Back on February 2nd, the Canucks came up with a big 5-1 win on the Colorado Avalanche, leapfrogging the Avalanche for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Since then, however, the Canucks have just two wins in 10 games, while the Avalanche have won four straight and have points in 8 of their 11 games since losing to the Canucks.
In the Canucks’ last game before the trade deadline, they slipped just a little bit further out of the playoff picture.
The Avalanche sit in the final Wild Card spot in the West right now, while Canucks are five points back, with three other teams in between them and the playoffs. What once looked like a distinct possibility is looking more and more remote for the Canucks. Could they still push for the playoffs? Maybe, but it’s only going to get harder down the stretch.
The Canucks’ current position puts them in a tough spot: while it would have been easy to justify a middle-of-the-road approach to the trade deadline — neither buying nor selling — when they were right in the thick of the playoff race, their currently spot in the standings suggests they ought to be sellers. That might not be popular among a certain segment of the Canucks’ fanbase, but it would be a pragmatic decision.
That said, the Canucks have a ready-made injury excuse for their downward slide — Sven Baertschi hasn’t played since that win over the Avalanche and Alex Edler was injured the very next game, with multiple injuries since — and maybe that will keep GM Jim Benning from pulling the plug. Perhaps he’ll say that the return of Edler, Thatcher Demko, Brandon Sutter, Chris Tanev, and Jake Virtanen will be like trading for players at the deadline and they’ll soon be back in the playoff hunt.
Personally, it looks more like the Canucks’ injuries have exposed their lack of depth and just how far they are from completing their rebuild and becoming a true playoff contender. Your mileage may vary. I watched this game.
- The final result of the game was a shame, as the Canucks legitimately played quite well, particularly in the second period, when they dominated in puck possession and shots. They just couldn’t score a goal if their lives depended on it. Fortunately, the medical field has yet to invent life support machines that are powered by Canucks goals.
- The Islanders opened the scoring on an oddball goal. Johnny Boychuk’s point shot deflected off a Canucks stick and practically everyone lost sight of it. While Jacob Markstrom frantically tried to figure out where the puck went, it rebounded off the back boards and came out to Casey Cizikas in front, who scooped it like gelato over Markstrom.
- Jay Beagle nearly got that goal back, blocking a shot on the penalty kill and turning it into a breakaway. As he deked to the backhand, he was slashed on the hand by Nick Leddy and lost control. Somehow, the slash went undetected by the referees, despite the lost scoring chance, which robbed us of seeing Beagle take the second penalty shot of his career.
- The referees had no issue spotting what looked like a pretty soft tripping penalty on Bo Horvat. The Islanders controlled the puck for nearly a full minute on the delayed call, finally working the puck around to Ryan Pulock for a blistering one-timer from the left faceoff circle that went back against the grain on a sliding Markstrom. Pulock has an absolute cannon of a slap shot, which should not be confused with an Absolut Cannon, which just sprays vodka everywhere.
- The Canucks came on strong in the second period, out-shooting the Islanders 15-3 and creating a couple close calls. On the power play, a Ben Hutton point shot was tipped off the post by Bo Horvat and nearly rolled over the line before Scott “Not Curtis” Mayfield cleared it away. Later on, Tyler Motte hit a post of his own on a solo dash up the middle.
- The inability to score on the power play once again hurt the Canucks, as they had multiple opportunities with the man advantage, including 25 seconds on a 5-on-3. To their credit, they did switch things up, including a five-forward set on the two-man advantage. At 5-on-4, they moved Ben Hutton back to the first unit and shifted Brock Boeser into the slot or down low on the right side. Unfortunately, this meant Josh Leivo ended up quarterbacking the power play from the left boards and, well, he’s not very good at that.
- At even-strength, Leivo was a lot better, leading the Canucks in corsi percentage and on-ice scoring chance differential. The Canucks out-attempted the Islanders 21-5 with Leivo on the ice at 5-on-5 and out-chanced them 14-1. It was a dominant performance from Leivo and his linemates: Bo Horvat and Nikolay Goldobin.
- Nikolay Goldobin deserves a lot of credit for his line’s strong possession, as he was driving the bus tonight with a strong all-around game. He won puck battles at both ends of the ice and consistently broke the puck out of the defensive zone with possession. Even Travis Green agreed: “I thought Goldy had one of his better games this season...he was strong, he went after the puck, he won some puck battles. It was obvious.”
- Unfortunately, once again Goldobin couldn’t buy a goal. He rang two shots off Lehner’s mask in the first and second periods — he was hunting masks like Sergei Kravinoff — and got double-shifted in place of Ryan Spooner a couple times in the third period, but just couldn’t score. He finished with 19:58 in ice time, his highest total since mid-November.
- Some have suggested that Goldobin’s elevated ice time is indicative that he’s being showcaed for a potential trade. That may well be true, but it looked more like a response to Goldobin’s excellent play during the game and the score. Since it wasn’t a tight, one-goal game, and the Canucks needed to push for a comeback, getting Goldobin out a little more often in the third period makes sense without the trade deadline explanation.
- The Islanders made it 3-0 on a 3-on-2 in the third period that was very poorly played by Erik Gudbranson. His gap on Valtteri Filppula was Michael Strahan big, doing little to either pressure Filppula or close off a passing lane, leaving Ashton Sautner to defend a 2-on-1 behind him. Two crisp passes later and Anthony Beauvillier had an easy goal.
I get that this is a 3-on-2 rush, but it's still a perfect example of how not to defend from Erik Gudbranson. 3-0 #Isles now.— Nathan Kanter (@NathanKanter11) February 24, 2019
Nearly 500 NHL games & his gap control is that bad #Canucks pic.twitter.com/8gq6dDiQEy
- Sautner didn’t play that rush particularly well either, but it’s a little easier to forgive the guy in his seventh NHL game than the guy in his 460th.
- Brock Boeser managed just one shot on goal in this game, but had nine shot attempts. Four were blocked and four missed the net. One particularly egregious one came in the third after the Islanders took a 3-0 lead: the puck came to Boeser in the slot off a broken play and he had time to pick a corner. Instead, he put it wide. The Canucks need their sniper to do a little bit more sniping.
- The Canucks kept pushing right until the end, even pulling Markstrom early to get a 6-on-4 during a late power play. With Markstrom pulled, the Canucks unfortunately managed just one shot on goal, a long wrist shot from Troy Stecher. What could have been a more dangerous shot off the stick of Elias Pettersson was more of a no-timer than a one-timer, and Brock Nelson went the other way with the whiff and set up Cal Clutterbuck for the empty net goal to make it 4-0.
- In spite of getting shutout, the Canucks could take a lot of positives from that game. They faced the top team in the Metropolitan Division and, for long stretches of the game, looked like the better team. Perhaps that will propel them towards a better result on Monday against the Anaheim Ducks.