Bad news, everyone. Not only did this loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets change the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff chances from slim to monomolecular, it also handed the Canucks the most ignominious of titles: the Crap Mantle.
For those unfamiliar with the Crap Mantle, it is a way of determining who the worst team in the NHL is at any given moment. Its genesis was in an early PITB Podcast, where we imagined it as the antithesis of a championship belt. Whereas a championship belt is won by defeating the previous holder of the belt, the Crap Mantle is gained by losing to the previous holder of the Crap Mantle.
The the team that loses the first game of the NHL season is the worst team in the NHL at that moment. The team that loses to the worst team must be worse than the worst team, thereby becoming the new worst team in the NHL. And so it goes.
The Crap Mantle is very important and very serious. How serious? Last season, the Tampa Bay LIghtning finished with the Crap Mantle after losing in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes in their final game of the regular season. They were supposed to be a true Stanley Cup Contender, but the Crap Mantle marked them as the worst team in the NHL. It should have come as no surprise that they failed to make the Stanley Cup Final, losing instead to the Washington Capitals.
Sure, the Crap Mantle is just something we made up, but that makes no difference to its import: someone made up the game of hockey and we still treat it like it matters. We bestow meaning on what we decide matters to us. And the Crap Mantle matters.
The Blue Jackets, by losing to the Edmonton Oilers last Thursday, became the bearers of the Crap Mantle and you could tell by the way they played, they had no interest in hanging onto it for more than one game. That, or they’re still in the playoff hunt and badly needed the two points to get within striking distance of the Montreal Canadiens for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. One or the other.
Now, thanks to losing to the Blue Jackets, the Canucks are officially the worst team in the NHL. Their only hope is to rid themselves of the Crap Mantle in one of their final six games of the season. If they can win even one game, it won’t matter how low in the standings they go: they won’t be the worst.
I saw the execrable stain of the Crap Mantle passed onto the Canucks when I watched this game.
- A tap of the stick to longtime Bulie crystal240 for tracking the Crap Mantle. The Canucks have held the Crap Mantle once already this season, but only for one game. They took on the Crap Mantle after losing to the Washington Capitals in mid-October, but defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in the shootout two days later. They had one other opportunity to take it on when they faced the Ottawa Senators in January, but pulled out an overtime win on the back of an Elias Pettersson hat trick. Don’t tell me the Crap Mantle doesn’t matter; it mattered to Pettersson.
- No, Pettersson has no idea what the Crap Mantle is. Why should that matter?
- Well, this was a dreadful game. It was the kind of game that made you just want to stare into the maggot drawer and ask yourself what life choices led you to this moment.
- The Blue Jackets pretty thoroughly outplayed the Canucks for the vast majority of the time, outchancing them 33-11 according to Natural Stat Trick. Perhaps it was because the Canucks were playing their second game on back-to-back nights, or perhaps it’s because the Blue Jackets are significantly better than they are. The world may never know.
- Here’s how dire this game was: the Canucks most noticeable player was Luke Schenn, and only because he threw a franchise-record 12 hits. Here’s the thing about hits: you only get the opportunity to hit someone when they have the puck and you don’t. Each individual hit could be a good play, but when you have a dozen of them in one game — 13:43 in ice time, to be precise — it’s not a good sign.
- Don’t get me wrong, I thought Schenn was fine overall and his hits were impactful and entertaining. There’s some value there and he at least played with some emotion and kept the crowd in the game, if not his teammates. But when hits are the only highlights, you know it was a bad game.
- Schenn’s hits were hard, devastating, and clean, though not without some painful consequences. His hard hit on Ryan Dzingel sent the Blue Jackets winger to the locker room midway through the first period, though he returned for the second.
- Schenn’s hit on Dzingel came after an ugly looking hit by Josh Anderson on Alex Edler that went unpenalized. The referees likely felt that Edler turned just before the contact, putting himself in a dangerous position, but Canucks head coach Travis Green was in disbelief at the non-call at the bench. Either that or he was calling the ref “Mister Falcon” and stating what happens when you find a stranger in the alps.
- Edler was fired up after Anderson’s hit — or, at least as close to fired up as Edler gets — and was noticeably more physical than usual in this game. He had a dandy hit later in the first, hammering Oliver Bjorkstrand into the boards. Edler finished with a paltry 3 hits to Schenn’s 12.
- Jake Virtanen tried to get in on the physical play as well. Perhaps his awful flyby on Mark Giordano on Saturday was fresh in his mind as he lined up Seth Jones for a big hit, but he ended up performing a another type of flyby altogether, sending himself crashing headlong into the boards when Jones sidestepped the hit. Fortunately, only his pride and dignity were hurt.
- Sven Baertschi returned to action for the first time since January 23rd after dealing with post-concussion syndrome. I have to admit, I was nervous for him all night. I would have been all for shutting him down for the rest of the season to give him as much recovery time as possible, but I understand how important it was for Baertschi to prove to himself that he could step back onto the ice and be okay. His game was a little sloppy as he himself admitted his timing was off, but it was still great to see him back playing the game he loves.
- Nikolay Goldobin also got back on the ice, though his return was from a string of healthy scratches. He didn’t have the kind of game you would hope to see after a scratch: beyond some decent work defensively and some puck movement on the power play, he just couldn’t get anything going all game. He wasn’t the only one struggling, but the Canucks were out-shot 6-0 when Goldobin was on the ice at 5-on-5.
- To be fair, Goldobin nearly had an assist in the second period when he bounced a pass through to Markus Granlund in the slot, but Sergei Bobrovsky got a piece of Granlund’s one-timer and sent it out of play. More than just a point for Goldobin, that would have been a rare goal for Granlund: he has just one goal (and one assist) in his last 19 games.
- You can never blame a goaltender for a loss when his team doesn’t score a single goal, but Thatcher Demko still had a rough night. He left too much space short side on the first goal and misjudged the angle on the second goal, which sort of set the tone. Through the rest of the game, even when Demko made some sterling saves, there was silence from the Rogers Arena crowd. Canucks fans can be slow to forgive sometimes.
- I wouldn’t blame Demko for the third goal. A backchecking Elias Pettersson blocked a pass, but he and Edler got in each other’s way, leaving the puck in front of the net for Ryan Dzingel to get a wide open chance on the backhand. And what Dzingel sees, Dzingel buries.
- It’s tough to blame Demko for the fourth or fifth goal either. The fourth came when Ashton Sautner didn’t notice Bjorkstrand coming up the middle of the ice on a Blue Jackets rush. Bjorkstrand was oh so quiet until he got the puck and sent it exploding off his stick into the top corner with a “Wow! Bam!”
- Finally, the Blue Jackets made it 5-0 on a 3-on-1 rush after a failed Canucks power play. Demko had to be prepared for a pass, so was caught flat-footed when Anderson chose to rip the puck off the far post and in instead. What was Demko supposed to do? Even his posts were letting him down in this one.