When you seem to be playing hard, but are inconsistent in your results, people tend to get heavy into the generalities to help themselves cope and explain what is happening. But to me, I genuinely think this team works hard. They get themselves in the wrong places, and are probably not good enough to make the playoffs, according to the prevailing math.
But 4-5-1, while not being all that great in your last ten, is not the worst right now ( Sabres:2-5-3, Isles; 2-4-4 ). With their propensity for being in games, even with the horrible habit of giving up the first goal early in the season rearing it's ugly head, this team could have a few more points in their last ten.
Suddenly, the narratives are different. They're "plucky", and "comeback kids". "ifs and buts" eh? They don't give extra points for moral victories. Even with the factor of a hard fought loss in Dallas, with a flight to another game the next night at altitude, people just want a win. They don't want to here that you have only won twice in twelve road games.
When you have problems scoring, and you are a team that is obligated by your relative talent levels to play tight defensively, scoring, and scoring first becomes even more important. You don't want to be constantly chasing the game when you are supposed to be playing with structure.
When you are struggling to score, getting the lead is important, and that makes getting a good start even more of a priority. After a good first shift for the home team, the Canucks did just that. Line after line, it seemed, were denying the Avs the neutral zone and hemming them in. That play ended up paying off with a power play, as Loui Eriksson drew an offensive zone tripping call.
That power play looked lacklustre, and the first unit could not even get set up. But a great up by Ben Hutton was followed by an even better pass by Mikael Granlund, who found a soft spot along the boards, and gave Eriksson the time to get wide open. He took his time and went top left shelf for his third in four games, and the Canucks had that opening goal. For the fourth straight game, I might add.
The Avs responded on home ice, and the game was much more back and forth than one sided after the goal. A power play for them helped swing the momentum their way too, and along the way, ( potential ) disaster happened. First, Alexander Edler blocked a shot at net and went to the room, and then Blake Comeau simply got away with a dirty play.
Luca Sbisa was reaching for the puck in the air, and in a vulnerable spot, when Comeau cross checked him from behind when he was not expecting it. Of course, because there are only two referees on the ice, they either missed it, or , to Sbisa's probable astonishment, thought it not worthy of a penalty. I have had that happen on the ice. It is dirty because the other guy is vulnerable, and you know he is as you are doing it, take advantage. So, perhaps I am biased. Either way, it brought the Canuck defenseman numbers down from six to four in short order.
Or course, Stecher took a penalty on a MacKinnon rush, on a PK that would run into the second period.
( First intermission : Is it just me, or did anyone else find that a bit much ? Scott Oake asking a player in between periods about contract talks after the panel does their passive aggressive thing on the team and said \talks ? I thought it a bit much, but my feelings on HNIC are well known by now....)
The period started out with a bang. Literally. Nathan MacKinnon lost an edge on the rush and slid skates first into Markstrom, who avoided getting cut by leaping up. The Colorado captain hit the boards hard, but did not miss a shift. ( Unlike Edler, who did not return. Sbisa was back though ).
Perhaps the Canucks, in their low scoring, grind it out way, can be accused of sitting back. I thought it was more the Avs getting momentum out of their power plays, as they were given three straight when Markstrom took one for getting the player as well as the puck on a clearing attempt when he left his net to skate out. The collision looked worse than it was, but once again the Avs were set up and pressing. It was not surprising then when, after that third power play was killed off, the shots were 4-0 Avs after six minutes of play.
It was after another good Mitchell, Comeau and Iginla shift ( their best line, though MacKinnon looked like their best player ) that the Avs evened the score. It was a goal not entirely devoid of controversy as well. Ben Hutton lost track of a puck in the neutral zone on the breakout, and the Avs basically battled it to the net. I do not blame the refs at all, because there was a couple Canucks and a two or three Avalanche players in the crease area, and things get missed. I certainly don't blame the coaches for not challenging, because CBC had to work for the replay as well, after the goal was over and a TV time out had occurred. But it was obvious on the replay once they showed it that Matt Duchesne was literally standing on Markstrom's glove as he scrambled to deal with all that traffic and the puck. Credit Grigorenko for finding it and batting it in out of the air, but if the scoring was video replayed in the NHL with the zeal every score is in the NFL, that might not have withstood the replay officials.
