The Vancouver Canucks have displayed one consistency this hockey season: blowing leads.
It happened in the first game of the year, up 2-1 against Anaheim only to be pummeled 7-3. Then against Edmonton, and then Calgary. And, on Monday night, against the team that ejected the Canucks from the playoffs in the first round last spring.
On Monday in Los Angeles, with Roberto Luongo in net -- but no blame on him on this evening -- the Canucks gave up their fourth lead in six games – and lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions who were hungry for their first home win in the early going of this half-marathon of a season. The Canucks, playing their third game in four nights on the road – and their sixth in 10 days to start the season – got up 2-0 on the Kings in L.A. but the home squad clipped back and tied the game with less than a minute left in regulation. Luongo, starting his second game of the year as a backup, played very well, but lost for the second time in a shootout.
For Vancouver, the night left the team at 2-2-2 – not an unusual opening chapter for the notoriously slow-starting hockey team. The team stands sixth in the Western Conference, though it is hard to make much of that, given, for instance, they are ahead of, but have played one more game, than the 2-2-1 Kings (eighth), and are behind, but have played one more game than, the 3-2 Edmonton Oilers (third).
Vancouver appeared to fade significantly on Monday in L.A., not unlike other outings in which a lead, and a victory, slipped away. The team managed just three shots in the third period, though L.A. only had six – and the Canucks found a bit of gas in the overtime four-on-four frame, outshooting L.A. 4-1, with Mason Raymond almost poking a puck in to win. Still, it was not a dissimilar evening to recent outings against division rivals Edmonton and Calgary.
Against the Oilers, in the second game of the year, a back-to-back night after a drubbing at the hands of Anaheim, the Canucks were up 2-0 against Edmonton. Vancouver outshot Edmonton 13-7 in the first, but it tilted to 14-9 in the second for Edmonton, and Edmonton carried on in the third 9-6. The Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout.
Against Calgary, the Canucks were again up 2-0, and clearly the better team, outshooting the Flames 10-7 in the first and 18-11 in the second. But in the third, again, fumes: the Flames outshot the Canucks 14-7, even if Calgary couldn’t tie the game, all the goals being scored in the second. Vancouver managed to win 3-2 in a shootout.
It doesn’t look great for Vancouver – but it would be foolish to extrapolate with too much declarative gusto. Remember, for one, last season, which began 9-9-1 before the Canucks rattled off nine wins in 10 outings.
What cannot be discounted: the Canucks are missing two of their top six forwards, centre Ryan Kesler and winger David Booth, which has forced all sorts of experiments, some of which, such as Zack Kassian on the first line, is a success, but it is certainly no help to be missing the key players, which reverberates mostly on the third and fourth lines.
On Monday, frankly, Vancouver was lucky to hang on to its lead – the Kings in the second in particular had a battery of scoring chances from in close in the slot, Luongo a huge credit to keep his team in it – playing, it should be noted, on the same ice on which he lost his job last spring, Game 3 in L.A. being the last game Luongo played as the number one starter for the Canucks.
The past weekend, stretching back to Friday night, was an erratic sojourn in California for the Canucks, where the team didn’t play particularly well in a rematch against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday but won 5-0 as starter Cory Schneider was great and the power play was fiery. Then, on Sunday, the Canucks, with Schneider in net, lost 4-1 to the surging San Jose Sharks, but Vancouver hit the post four times, and the crossbar once – if three of five of those go in, tie game, and the lottery of overtime/shootout is at hand.
All in, the Canucks have started their season as they have the previous four seasons, in a mixed fashion. The next two contests, both at home, could shed some light – division rival Colorado Avalanche, who Vancouver has almost always defeated in recent years, on Wednesday, and then, in what will be the most anticipated game for the Canucks of this young season, the Chicago Blackhawks come to Vancouver Friday night, the first showdown between the bitter rivals since Duncan Keith nearly beheaded Daniel Sedin last March. Game on, as the promoters of the National Hockey League say.