There was a National Hockey League game on Vancouver in Tuesday night, the Canucks as hosts, and the Columbus Blue Jackets – one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference; yes, it’s a fact – as the ambitious visitors, deploying a spry young goalie and a dull, defensive shell.
It was not exactly the type of entertainment that one would describe as worth the money, if you had the bad luck to be one of the announced 18,910 in attendance, the 424th straight sellout – a run since 2002 – at Rogers Arena (never mind the numerous always-empty lower-bowl seats).
In the riveting first period, the Blue Jackets – one of the hottest teams in the West, at 7-1-2 in their last 10; yes, it’s a fact – registered two shots. The Canucks managed 13, and no goals, and on their one power-play chance, Vancouver eked out a couple pucks, and hardly a cheer-worthy chance, on Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
The non-showcase of offensive prowess, the first of several Tuesday night, dropped Vancouver’s powerless play on the man-advantage to 3-for-52 since the slump began more than a month ago in Dallas. With the Canucks on the power play late in the still scoreless game, Vancouver managed just a single, harmless shot from struggling Daniel Sedin.
Bowed by injuries, the Canucks are a team in survival mode. Waiting for the resurrection of Ryan Kesler. Praying for the trade of Roberto Luongo. Hacking their way towards the playoffs, and hoping for some good luck come spring-time hockey.
There were no small mercies for viewers. Sixty minutes of hockey, zero goals. No one wanted any more, but there were another five minutes, overtime, and no goals. Two shutouts, one for Bobrovsky, one for Cory Schneider (his second in three games, having yielded just five goals in five games).
Then, finally, in a shootout, Vancouver won, on the one puck that went in, a Max Lapierre (yes, Max Lapierre) backhand. The win – Vancouver’s fifth straight – lifted the Canucks back into the lead of the Northwest Division, with 42 points, though granted, the team has played two more games than the 40-point Minnesota Wild.
The Columbus game marked the beginning of an interesting stretch for Vancouver this year, a fallow period, where the team won’t really be tested and can convalesce while playing hockey games. In each of the next three weeks, the Canucks play three games, and of the nine matches, only one is against a team that would make the postseason if it began today. The three games per week comes after harried stretches in the past month or so, such as this past weekend, three games in four nights, all of them wins, mostly on the shoulders of the finally-resurgent Schneider.
All in all, it’s difficult to truly assess what this team might accomplish come May and June. Kesler’s right foot was diagnosed as slightly cracked four weeks ago, which is on the front-end of the four-to-six week projected recovery. Even when he returns, it will take time for the former star to find his stride. Meanwhile, Luongo and his $5.3-million (U.S.) contract is rooted on the bench, as general manager Mike Gillis stews over a stagnant trade market.
Can the Canucks take the Los Angeles Kings in a seven-game series? What about Anaheim, or Chicago, or Detroit, or St. Louis? What about Pittsburgh? Has Daniel Sedin evaporated and been replaced by some useless journeyman? Sure, Vancouver can beat Columbus at the end of March, in what was billed as an NHL game, but when it really counts, what is this team, which two years ago was 60 minutes away from the Stanley Cup, capable of achieving?
Eyes turn to Kesler, as a panacea. Minds ponder the shot-less power play, the second-worst in the NHL. It wasn’t ever thus. Sure, the power play lost its electricity a year ago, and was invisible against the Kings last spring, but through the first 15 games this year it was a reasonable 13-for-68 – 19.1 per cent; not bad, not bad. In the last 18 games, including Columbus, it’s 3-for-54 – 5.6 per cent.
Some critics call for the ejection of the coach. Some of the same types screech at Gillis. The less angry just ask for a few hockey games that could be classified as entertainment.