It was probably a goal they deserved on the balance of play, and one that was no big deal just a few years ago ( of COURSE that is a goal ! ), but the Canucks were now forced to get out of their shell and push again. They got a good shift after the goal from the Sedin line, and then Joseph Labate stood up after chatting with the Av bench when challenged by Cody McLoed. Debrusk said his nickname is "The Highlander" ( as in, there can be only one... ), and he is a legit heavyweight. Labate did OK for his first NHL fight.
The Canucks had a power play where they had a good chance denied, and the Avs pressured more as they had the edge in play in the second period.
The Canucks got off to a tremendous start to the final stanza. After the Avs had the initial pressure in the Canuck end, Bo Horvat showed how good he is. After taking the puck back at the other end, he powered up the ice along the boards, taking Beauchimen's measure and, plainly speaking, blowing by him. His pass to the slot was a good one, and Alexandre Burrows continued his resurgent play with a one timer that beat Pickard for the Canucks' second goal.
There was another Sedin shift after a goal that was a good one, but then the Avs got a bit lucky. Just a bit, mind you. They won the draw, and Jarome Iginla made a subtle play at the line to avoid a block and get the shot through. But it went off Sutter's skate. They got a bounce, and the goalie had no chance, but they all count the same. It was 2-2 just 2:30 after the Burrows goal.
If I have not said it here, Jakob Markstrom was really good tonight. After a Tryamkin penalty that gave the Avs their fourth power play, it looked like the young offensively talented team was going to cash. But Markstrom was there. And another very special shout out to the penalty killers. Led by Burrows ( he had a great game tonight ), they were excellent under pressure, and saved their goaltender when he was not saving them.
The game settled into an intense but mostly back and forth game after that, as both teams played hard in their own end. Stecher had a nice play at the line, where he was moving to avoid the check and find the shooting lane like a veteran, before a last minute bomb that was denied, but this one was going to O/T.
O/T and S/O
OK, last week, I was joked a bit about "nothing much happened" in one of the most exciting O/T's in a while versus the Hawks. But this one was pretty good too. The Canucks had a couple chances, but the Avalanche had quite a few five alarm chances, and Markstrom was always there. He robbed Duchesne with a great glove save, and denied MacKinnon in close as well.
The Canucks got a late power play, when Stecher was dumped going to the net, and while they tried to score with the extra man, instead of giving up the puck and taking the power play time, they could not cash ( Bo shot wide on a great set up off the bench ), and the game was going to the skills competition.
Mackinnon started it off, and out tipsy doodled himself. Markstrom did not bite, and he was denied. Granlund was next, and his sneaky five hole shot beat Pickard for the first goal of the skills competition. Rantanen was next, and the rookie beat the goalie, but not the post on his first NHL shoot out chance. Ericsson was next, but the puck bobbled on him as he made a move in close, and his chance was gone.
That meant that Matt Duchesne had to score to keep it going, but he was denied by the blocker when it looked like he was going to have the room there. Two points for the Canucks, and two of three on the road, in a game where they just ground and ground.
The stat sheet is right here. Some numbers to consider : The Avs won the faceoff battle 34-24, mostly on the back of Chaput going 4 for 14. But that was the most draws of anyone tonight. The coaches trust him, still. The home team had the edge in shots, 34-31, and only lost the hits by one, 15-14 for the visitors. That was because Eric Gudbranson led his team with four.
He and the other Twin Tower were physical forces, even though Nikita Tryamkin was not credited a hit. He had a great game. He cleared the front of the net, and used that long reach like a champ. That is why he had 28 shifts and 20:10 TOI. Troy Stecher was a champ as well, playing in all situations and having 28 shifts and 24:06. But the TOI leader as the blue line coped with the loss of Edler was Ben Hutton, who had 30 shifts and 26:02. Eric Gudbranson had 31 shifts and 25:43 of solid play, and Luca Sbisa had a well rounded game , playing 24:03 on 28 shifts, even with missing some time getting checked out.
The entire blue line are my special mentions tonight. The exemplified the grind it out, work had, and don't give up attitude that got the two points tonight. It would have been easy to succumb to the constraints working against them in this one. They did have a couple periods of time where it looked like they were hanging on. But the team also battled hard and kicked as much ass as they could along the way.
Work hard and battle all the way. These guys are playing for their coach, and each other. Consistency will come with time. I'll settle for good results from a solid effort every damn day.