancouver 15-10 in the third.
Calgary battled hard, hit everyone in sight and wanted the win one heck of a lot more than Vancouver did. Just comparing the leaders of each team tells the story: while each scored once, Iginla was a presence throughout the game and he remains one of the most complete players in the league. When he scores, he’s smiling and excited and pumped. Naslund, on the other hand, looked even glummer than he normally looks, and wasn’t a factor for large stretches of the game. There was a time a few seasons ago when these two were in a neck and neck race for the scoring crown (which Ignila eventually won). That seems a very long time ago now – Iginla has played with the same intensity (and results) ever since. Naslund seems to have other things on his mind.
Speaking of other things on a players mind, Roberto Luongo doesn’t look nearly as sharp as he once did. Phaneuf’s goal, while a powerful, laser-like blast from the top of the faceoff circle, nonetheless was a shot Luongo routinely saves in a, well, routine manner. Since the Canucks rely on defense to win games and their best defender, game in and game out, has to be Luongo, if he’s off his game, the Canucks are really in trouble.
Against Colorado last night, Vancouver got down early after Jordan Leopold scored his fifth of the season at the 5:10 mark of the first period on a power play. The Canucks responded with two goals: Daniel Sedin with his 29th on a great feed from twin brother Henrik and Taylor Pyatt with his 16th, again set up by Henrik Sedin. Vancouver out shot Colorado 11-8 in the first period, then, as is so often the case of late, took the rest of the night off.
The Avalanche came out fighting in the second period, out shooting the Canucks by a 23-11 margin and outscoring Vancouver 4-1 on goals by Stastny (23), McLeod (5), Hejduk (25) and Guite (11). Sami Salo scored Vancouver’s lone goal for the period with ten seconds left. It would be Vancouver’s last goal of the game.
Colorado scored just 23 seconds into the third when Milan Hejduk scored his 26th of the season and second of the night. That one came against Curtis Sanford, who replaced the recently sagging Roberto Luongo halfway through the second period after Luongo gave up five goals on 23 shots (that’s a 0.783 save percentage – very un-Luongo-like). The Avalanche certainly played like a team that came out to win. The Canucks played like a team resigned to missing the playoffs.
I hate to say it, but, with their lackluster play, the Vancouver Canucks don’t deserve to make the playoffs, and if they do miss the dance, it will have been by their own hand. With only a handful of games left and the team clinging to eighth spot in the Western Conference, with Nashville just two points back (and a surging Edmonton Oilers team just three points back) if the Canucks don’t feel motivated to turn it on now, they may as well hit the links now and skip the last few games.
What’s worse is that every remaining game is against a Northwest Division rival – next up: the Minnesota Wild tomorrow. Each of these games are four point contests, meaning Vancouver will likely need to win at least three (and probably four) of their last five games to qualify for a run to the cup. My recommendation? B-12 shots and a Red Bull in the locker room after the first period. Repeat after the second.