Bruce Boudreau was worried about showing the St. Louis Blues the same goalie twice. The Vancouver Canucks coach should be worried about seeing the same St. Louis netminder three times.
Ville Husso stopped 35 of 36 shots Monday as the Blues soured what had been a terrific Canucks road trip with a 4-1 win in St. Louis. The 27-year-old Finn, who has pushed Jordan Binnington out of the crease as the Blues’ starter, stopped 38 of 39 shots against the Canucks during a 3-1 win in Vancouver on Jan. 23.
The Blues can make it a season sweep against the Canucks when the teams play Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
After starting twice in six weeks, Jaroslav Halak started for the second time in six days and surrendered two goals on the first eight shots he faced as Vancouver, desperately trying to stay in the playoff race, failed to maintain the engaged and resilient form that allowed them to take a surprising five out of six points in road games last week against the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars.
In explaining his goaltending choice, Boudreau said he didn’t want to play the same goalie in consecutive games against the Blues, which means top Canuck Thatcher Demko will be back in net on Wednesday. Monday wasn’t Halak’s fault.
“I didn’t think we were very good tonight,” Boudreau told reporters. “We came out flat in the first period, got behind two, which gave them a little life. I thought our second period was better, but we didn’t get rewarded for it. And then they score in the first shift in the third period.
“I just didn’t think we had enough guys playing with the sense of urgency that is needed at this stage of the season.”
ANOTHER FALSE START
The Canucks have won a lot more than they’ve lost under Boudreau. But their path to defeat has become frustratingly predictable: they’re not sharp at the start, mentally or physically, and by the time they clean up their mistakes, the game is sometimes unsalvageable.
Sure, they outshot the Blues 12-0 to start the second period. But they were down 2-0 at that point against a St. Louis team that was playing conservatively and, generally, knows how to defend a lead.
The first goal, 6:37 after the opening faceoff, was mostly bad luck. Vladimir Tarasenko’s centering pass ramped up off the stick of Canuck callup Will Lockwood, rolled off the back of Halak, then the crossbar before bouncing in off Blues defenceman Marco Scandella. But it also came at the end of sustained pressure when the Canucks couldn’t win a puck battle or make a play to clear their zone.
On the second goal, at 14:02, Conor Garland skated the puck into a turnover, causing a two-on-one in which Canucks defenceman Brad Hunt allowed Ivan Barbashev to pass across to David Perron, who roofed a shot over Halak.
“We knew it was an important game for us and I thought we came out a little bit slow and turned a little bit too many pucks over at their blue line,” Canucks defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “And it kind of cost us in the first.
“I thought that they played the way we were supposed to play a little bit tonight: they were kind of sitting back a little bit and waiting for us to turn the puck over. Credit to them. They played smart and we didn’t.”
“That’s the whole thing — being mentally tough,” winger J.T. Miller said. “There’s no easy games; everybody’s fighting for something right now. Physically, guys around the league are going through a lot of the same stuff, so you’ve got to be mentally tough and whoever wants it more typically wins the game. They had a better start than we did.”
BOUDREAU BLASTS GARLAND
Known for his plain-spoken honesty when talking about his team, Boudreau said this when asked about Garland, who has no goals and five assists in the last 15 games: “He didn’t play very well, and we need more out of him. I think he’s pressing really hard to score because he hasn’t scored in a while.
“But the idea is you can’t do it all by yourself when you’re pressing. You’ve got to use your teammates. I think he could have passed the puck; He carried it a little too much. He was one of the forwards I didn’t think had a very good game.”
A darling of analytics, Garland still co-led the Canucks with five shots on target in his 14:42 of ice time, and had a five-on-five expected-goals-for percentage of 74.1 to go with his 65.2 per cent shot share (15-8).
But the dynamo does overhandle the puck at times, which can make it difficult on linemates. And his linemates are Miller, the Canucks’ leading scorer, and dependable winger Tanner Pearson.
Still, Garland hardly stood out negatively on Monday, and Boudreau later tried to soften his criticism by saying: “We weren’t very good as a team. There wasn’t a lot of forwards that played the way that they’re capable of playing. I’m not going to dissect everybody’s play. But we can all be better; that’s what I’ll say.”
An indictment of the top Canucks is that Vancouver’s only goal was by Hunt, the sixth defenceman, assisted by depth forwards Juho Lammikko and Vasily Podkolzin.
Even with their 2-1-1 trip, the Canucks still trail the final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference by three points. In St. Louis, they squandered their game in-hand on the Vegas Golden Knights. But the Winnipeg Jets are a point ahead of the Canucks and have played one fewer game, while the team right behind Vegas, Dallas, has four games in-hand.
With 14 games to go, the Canucks probably need the equivalent of 11 wins to have a chance at making the playoffs.
“We need to win games right now,” Miller said. “Every game we lose, it just gets harder and harder. It’s disappointing. I definitely look in a mirror for myself. I don’t think I brought it today; I wasn’t as engaged as I needed to be for some reason. I’m a little tired, but I definitely take some of the onus on myself.”
THEY’RE NO. 31!
Having trailed the penalty-kill rankings almost from the start of the season, the Canucks finally made it out of last place by killing all three St. Louis power plays on Monday.
The Canucks PK, which stood at an historically inept 60.3 per cent on Nov. 17, inched up to 72.8 per cent on Monday and past the Detroit Red Wings (72.4 per cent). Vancouver has killed 21 of its last 23 disadvantages, and is a mid-range 78.9 per cent since Boudreau became coach on Dec. 5.