Too many mistakes and too little effort led to Vancouver’s worst home loss of the season, a 6-4 drubbing by St. Louis.
To make matters worse, it was Mats Sundin’s first game at GM Place.
Talk about a poor debut.
Despite leading 2-1 through 20 minutes, the Canucks allowed a pair of goals in the final 59 seconds of the second to trail 3-2 heading into the third.
Vancouver fought back to tie the game, only to have St. Louis take the lead again – but wait, the Canucks made it a 4-4 game with 4:13 remaining in the third.
It had been a sloppy contest to this point, but time was on Vancouver’s side in attempting to secure at least a point for a fifth consecutive game.
Brad Boyes and B.J. Crombeen had other ideas.
The St. Louis forwards scored 21 seconds apart in the final 2:10 to spoil any hope of a memorable opening game for Sundin on the west coast.
“They were skating a lot better than did tonight, they had a lot better jump for some reason,” said Sundin, who failed to record a point in 13:51 of ice time during 19 shifts.
To make matters worse – yes, that is possible – Sundin took a slashing penalty for breaking the stick of a Blues player with 2:30 remaining in the game to put St. Louis on the power play. Boyes’ game-winner was scored on the ensuing man advantage.
“It was on the stick, it was a battle for the puck,” scoffed Sundin.
“Obviously when a stick breaks I think it’s a rule that it’s a penalty, so there’s not much to say about that.”
Sundin clearly played a part in this embarrassing loss, but no more than anyone else.
The Canucks simply didn’t have the mojo working. The offence, despite putting four goals on the scoreboard, lacked zip and aggression, the defence was sloppy and undisciplined, while Jason LaBarbera allowed a couple of goals that he’ll be thinking about tomorrow.
“It was just a bad effort by everyone, I don’t think any of us played well tonight,” said LaBarbera, the victim of six goals on 36 shots.
So what is it about a lousy team that brings the worst out of the Canucks?
This was the same question being asked last Friday when Vancouver dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the pitiful Atlanta Thrashers, and there remains no clear answer or excuse.
“There’s no easy game in this league, that’s for sure, and we know that,” said Alex Burrows.
“We talk about it all the time that every team is trying to come in here and play well and try to get the two points. We just have to make sure we stay focused and that we’re crispy and sharp off the bat and if we do that, I think we’ll have some success.”
Normally on a night when Willie Mitchell records three points, including the first two-goal game of his career, and ties his career mark for points at 14, success is just what the Canucks would have found.
Mitchell’s standout performance was one of the few positives for Vancouver; the BC boy has now bettered his point total from his previous two seasons with the Canucks and the team is just over the halfway point of the season.
Also of note was the play of Jannik Hansen
and Ryan Johnson.
Both were also making a debut of sorts as it was Hansen’s first game back with the Canucks since being briefly sent down to the Manitoba Moose earlier this week.
Whether or not the club was sending a message to Hansen that he’d be smart to pick up his play, that’s just what he took from the short demotion.
Hansen was energetic and eager right from puck drop and it led to his fifth goal of the season midway through the first. He took a pass just inside the St. Louis blueline before wheeling in and rifling a shot top shelf on Manny Legacy.
“You want to come back and try to set a mark on the game and try to prove that they made the wrong decision sending me down,” said Hansen.
“Hopefully I can comeback now and work on my game and not get sent to Manitoba again.”
For Johnson, this contest marked his first since Nov. 24 after being placed on the injured reserve with broken bones in his hand and foot.
He totaled 11:50 in ice time during 18 shifts and was instrumental in holding St. Louis to only one power play goal on five attempts.
“I felt good,” he said. “My legs felt great, my finger was okay, so I actually felt really good.”
Johnson was back down blocking shots without missing a beat, including a monster block to ice a Blues power play near the end of the second period.
“There was a couple of them and it feels good to get hit again, as odd as that sounds.”
The Canucks now look ahead to the San Jose Sharks, who swim into town Saturday night.
With a record of 30-5-5, the Sharks sit in the Western Conference’s top spot with 65 points and are the team to beat in the NHL right now.
The Canucks lowered themselves to the bottom feeders on this night; the hope is that they can raise their game up to thrash with the Sharks next.
“We’re going to have to be a lot better [Saturday],” said Alain Vigneault, “we think this was embarrassing…”