Vancouver’s woes continue. The Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche enter Wednesday’s game in Vancouver with similar records, but heading in different directions.
Despite some terrible injury luck, which includes losing superstar Nathan MacKinnon for at least three weeks, the Avalanche seem to be hitting their stride. They had won their last two games by a combined score of 13-3. Darcy Kuemper is finally rounding into form. And their depth has been stepping up in big ways, with Mikko Rantanen moving to the middle of the top line.
The Canucks, on the other hand, seem to be imploding. They return from a 3-game road trip that saw them outscored 19-6, and are on a 4-game losing streak. Their penalty kill is trudging along at 62.26 percent efficiency, which is frankly embarrassing. For context, the league average penalty kill is %80 according to hockey-reference.com. This has triggered a full-on referendum on the team, with team owner Francesco Aquilini meeting with GM Jim Benning on Tuesday.
Despite improved play, it was Vancouver’s penalty kill that eventually decided the game. Neither team looked particularly good, but Colorado was able to come away with the 4-2 victory.
Early on, neither team appeared to control play. Both squads went back and forth with the puck, but could not establish prolonged zone time.
Late in the first, Vancouver put the Avs on the man advantage when Vasily Podkolzin took a hooking penalty. In what would become the theme of the night, Colorado made the Canucks pay. Colorado moved the puck well, and Cale Makar put a point shot off the post. Mikko Rantanen controlled the rebound and buried a shot from the wall, giving Colorado the 1-0 lead.
Vancouver would begin to show life after the Rantanen goal, and carry that momentum into the second. The Canucks played a simple, high-pressure game, moving the puck north to south and forechecking heavily. They were rewarded about halfway through the second when Conor Garland dug a puck out of the corner and put it on net. After a brief scuffle, Garland stayed with the play and poked the puck into the open net to tie the game at 1.
The Canucks would once again carry that momentum into the third. Less than two minutes into the final frame, Vancouver would take their first lead of the night. After a faceoff in Colorado’s zone, Vancouver controlled the puck at the point. Tucker Poolman put the puck on net through traffic. Colorado’s goalie Kuemper thought he had the rebound. But, the puck squirted free. In the scramble to keep it out, Kuemper accidentally pushed the puck into his own net, and Vacouver took a 2-1 lead.
Lack Of Discipline
The lead would not last long. About 9 seconds later, Alex Chiasson would take an elbowing penalty to put the Avs back on the power play. And just like clockwork, Vancouver surrendered another goal short-handed. Nazem Kadri would bury a rebound from Mikko Rantanen to tie the game at 2.
Fittingly, one last undisciplined play would do the Canucks in.
Quinn Hughes would take a heavy hit on the forecheck from Sam Girard about a minute later. Hughes skated the length of the ice and cross-checked Girard, taking a penalty in the process. And once again, Colorado would capitalize with the man advantage.
10 seconds into the power play, Cale Makar would one-time a Devon Toews pass, and that was it for the Canucks. Gabe Landeskog would add an empty netter to seal the win and hand Vancouver their fifth straight loss.
From early in the first period on, Vancouver was the better team. They played a simple, high-energy game that had Colorado on their heels. But ultimately, they gave the game away with undisciplined play. On top of that, their inability to kill a penalty continued. Until they are able to kill a penalty, discipline has to be number one.
Vancouver’s simple game plan appeared to work though, and that plays right into Conor Garland’s game. He is a gritty forward with great skill, and looked like one of Vancouver’s best players. While this is encouraging, the top players need to show up.
To further that last point, Elias Pettersson looks like he has no confidence. He seems to second-guess every decision with the puck. Further, Pettersson seems hesitant to shoot. All game, instead of utilizing his dangerous shot, he would dish to his teammates. Unfortunately, this ended up taking the puck out of high-danger areas. Eventually, Pettersson needs to find his confidence.
The Avalanche were able to withstand Vancouver’s high-pressure game and capitalize on their chances. While it wasn’t pretty, they were able to get the job done. Most importantly, all of their goals came from their top players. Once Nathan MacKinnon returns from injury, this Avs team will be very tough to contain.
After some early-season struggles, Darcy Kuemper is starting to round into form. With Vancouver pressing, Kuemper was equal to the task. Though not many of his saves would be classified as spectacular, Kuemper was solid when needed. If he can continue this upward trajectory, the Avs will be in business.
Though they don’t look quite like a championship contender yet, the Colorado Avalanche are clearly finding their game. They have had some terrible injury luck to start the season. But once they are fully healthy, I fully expect them to be a problem for the rest of the league.
Vancouver on the other hand looks lost. Though they looked really good at times, eventually they just could not get out of their own way. They are undisciplined, and cannot kill a penalty. This game will only further cries for change in the Couve.