The Vancouver Canucks were pegged to be contenders for a playoff spot this season. Instead, as they hit the quarter mark of the season and prepare for Friday’s road clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets, they are struggling through a losing skid that has them plummeting down the standings.
A 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday to kick off a five-game road trip has Vancouver with just one win in eight games.
“I don’t know if we’re pressing too hard,” captain Bo Horvat said. “We’re trying to make something out of nothing right now (and) not playing the way we should be playing in order to win. I don’t know if we’re pressing for offense or what, I don’t really know the answer, but it seems to be that way — we turn pucks over and it ends up in the back of the net.”
Horvat’s goal in Pittsburgh snapped his team’s goal drought at 147 minutes and 58 seconds, as well as his own personal seven-game slump. The struggles has every aspect of the team being questioned, including its desire.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily compete level,” coach Travis Green said. “I think we have some players that probably aren’t playing as good as they can. They’re trying, they’re competing. They’re just not getting it done.”
The situation has reached the point there are plenty of calls for Green and general manager Jim Benning to be fired, but also suggestions that a slew of players should be traded.
“I’m worried about our team playing well, getting better, winning hockey games. That’s the only thing I’m focused on,” said forward JT Miller, who is among those bandied about in trade rumors. “I’m worried about one thing and that’s winning games.”
The Blue Jackets are on the other side of the spectrum, somewhat surprisingly sitting in a playoff position having won four of five games including a 3-0 home-ice victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
That win featured a 36-save shutout by goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, whose name was chanted by the fans in the final couple of minutes. He was pleased to receive the accolades from the crowd and excited to put in a strong performance after admittedly not being up to his standards the previous couple of outings.
“I had a chance to take a look at my statistics. My goal is always to play .900 or .910 (save percentage), and the last two games I didn’t play that well,” Merzlikins said upon earning his first shutout of the season and the eighth of his career. “Last day off I was just thinking, thinking more about how to come back on the performance at the start of the season. I just tried to dial into the game from the first minute and tried to focus on the game.”
The Winnipeg win saw Max Domi continue his strong play (four points in the last two games) as well as linemate Gregory Hofmann (three points in two games). But the way Merzlikins handled what the Jets threw at him, especially in the third period, has the Blue Jackets in a positive place as they look forward.
“I think it could’ve gotten kind of out of hand there,” defenseman Zach Werenski said. “We weren’t playing bad by any means, but they had some chances and he made some really big saves to keep it 0-0. … All throughout the game, it seemed like whenever they had a Grade-A chance, he was right there to stop it. Seemed really calm in net and that really helps a group.”
–Field Level Media