Vancouver Canucks' Daniel Sedin, centre, of Sweden, watches the puck after Chicago Blackhawks' goalie Corey Crawford, left made the save as Niklas Hjalmarsson, right, of Sweden, defends during first period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 23, 2013.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – So maybe the Vancouver Canucks really are what their record suggests they are: a ninth-place club unable to take care of business against the best in the Western Conference.
The evidence appears clear. In nine games against the eight teams above them in the standings, the Canucks have won two, lost five in regulation, one in overtime and one in a shootout. That’s 2-5-2 and no way to make progress.
They are having nightmares playing with the lead, the most recent one in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks led 1-0 after two periods. It was the same story against the San Jose Sharks nine days earlier. That one resulted in a 2-1 OT loss.
They had a lead in Phoenix and lost 3-2 to the Coyotes in a shootout. They had a lead against the Florida Panthers and lost 3-2 in a shootout. They’re 2-4-3 since their impressive 4-0 victory three weeks ago over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On Saturday, while they self-destructed in nine seconds against the ’Hawks, the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche all collected wins. The Los Angeles Kings, the Canucks’ opponent tonight at Rogers Arena, didn’t win Saturday but picked up a loser point.
The Canucks trail eighth-place Phoenix by four points and the seventh-place Kings by five. Both hold games in hand on Vancouver. The gap is hardly insurmountable but when you can’t beat the teams above you, or protect leads when you have them, you’re usually in deep doo-doo. Or about to be.
“It’s tough to gain ground, for sure,” conceded Canuck winger Daniel Sedin. “We’re in for a battle and we have to show what kind of group we have in here. It starts right on Monday with the game against L.A.”
The problem Saturday — is this too early for Groundhog Day? — was an inability to score more than one goal. It has been the problem in all nine Canuck regulation losses. They pounded 37 shots on Blackhawk netminder Corey Crawford and had 61 attempts. All they could manage was a first-period, 5-on-3 power-play goal by Ryan Kesler.
“I thought we had chances to go up 2-0 and certainly that was our focus going into the third period, to push for that second goal and not to sit back,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “Once they got their goals on back-to-back shifts, which is tough to take, we put our foot on the gas the rest of the game. We just couldn’t quite solve Crawford.”
A dreadful Dan Hamhuis giveaway led to Andrew Shaw’s tying goal and then a bad neutral zone pinch by Ryan Stanton on the ensuing faceoff led to Marcus Kruger’s winner, a five-hole softy that Roberto Luongo admitted he should have stopped.
Bieksa insisted the Canucks aren’t becoming paralyzed when they have a lead.
“No, it’s not a mental thing,” he said. “We made mistakes on back-to-back shifts so there is no mental thing going on there. It’s just making mistakes on the ice and not executing. There is a fine line between winning and losing and you make a couple of mistakes against a good team like Chicago and that’s all it takes.
“Do we dwell on this? This isn’t a rookie team, or a young team. We’ve been in big games before, we’ve lost big games and Monday will be another big game. So we put this one behind us, we learn from it and we move on.”
Alex Burrows is trying to move on. His goal drought reached 13 games Saturday and he was unable to hide his frustration. He is supposed to be a go-to player and he hasn’t gone anywhere in the goal column.
“The most frustrating part is you feel you let your teammates down,” he lamented. “They’re counting on you to get some offence and score some goals and getting the job done. So I have to just keep working and, hopefully, Monday will be the game we’ll get some bounces going our way.
“If we do the right things, like we did most of the night against Chicago, we might be on the winning side,” Burrows added. “You have to stay positive and you have to put in the extra work. That’s how I believe you get out of it. You work harder in the gym, you prepare harder, you eat better, you sleep better and when you do all those things, you’re going to get some luck going your way sometime.”
Captain Henrik Sedin is trying to believe.
“We have to somehow stay positive and look at the chances we are creating,” he said. “But it’s tough. If we don’t put them away, we’re going to keep losing.”
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