Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher, centre, celebrates a goal by P.K. Subban (not shown) against Vancouver Canucks. goaltender Roberto Luongo, left, as Canucks’ Jason Garrison and Ryan Stanton look on.
Photograph by: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL – The Canadiens said merci. The Canucks said mercy.
Offering again what has become a nightly assortment of odd, unlucky and atrocious goals-against, the Vancouver Canucks stretched their longest regulation losing streak in 15 years to six games with a 5-2 National Hockey League loss Thursday to the Montreal Canadiens.
It didn't matter that the Canucks were a little better than the Canadiens in the first period and a lot better in the second. It didn't matter that Vancouver outshot Montreal 44-29, outchanced them and even scored twice on its power play. It didn't even matter that Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo outwaited Canadiens' sniper Max Pacioretty on two penalty shots in two minutes in the second period.
None of this affected the bottom line because the Canucks, for all their determination and positive intentions, seem always to be awaiting a bad break or bad goal and, minus seven injured players, are completely incapable of overcoming them.
Pacioretty, believed to be the first player in National Hockey League history to miss two penalty shots in one period, still finished with a hat trick. One goal went into an empty net, another off his butt.
What does that tell you about the Canucks these days? Actually, it's “these weeks” for the team from Vancouver, which is 4-12-3 since Dec. 29 and is doing a slow, silky moonwalk from the playoffs.
When the Canucks were awful, they lost. They're playing better again now that coach John Tortorella has returned from his six-game suspension and they're still losing.
The only thing the Canucks haven't lost is hope, but they're probably in the minority.
“Why lose that battle?” Tortorella said. “That's the only thing we can do as a club right now is to stay positive. I thought the bench was alive, I thought. . . they played hard. That won't be a problem. That's my job to make sure we're just ready to play next game. All you can do is continue to work at this, force some good bounces your way and stay with it.”
The Canucks are desperate for something positive to occur in games, eager to find a life raft before they drown. But when breaks or goals or both go against them, there is a bleak here-it-comes-again inevitability to their losing.
Despite carrying more of the play in the opening 20 minutes, the Canucks gave up an unlucky goal at 14:59 when P.K. Subban's point shot ticked in off Pacioretty after Canadien Tomas Plekanec's dived to draw a penalty. Vancouver then surrendered an awful one to Ryan White 63 seconds later when Luongo was on his knees facing one way while the puck went the other.
At 2-0, with 44 minutes to go, it seemed over.
Tortorella conceded after the morning skate, which he led on the ice for the first time this season, that his team had to find that life raft before the National Hockey League shuts down for the Olympics – that it can't carry only negativity into their 17-day break.
“It's easy to look at it and say in a few days we're going to be on a break and we can regroup on the break,” he said. “But we have to find a way to scratch out some points. Our lineup is still a struggle. We've changed a little bit of our concept just to find a way somehow to get some points. Mentally, that would be really good. Just to have something on the table for us before they leave is really important.”
Their last chance is Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It's a challenge, you know,” Luongo said of staying positive. “But the only way we're going to get out of this is to keep our head high and work. If we feel sorry for ourselves, it's just going to get worse.”
“You want to stay positive as much as you can and learn from everything that's going on,” Canuck defenceman Jason Garrison said. “We definitely played well (tonight) and it's been progressively better. A couple of those goals tonight that they have. . . a puck floats out the back and one of their guys taps it in when nobody really has a clue where it is. It's just. . . we're just getting a really bad string of puck luck and we need to work through it.”
Of course, it's a lot more than just luck.
The Canucks outplayed and outshot the Canadiens in the first period but went into the intermission down 2-0 and never recovered. The second goal, when goalie Roberto Luongo lost sight of the puck and was on his knees facing the wrong way as Ryan White scored, was particularly awful and characterized the Canucks' last five weeks. But, hey, the Vancouver power-play scored twice, matching its output from the last 10 games. That's something.
Forwards Chris Higgins and Brad Richardson returned to the lineup, but the Canucks were still missing seven others when Henrik Sedin was shut down until after the Olympic break so he can recover from an injury to his ribs. As often happens, defencemen Raphael Diaz and Yann Sauve came back to earth a little after making an impact earlier this week. The Canucks hope top defenceman Dan Hamhuis will play Saturday in Toronto.
Canadien Max Pacioretty had one of the scruffiest hat tricks in recent history. And one of the least appreciated because the winger missed badly on a pair of second-period penalty shots, so he could have had five goals. As it is, one goal went into an empty net and another off his butt. It was the first time in Canuck history they had two penalty shots against in one game. Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo has allowed only one goal in the last 11 he has faced.
THE SAGA CONTINUES
Already on their worst pointless streak in 15 years, the Canucks lost their sixth straight in regulation time. If they lose in regulation in their last pre-Olympic game, Saturday in Toronto, it will match the longest 0-for streak since the team set its franchise record of 10 straight losses in 1997. Canuck winger Daniel Sedin's pointless streak hit eight games, and his goal-less drought reached 18. Alex Burrows had an assist, but hasn't scored in 27 games.
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