NASHVILLE – Perhaps, as coaches and the parents of small children would say, this is a teachable moment for the Vancouver Canucks.
Winners of four straight games and 10 of their previous 12, the Canucks roared into Denver to face a Colorado Avalanche team that was last-overall in the National Hockey League and hadn’t beaten Vancouver in regulation time since Darcy Tucker was in its lineup.
Rested and given the chance to strengthen their grip on the Northwest Division pennant, sharpen their game for the playoffs and dust the Avalanche for the 19th time in 3½ years, the Canucks had more giveaways than Groupon, gagged on a pair of third-period leads and managed to lose 4-3 Saturday when Colorado defenceman Jan Hejda scored his first goal of the season with 7.6 seconds remaining.
Amid this apparent waste of a perfectly good afternoon was plenty of potential teaching material regarding protecting the puck and understanding your opponent, about mental preparation and managing risk and making good choices after bad ones.
But, as Canuck Ryan Kesler opined, maybe the Canucks’ game was just a stinking heap of crapola out of character for the team and best forgotten.
We tend to agree with this latter theory.
Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa had a stunning first assist on Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog’s goal and Canuck Max Lapierre drew the second assist on Cody McLeod’s goal and Vancouver’s yield of three third-period markers equalled its goals-against in the previous four games. It’s difficult to make much sense of any of this and, besides, countless mountain climbers can tell you the brain does funny things at high altitude.
It looked in the Vancouver zone like the puck was made of flubber, not rubber, as the Canucks failed to cope with the speedy Avalanche’s exuberant forecheck.
So, let’s dismiss Saturday and see how the Canucks play today against the Nashville Predators.
But understand this will be the sixth straight game that Vancouver plays against an opponent unlikely to make the playoffs and in the first five of these the Canucks have outplayed the other team only twice.
“Losing in this fashion, the last 10 seconds of a game and giving up three goals in the third, it’s not who we are, not our identity,” goalie Cory Schneider said before the Canucks flew Saturday evening to Tennessee. “I don’t think we have to change a whole lot; it’s just being safer with the puck and making plays that are there and not trying to force things. It’s only a positive if you learn from it. If you go out the next game and make the same mistakes, (this game) won’t have done a whole lot for us.”
It certainly did nothing for coach Alain Vigneault, who lamented it was difficult to find six forwards and four defencemen among his 18 skaters whom he could put on the ice with confidence that they’d pass the puck to each other instead of the Avalanche.
As Kesler summarized: “We played like (rhymes with spit) for 40 minutes. You’ve got to give them credit, they forechecked us hard but we gave them everything that they got tonight – turnovers and miscommunications and not getting the puck out. It was (also rhymes with mitt).
“Obviously giving up three goals in the third isn’t something you want to do and especially giving up leads ... and losing with seven seconds left. We all need to be better next game.”
The Canucks long ago graduated kindergarten.
This is a veteran group with accountable leaders and a tonne of muscle-memory when it comes to winning. The Canucks in the last four years won more games than any NHL team and played nine rounds of playoffs. If they don’t know by now how they need to play to be successful, they’re not going to pick it up in the next three weeks.
“It wasn’t a lack of preparation; it was just execution – not making the right play sometimes,” Bieksa said. “We’ve been moving the puck well out of our own end. That’s why we’ve been winning games. Tonight we had a couple of hiccups and it cost us the game.
“I don’t think it takes a loss to remind us (how to play). We’re an old enough team, a veteran team, that we don’t need a last-minute loss like this. It’s a tough one and we’ll have to move past it, but there’s no excuse for it.”
P.A. Parenteau found just enough space in front of Canuck defenceman Jason Garrison to swat Matt Duchene’s centring pass past Schneider for the Avalanche’s last tying goal with 7:03 remaining.
Hejda, part of a blue-line group that had produced only three goals for Colorado all season, blasted the winner through traffic for the Avalanche’s first regulation win against Vancouver since Oct. 3, 2009.
Garrison, Lapierre and Jannik Hansen, with his first goal in 12 games, scored for the Canucks.
“I closed my eyes and shot,” Hejda said. “I don’t think they played their best game tonight. We said before the third period we had to keep it simple – get the puck deep and get rebounds. We got the (Canuck) mistakes and we made the most of them.”
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