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Takeaways: Canucks deliver rare faulty performance against Lightning

Sportsnet logo Sportsnet 2018-02-09 Iain MacIntyre
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A letter to fans like Thursday’s spectacularly ill-timed explanation from New York Rangers president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton that their team is surrendering while three points out of a playoff spot in order to focus on the future, would be unnecessary in Vancouver.

Canucks fans are painfully aware their team is rebuilding, isn’t good enough right now and is going to miss the playoffs again this spring. Still, it would be nice to be re-assured that everything is going to be OK because in Florida this week, nothing seemed OK for the Canucks.

They were beaten 5-2 Thursday by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the score flattered the Canucks, who trailed 4-0 at the second intermission and lost any hope of winning when they were outshot 10-1 in the final 7 ½ minutes of the second period as the Lightning scored twice to double their lead.

Two nights earlier, Vancouver lost 3-1 to the Florida Panthers in a game kept close only by Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom.

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Markstrom didn’t play Thursday but it didn’t matter, with how out-skated and out-chanced were the Canucks for long stretches by the National Hockey League’s best team.

Against the Lightning in Vancouver just last Saturday, the Canucks were mostly glorious in a 4-2 defeat, nearly rallying from an 0-3 deficit to pull within a goal while playing about as well as they can play at this stage of their evolution. Even on good nights, these Canucks still aren’t good enough sometimes.

But there was little nobility to their loss in the rematch where the Canucks, for all their flaws and weaknesses, exhibited in the second period something they have rarely shown this season: hopelessness.

The good news

It says something about the low achievement in Florida that the best thing about the Canucks Thursday, was that their top two defencemen, injury-prone Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, both returned to the ice in the second period in Tampa after being hurt a couple of minutes apart late in the first.

Tanev blocked Victor Hedman’s shot with his foot – and was hobbling on one leg when Nikita Kucherov made it 1-0 on a rebound at 14:36 – and Edler skated himself face-first into the glass while trying to deliver a hit. Both went to the dressing room.

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The Canucks are adamant that this year’s team, which was 14-10-4 until crippled by injuries in December, isn’t going to meekly disintegrate at the end of the season like bottom-three Vancouver teams did the last two years. The Canucks have pledged to compete and be hard to play against.

We’re dubious about the hard-to-play-against part, but any chance of competing probably involves having either Tanev or Edler on the ice at all times.

But not everyone finished the game. Markus Granlund suffered an apparent ankle injury in the second period when his leg buckled as he was pushed over by Ryan Callahan. That injury came the game after depth forwards Brendan Gaunce (foot) and Sam Gagner (ankle) were hurt badly enough they were sent home to Vancouver.

So things are getting harder, not easier for the Canucks.

Speaking of harder

We said here on Tuesday that the Canucks were too easy to play against in Florida and apparently management thought so, too, because minor-leaguer Darren Archibald was signed to an NHL contract and called up by Vancouver. Delayed by paperwork, Archibald is expected to make his season debut Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Archibald, a six-foot-three 27-year-old who played his only 16 NHL games for John Tortorella’s Canucks four seasons ago, was among Vancouver’s final cuts at training camp last fall and had seven goals and 15 penalty minutes in 25 games for the Utica Comets. You’ll notice him physically when he plays, which is what coach Travis Green needs.

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Take on Jake

Good, bad or invisible, Jake Virtanen seems to be a nightly post-game talking point in Vancouver. Tuesday, the talk was about how little the floundering sixth-overall pick from 2014 played against the Panthers (10:31). After the Lightning game, it will be about how the speedy winger got himself into excellent scoring positions but failed to convert on three of the Canucks’ best chances.

On one chance from the top of the crease, Virtanen hit Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in the crest. On the next one, Virtanen hit the cross bar. In the third period, with some net showing after a cross-ice pass from Reid Boucher, the 21-year-old missed the target by a couple of feet.

With just 13 goals in 113 NHL games, Virtanen probably can’t remember what it felt like to score 45 in 71 games for the Calgary Hitmen as a 17-year-old in junior.

He finished Thursday’s game with seven shots attempts and, encouragingly, four hits in 12:47 of ice time. That represents a good night.

Boeser Balm

Everything always seems better – or at least not as bad – when Brock Boeser scores. The rookie, who carries with him the team-scoring lead and the hope for a better future, scored his 26th of the season on a late power play. It was Boeser’s second goal in three games, after the 20-year-old scored only twice in his previous 10. But he still finished with the poorest possession number on the Canucks, who generated only 34.1 per cent of even-strength shots when Boeser was on the ice.

Still, the Calder candidate remains the only Canuck with a chance to win a trophy this season.

Goalie graveyard

The encouraging thing about Elliotte Friedman’s report that the Canucks are seeing if there’s a trade market for Anders Nilsson is not that Vancouver might actually get something for the career backup, but that the organization may be speeding up the development timetable for elite prospect Thatcher Demko.

General manager Jim Benning has long said publicly that, ideally, the Canucks would like Demko to have three full seasons in the American League to build and polish his game. But shedding Nilsson, whether before the Feb. 26 deadline or after the season, would mean Demko starts his third pro season with the Canucks.

Demko became the team’s goalie of the future the day he was drafted in the second round in 2014, and everything he has done since then has bolstered the belief that he will be a starter in the NHL. This season, the 22-year-old from San Diego is 17-7-3 with the Comets and has a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save rate.

Right now, trading Nilsson seems a mission impossible. With another season under contract at $2.5 million, Nilsson hasn’t won a game since November 30 and the Lightning loss dropped his record to 0-7 since then with a save percentage of .879.

Nilsson is only 27 and his superb opening month for the Canucks demonstrated there is something there. But as an asset, the Swede isn’t anyone’s idea of a starter, and teams looking for a backup can probably find someone cheaper and more dependable.

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