Self-inflicted mistakes cost Vancouver as Golden Knights subdue young Canucks
1) Unlike last Sunday’s series opener when the Vegas Golden Knights dominated in all areas of the ice, the Vancouver Canucks have to shoulder much of the blame for last night’s 3-0 loss. Trailing 2-0, but starting the third period on the power play, the Canucks took a too many men penalty that negated their man-advantage. That one sequence didn’t sink the Canucks, but it summed up their night. Instead of generating a power play goal early in the third to get on the board and give the team some life, they watched as Vegas capitalized on that mistake. Mark Stone scored on the ensuing Golden Knights power play and extended his team’s lead to 3-0 – which is how the night ended. While the Canucks managed a handful of shots with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker late in the third, the team had just four shots over the first 18 minutes of the final frame. The Canucks had 16 shots in the opening period and 16 shots the rest of the way. The team didn’t play well enough over the final 40 minutes to match the effort or intensity on the other side. With little turnaround time, the Canucks need to bring a more inspired performance in Game 4 tonight.
2) Despite generating 10 shots on the night, the Canucks power play came up empty on Saturday. That included an early power play with a chance to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead. It also included a two-man advantage for 1:18 midway through the first period when the team was trailing 2-0. During that 5-on-3, the Canucks managed just three shots on goal. The power play – a difference maker on so many nights this season – is now 1 for 11 in this series (Bo Horvat cashed in on a first period power play in Game 2 on Tuesday). The Canucks conversion rate against Vegas is in stark contrast to the way the team stormed St. Louis in the last round. Against the Blues, the Canucks scored three times in the series opener and added a pair of power play goals in the second game. Through three games against St. Louis, the Canucks were 6 for 11 on the power play. That tells you all you need to know about how and why the Canucks had a 2-1 lead through three games last round and why they’re trailing Vegas in this series.
3) A huge part of the Canucks problem on Saturday was an inability or unwillingness to get anywhere near the Vegas net with the puck. According to the NHL official play-by-play of last night’s game, the Canucks had one – ONE! – shot from inside of 10 feet of the Golden Knights net over the final two periods. Of the seven shots they put on net in the second, the Canucks shots came from 84, 46, 55, 45, 27, 52 and 64 feet. That’s rarely the recipe for success in the NHL and especially troubling against a goalie like Robin Lehner who now looks to be in a groove. Full credit to the Vegas starter for making the stops he’s supposed to, but the Canucks simply have to make life more difficult on him. According to the league, Bo Horvat had a shot from nine feet in the third period and that was it in terms of in saves from in tight that Lehner was forced to make over the final couple of periods. That has to change tonight or the Canucks will likely be facing elimination on Tuesday night.
4) Quinn Hughes has been such a driver of Canucks offense all season – and at times earlier in these playoffs. So it probably goes hand in hand that the Canucks rookie dynamo has been slowed by the Knights and the Canucks have been shutout in two of the first three games in this series. Hughes has been a focal point of the Vegas forecheck and hasn’t been able to skate the puck into open the ice the way he did for much of the season. Some will wonder if Hughes is playing through some sort of injury that his limiting his ability to shine in this series. It’s possible. But he logged a team-high 26:22 last night including 10:59 of the third period alone. He also had two shots on goal on a team-high nine attempts. So he didn’t look limited by his usage or his output. But something does seem off with Hughes. And it’s noticeable because he has set the bar so incredibly high with his performance in his first full NHL season. In 48:42 with Hughes on the ice at even-strength in this series, Vegas has outshot the Canucks 34-15 and holds a 5-0 edge in goals scored. Those aren’t the types of numbers we’re used to seeing associated with Quinn Hughes. It’s been jarring to see Hughes struggle because to this point in his career he’s made it all look so easy.
5) The Canucks are seeing what their opponents have faced for much of the past two years. This isn’t a knock on Jacob Markstrom, but the Golden Knights are winning the goaltending battle through the first three games. And it underscores the issues the Canucks face when Markstrom isn’t working miracles. Through three games, Robin Lehner has a pair of shutouts, a 1.35 GAA and a 95.2% save percentage. Markstrom has allowed 10 goals and sports a 3.56 GAA and 90.7% save percentage in the series. That’s a decisive edge to the Golden Knights in the goaltending department right now. When Markstrom is at the top of his game, he gives the Canucks a chance to win. It’s been proven time and time again. But if he’s not heroic, then flaws in the team in front of him are exposed as was the case on the first goal Saturday night. With Canuck skaters standing still in the neutral zone, speedy Alex Tuch turned on the jets, skated on to a breakaway pass and beat Markstrom high over the glove hand. If the Canucks are going to reverse their fortunes and claw back into this series, it likely has to be on the broad shoulders of their netminder. Markstrom is capable of making it happen. But it feels now like it has to happen tonight.