- For five minutes early in the third period on Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks dominated the Montreal Canadiens. They had the puck and wouldn’t give it back. They flooded the Habs zone and had the Canadiens on their heels. They attacked the net and put two pucks in it. And all of that hard work allowed the Canucks to get back on even terms and tie the game 2-2. That was the good news. The bad news is that hockey is a 60 minute game and the Canucks simply can’t allow themselves to think that playing hard for a five minute burst is enough. Because in the end, those five minutes meant nothing as Montreal countered with three unanswered goals and won going away handing the Canucks a second straight loss and their fifth in six games. The Canucks need to realize that when they play like they did in those five minutes good things can – and often will – happen. But then they need another five minutes like that. And five more after that, too.
- There was plenty of talk from Canucks players at the post-game podium that Saturday was a step in the right direction. But the bar can’t possibly be so low that such a performance is viewed as progress. As a response to a 7-3 loss on Thursday, the Canucks started Saturday night with one shot in the opening 13 minutes – and that included an early a power play. Overall, the Canucks were outshot 33-25 on the night and at even-strength they were outshot 28-18 and outchanced 27-17. For a fourth straight game, the team allowed five goals and on the season now they’ve surrendered a league-high 33 – a whopping 4.75 per game. Last season through seven games, the Canucks were 4-3 and had allowed 15 goals. This season, they’re 2-5 with 33 goals against. The Canucks need to be careful about falling into the trap of thinking that overall efforts like Saturday night’s are good enough. They’re not.
- It’s hard to imagine things turning around unless the team’s best players have the puck more than they have through the first seven games. Although he scored his first of the season, Elias Pettersson struggled again on Saturday as the Habs outshot the Canucks 8-2 at evens with EP40 on the ice. It was no better for JT Miller with the visitors holding a 9-3 edge in shots while the team was outshot 10-7 with Quinn Hughes on the ice. That should be the Canucks greatest advantage. Those guys tilted the ice heavily in the Canucks favour all of last season and were all play driving beasts. So far, they have been forced to defend far too much and play without the puck. To make matters worse, all three have been guilty of terrible turnovers and have tried to force far too many passes that have been easily picked off by opponents. Pettersson, Miller and Hughes remain among the Canucks very best players, but until they start playing like it – and playing like they did last season – it looks and feels like an awfully steep hill for this team to climb.
- What you saw on Saturday was essentially the Canucks best line-up. The group got Alex Edler back from a one-game absence so Travis Hamonic was the lone veteran blueliner out of the line-up. And based on his sluggish start, how much better is Hamonic than Jordie Benn who made his season debut on Saturday? Up front, Travis Green justifiably opted to make Adam Gaudette a healthy scratch after a slow start and replaced him with Zack MacEwen, who forced Nick Suzuki to put the puck over the glass with an aggressive forecheck and later set-up Jake Virtanen with a terrific backhand pass. An argument can be made that MacEwen was more impactful in his 9:51 of ice time than Gaudette has been at any point this season. This is it. This is the team they’ve assembled. There are no reinforcements waiting in the wings. Is it good enough? That’s a question that must be asked based on the evidence presented. Are the Canucks better than they’ve shown so far? I have to believe they are. But being better than they’ve shown so far may not be enough to overcome this sluggish start.
- The Canucks have one win in regulation. It came on opening night in Edmonton. Since then they’ve surrendered something in the standings to their last six opponents. In a season in which every game is against division rivals and the teams the Canucks are battling with for playoff positioning in the all-Canadian North Division, the points you give up are almost as important as the points you gain. The Canucks have beaten one team in 60 minutes – that was the first game of the season which after no exhibition action was essentially a coin toss. Since then, the Canucks are 1-5 with their lone victory in a shootout against Montreal last Wednesday. This team needs wins and it needs to start winning without being charitable. They’ll get their next shot on Monday in the first of three straight at home against Ottawa. It seems ridiculous to think, but given the start to the season, this week feels like it could be a referendum on this team and this season. Buckle up.