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Canucks left searching for answers on special teams: ‘There’s no excuses’

| November 6, 2021, 2:37 AM

November 6, 2021, 2:37 AM

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks are doing a lot of things well, but none of it is enough to offset the devastating effects of the special teams that cost them another game Friday night.

The Canucks outshot and outchanced the Nashville Predators at even strength, but got torched by the visitors’ power play while going 0-for-5 on their own advantages. The 3-2 loss dispersed all the positivity from Tuesday’s rare win and sunk Vancouver to 1-4 on its seven-game homestand.

The Canucks have been outscored 7-1 on special teams in the five games at Rogers Arena, with the lone goal by their power play coming amid 20 power-play chances. All four losses were by a single goal.

“We know we have to be better on both sides: PK and PP,” veteran defenceman Tyler Myers told reporters after the Canucks slipped back to two games under .500 at 4-6-1. “You can tell guys are working; it’s not that. We’re just missing pucks by a couple of inches here and there and it’s not going our way right now. We have to keep talking about it and we have to try and find a way to get better.

“It decides a lot of hockey games throughout the year, and right now it’s not going our way. Whoever wins the special teams battle usually comes out on top, so we’ve got to try and swing the pendulum here.”

Through 11 games, the Canucks special teams are minus-five in goal differential. That is not survivable. Even with their improved defensive play, the team is not nearly good enough at even-strength to start each game a half-goal behind on special teams.

Vancouver’s power play is ranked 25th in the National Hockey League at 14 per cent, its penalty killing even worse at 29th and just 66.7 per cent.

With top penalty-killers Tyler Motte (neck surgery) and Brandon Sutter (long-haul COVID-19 symptoms) missing since the season began, the Canucks’ shorthanded play was always going to be a challenge.

But the ineptitude of the power play is baffling considering the talent: Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, Conor Garland, Bo Horvat.

“It’s tough,” Boeser said. “Obviously, that’s the difference in the game. We say it a lot: it just comes down to effort, shooting the puck, putting in the effort to get the puck back, opening up another shot, shoot it again. Crash the net. We’ve just got to keep it simple. You can’t keep looking for the perfect play. We’ve just got to find a way. We’ve got to find a way. There’s no excuses.”

On Friday, head coach Travis Green and power-play coach Jason King significantly altered the top unit, removing Horvat from the bumper, Hughes from the point and Alex Chiasson from the net-front while promoting Garland, Boeser and defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the second unit.

Removing Hughes, whose 47 power-play points since the start of his rookie season in 2019 are second among all NHL defenceman, was especially bold and risky.

The results of the new power play were the same as the old.

The problem isn’t the point play or zone entries, it’s the lack of crisp movement and lateral passes in the offensive zone. Miller and Pettersson, the two holdovers from PP1, have struggled as much as anyone to make plays.

The buzzsaw Garland, who never stands still with the puck, gave the power play a little more movement but the unit still looked static.

In 10 minutes of power-play time, the Canucks generated just three shots on Predators goalie Juuse Soros. By contrast, in just 3:13 of advantage time, Nashville had five shots on net and two goals, including Philip Tomasino’s game-winner at 19:15 of the second period when Vancouver defenceman Tucker Poolman was too slow going to the ice to prevent Luke Kunin’s pass across Thatcher Demko’s goalmouth.

After surrendering the first goal for the ninth time in 11 games, the Canucks worked hard to build a 2-1 lead on beautiful, similar goals by Boeser and Nils Hoglander, who outwaited and out-manoeuvred Soros to steer pucks behind the goalie.

But after Hoglander’s first goal of the season put Vancouver ahead at 10:08 of the second period, Matt Duchene tied it 2-2 on a breakaway just 2:18 later when Boeser did a terrible job filling in for Hughes, who had gone deep into the Nashville zone with the puck before making a pass that Pettersson was unable to handle.

“I’ve got to stay with him,” Boeser said. “He came flying up the ice. I kind of got caught flat footed (but) I’ve got to stay above him, I’ve got to get front of him, I’ve got to do something. That second goal’s on me.”

The other two were on the penalty killing.

Friday, against a very average Nashville team playing its third road game in four nights, felt like a missed opportunity for the Canucks to build on the positivity and momentum from Tuesday’s third-period rally and 3-2 overtime win against the Rangers.

Instead, it’s dark again.

“It’s always tough to lose,” Myers said. “There’s a lot of positives to take, I think, with the way we’re defending. Some hiccups tonight. But overall. . . it’s going to turn for us in terms of scoring goals. We have guys in the room that know how to score. It’s going to flip. We have to make sure we keep pushing forward.”

Now guaranteed a losing homestand, the Canucks play the Dallas Stars on Sunday.

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