It gets worse.
The Vancouver Canucks – who three weeks ago stood, ever so briefly, atop the National Hockey League – had lost four in a row ahead of a Wednesday night match against the struggling Dallas Stars, a team that has been scored on this season more than any other NHL team.
And against these Stars, so easily perforated by opponents, the Canucks could not score a single goal. There were chances but by the end Vancouver had not put up a particularly stirring performance, and the team lost its fifth consecutive game, stumbling to a 2-0 defeat.
There had been a feeling this autumn that the Canucks, under new management, with a somewhat refreshed roster, had exorcized everything that had gone wrong during the implosion of last winter. The team in the first quarter of the season posted one of the best showings in franchise history – bolstered by a renewed ability to score, popping in more than three a game, a veritable revival.
It has evaporated, a reversal punctuated by being shut out by Dallas. The Canucks have seven goals in their past five games, a span during which they have not scored on the power play. The only lucky hint of hope, as the team stands in a precarious fifth place in the Western Conference, only four points ahead of 10th, is the next two opponents are flailing too, the Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes.
"We had enough chances to win this game," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin after the loss. He considered it a step forward, a step to shake off the recent losses. But it's another loss. "It's been five games. It's time for us to get a win."
Daniel Sedin spoke of staying the course. Stick with the game plan. Pucks will start to go in. "It's going to even out," said Daniel. He conceded the Canucks have failed to create any sort of chaos in front of opposing goaltenders, making their jobs much easier. "We need to be better in that department."
For Dallas, there was some luck, as the Canucks started strong, threatening in the first period before disappearing in the second. The Stars notched something of a fluke goal three minutes into the second frame, when fourth-liner Colton Sceviour came down the left wing and tossed the puck at Vancouver's Eddie Lack, hoping for a rebound or something to emerge. The puck percolated through Lack, and in. "I was just trying to throw it to the front," said Sceviour afterwards.
Dallas was energized, and Vancouver did little until the third period to mount a comeback. For Dallas, having played terribly after a reasonably strong start to the season, the victory is a crucial one. The Stars have now won three of four, in a quieter period of their schedule, when much of the focus has been fixing their awful defence. It showed, relatively, on Wednesday, when the likes of Tyler Seguin, the league's leading scorer, put particular emphasis on hustling on the backcheck.
When the Stars smoked the Canucks in Texas two months ago, it probably wasn't obvious the divergent paths the two hockey teams would take.
The Stars, as a franchise, had suffered through bankruptcy and five seasons out of the playoffs but were on the rise, lifted by the money of Vancouver billionaire Tom Gaglardi and new management, the hockey smarts of president Jim Lites and general manager Jim Nill, both men schooled in how to build an ideal franchise in Detroit. Veteran coach Lindy Ruff was behind the bench.
So given the 6-3 pounding in mid-October in Dallas, the Stars dazzling the Canucks, it appeared obvious. Dallas would build on last season, its first year back in the playoffs, and the Canucks were set to extend the futility of last winter. Some pundits even predicted Dallas could roll all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Instead, the Canucks ascended and the Stars crashed. Why that happened was clear: Dallas may have featured the scoring potency of Seguin, but they played defenceless hockey. Before Wednesday, Dallas had ceded 3.52 goals a game, by far the worst in the league.
How the fates of these two teams pivot now is unclear. The Canucks desperately need to wrest themselves out of what is becoming a tailspin, echoes of the disaster of last season. The charm of the troika of rookie managers – new president Trevor Linden, general manager Jim Benning, coach Willie Desjardins – is gone.
The Stars meanwhile remain mired in 11th in the tough Western Conference, even with the Wednesday night win. They're seven points out of eighth: it may not seem like a canyon to hurdle but such a gap can be. The Stars will spend considerable time clawing back, if they can manage it at all.