You could make the argument that this loss was more embarrassing than the 7-2 disaster against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. At least the Sharks have a legitimate case to be the best team in the Western Conference and the Canucks managed to score a couple goals for the highlight reel.
The Anaheim Ducks, on the other hand, have been in free fall since mid-December. Since December 17th, the Ducks had won just two games heading into Wednesday’s match-up with the Canucks. Their record was 2-15-4 in that timespan.
Their slide had taken them from firmly in playoff position to last place in the Western Conference, with a league-worst -55 goal differential. Over their seven-game losing streak heading into Wednesday, they had been out-scored 37-8, including giving up nine goals to the Winnipeg Jets.
In other words, the Ducks are an omnishambles, a fiasco, and an imbroglio.
Earlier in the week, Ducks’ GM Bob Murray had finally had enough, firing head coach Randy Carlyle and replacing him with, well, himself.
To top it off, their top two goaltenders, John Gibson and Chad Johnson, were both placed on the IR on Wednesday morning and Ryan Miller was just returning and the Ducks didn’t want to throw him in the net right away. That meant the first career NHL start for 26-year-old Kevin Boyle, who has a .909 save percentage in the AHL this season.
Add all of that together and it seemed like a great opportunity for the Canucks to bounce back from the loss to the Sharks and get things back on track after losing four of their last five games. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the Canucks’ tendency to make rookie goaltenders look like the second coming of Jacques Plante.
The Canucks couldn’t muster a single lousy goal when I watched this game.
- Several cast members from the Mighty Ducks were on hand for the ceremonial faceoff, which was a neat little nostalgia trip. Had to feel for Vicellous Shannon, who was introduced as, “Russ Tyler’s brother,” with a pregnant pause before the announcer finally said, “...James.” All it did was draw attention to the fact that Russ "Knuckle Puck" Tyler himself, Kenan Thompson, wasn’t there.
- This was a simply dreadful game to watch, with long stretches where nothing happened and frequent stoppages in play, so there was little flow to the action. Neither team created many scoring chances, though the Canucks certainly created more than the Ducks. Some 1-0 goals are thrilling, with back-and-forth action stymied by brilliant goaltending or great defensive plays. This was just sloppier than Chris Farley’s Sloppy Joes.
- The Ducks’ lone goal wasn’t Bo Horvat’s finest moment. First, he knocked Jacob Markstrom’s stick out of his hands rushing to a loose puck. Then, once Horvat got the puck, he failed to get it out of the defensive zone, giving it away to Derek Grant. To top it off, neither he nor Erik Gudbranson picked up Jakob Silfverberg heading to the net, and Grant found him in the slot for the quick shot past Markstrom.
- I said that Horvat and Gudbranson failed to pick up Silfverberg, but it was a weird one, as Silfverberg skated past Jake Virtanen on his way to the net. It’s Virtanen’s job there to watch the point, but it’s understandable in the moment for Horvat and Gudbranson to glance up and think Virtanen had Silfverberg. It was tricky, like the “F” in Silfverberg’s name. Very sneaky and easy to miss.
- With the Ducks eager to prove themselves to their new bench boss (who also happens to be the GM responsible for their futures), some rough stuff was inevitable. That’s particularly the case since Murray specifically called out “the lack of emotion, the lack of pushback,” when he fired Carlyle.
- It started with former-Canuck, and current-$6.875-million-millstone-around-the-Duck’s neck, Ryan Kesler. He dropped the gloves with Josh Leivo, who seemed to take exception to Kesler putting the hook into Elias Pettersson’s gut like an old-timey Vaudeville Hook.
- Later in the period, Jake Virtanen threw a solid check on Corey Perry in the defensive zone to win the puck. Not long after, Ryan Getzlaf, cutting across the middle of the ice, “accidentally” ran into Virtanen from the blind side, away from the puck. It’s hard to see it as anything other than intentional, particularly when you watch how comedically Getzlaf flopped to the ice after the collision, throwing his arms up in the air in the universal soccer sign language of, “I’m taking a dive!”
- Virtanen stayed down for a long time, then left the game only to return in the second period. The Canucks have to hope he just had the wind knocked out of him by the force of the collision and didn’t suffer a concussion. At least Getzlaf got an interference minor, but the Department of Player Safety takes a good, long look to see if there was any intent there, though I’m admittedly not getting my hopes up.
- That “accidental” collision led to Erik Gudbranson challenging Getzlaf to a fight early in the second period. Getzlaf obliged, leading to a rarity in the current NHL: a two-fight game. Generally speaking, fighting has been shown to not have a very large impact on the game itself, but a tradeoff of the Canucks’ worst defenceman for the Ducks’ leading scorer for five minutes seems like a pretty good deal.
- Elias Pettersson couldn’t get the Canucks a goal, but he tried his darnedest. He nearly dented the cross bar with a power play one-timer from the Petterzone on a first period power play and led his line to a flurry of chances at even-strength in the second period. Then, in the third period, he nearly did it all himself, dancing around Cam Fowler to get in alone, but Boyle stared him down and made the stop.
- Boyle played an aggressive style for the Ducks, challenging at or above the top of his crease to make several saves, like when he robbed Josh Leivo’s power play chance from the slot in the third period. It’s a style that can be picked apart by a great puck-moving team, but the Canucks have a dearth of playmakers. It certainly didn’t help that one of the few they do have, Nikolay Goldobin, was in the press box as a healthy scratch.
- When Virtanen returned, it at least seemed like the Canucks would escape Anaheim without injury. But then Chris Tanev took an awkward hit from Getzlaf in the third period and immediately left down the tunnel to the locker room. He didn’t return to the game, though he did briefly return to the bench late in the game and took a spin around the ice during a TV timeout. Like Les Averman and Tommy Duncan, Tanev was skating gingerly.
- With Alex Edler still recovering from a concussion and Tanev out for most of the third period, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher ate a lot of minutes. Stecher finished with 29:04 in ice time, a new career high, while Hutton played 27:51. The two of them are making a strong argument for being the Canucks' second pair next season. Now, if only they had a consistently healthy top pairing.
- At least the Canucks made a rookie goaltender happy. Boyle’s immediate reaction to the final horn, as it seemed to finally sink in that he got a shutout in his first NHL start, was priceless. He grinned from ear to ear with both hands on his helmet, like he couldn’t quite believe it was real. To Boyle, it must have felt like some sort of Disney movie, right down to the jerseys.