MONTREAL – Among the many bad things faced by the Vancouver Canucks these days, bad officiating and bad luck are well down the list of contributing factors in their epic, 2014-long slump in the National Hockey League.
But as anyone from Vancouver can tell you, when it rains, it, well, pours goals into the Canucks’ net.
The Canucks lost their sixth straight game in regulation time on Thursday, 5-2 to the Montreal Canadiens, extending the team’s longest pointless spell in 15 years.
The game was supposed to be a showdown between Canada’s best two goalies, Canuck Roberto Luongo and Canadien Carey Price, competing for the Team Canada’s starting job next week at the Olympics. If it was the deciding factor, Price will play in Sochi.
Although Luongo made some good saves and outwaited Max Pacioretty on a pair of dubious penalty shots 1:51 apart in the second period, the Vancouver netminder looked shaky on the first Montreal goal and awful on the second.
The Canucks, who have scored more than twice only five times in 22 games, never recovered from the early 0-2 deficit.
Pacioretty made it 1-0 on a Montreal power play at 14:59 of the first period, scoring on a shot that the goalie saw late and let drift through him.
Only 63 seconds later, Canadien Ryan White’s first goal of the season doubled the lead as the fourth-liner managed net to miss Luongo’s butt from close range as the goalie, on his knees, faced east while the puck squirted west to the scorer.
The goals were so underwhelming – and came against the general flow of the first period – we wondered if Canuck coach John Tortorella would have hooked Luongo had he not been playing in his hometown, against Price, so close to the Olympics.
But Luongo stayed in and that was a good thing for the Canucks because just over two minutes into the middle period, he lunged across his goal to make a stunning save against Brandon Prust on a shorthanded 2-on-1 break caused by Vancouver defenceman Alex Edler.
Still on the power play on the next shift, Canuck Jason Garrison’s point shot hit teammate Chris Higgins’ shin pad and bounced past Price to make it 2-1 at 2:31.
A minute later, Canuck David Booth, playing some of the most determined hockey of his troubling season, nearly tied it but was stopped point-blank by Price on the rebound from Zack Kassian’s shot on a 2-on-1.
What will be remembered about the middle period are Pacioretty’s two penalty-shot misses, beginning at 11:47. Both calls – holding against Raphael Diaz, tripping against Alex Burrows – were questionable. So was Pacioretty’s execution.
He shot woefully wide on the first attempt and nearly lost control of the puck on the second before stuffing it against Luongo’s left pad.
In ordinary times, those misses might have been game-changers. But nothing these days seems powerful enough to stop the Canucks from losing.
Trailing 2-1 going into the third period, the Canucks failed yet again to muster any kind of surge or urgency and surrendered a couple of more garbage goals.
Alone at the side of the net, Pacioretty scored from David Desharnais’ pass at 4:45, a few seconds after Vancouver defenceman Yann Sauve lost the puck behind his net. And at 8:14, it became 4-1 when Edler managed to stop Tomas Plekanec’s pass on a 2-on-1 and kick it into his own net.
Edler, at least, got that one back at 12:21 when he shot far-post through Alex Burrows’ screen for the Canucks’ second power-play goal, matching their output 5-on-4 from the last 10 games.
Pacioretty finished his hat trick into an empty net. Of course, it could have been worse for the Canucks. Pacioretty could have scored five.