Canucks Takeaways: Familiar struggles continue to haunt Vancouver in loss to Jets

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After inhaling the rarified air of being a “winning” hockey team – for two days – the Vancouver Canucks thudded back to .500 on Thursday with a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

On a three-game National Hockey League winning streak, the Canucks were excellent for the first nine minutes in Winnipeg, building a 1-0 lead and outshooting the Jets 5-0. But they were outshot 39-17 the rest of the way, and high-danger scoring chances finished 21-8 for Winnipeg.

The Canucks had won seven straight road games since a 5-2 loss in Boston on Nov. 13, the night before Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s Hall-of-Fame induction, so a market correction was coming. But Thursday still felt like an opportunity lost for the Canucks, who were gifted the lead on Jets defenceman Dylan Samberg’s opening-minute giveaway in front of his net, and who failed on a couple of power plays to make it 2-0 before Winnipeg utterly dominated the middle period and seized the game.

The Jets were also missing several key players in Blake Wheeler, Cole Perfetti, Nic Ehlers and Nate Schmidt.

Yet, they were still a more talented, better organized and tighter team defensively than the San Jose Sharks, whom the Canucks handled easily, 6-2, at home on Tuesday.

“I think there’s a lot more that we can do,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said Thursday morning when asked if the San Jose win was a template. “I mean, do that against Winnipeg. Do that against Calgary. San Jose is. . . a team that works hard, but I mean, they don’t have the depth that these other teams have. It’s important that we be able to do those things against the top-echelon teams in league.”

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The Canucks’ earlier wins were against the Edmonton Oilers and surprising Seattle Kraken, so they’ve shown themselves capable of beating good opponents. But they’ve also shown an inability to maintain strong form. Their three-game heater matched a season high, but the 16-16-3 Canucks are now 0-3 when trying to extend a winning streak to four games.

They were only marginally better in Winnipeg than they were against the Jets two weeks ago when the Canucks were schooled 5-1 on home ice.

They visit the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

TOP GUNS

Even missing a lot of firepower from their lineup, the Jets’ best players still won the game. Mark Scheifele completed a hat trick into an empty net, and his pair of power-play goals were set up by Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor. And Pierre-Luc Dubois scored the game-winning goal on a penalty shot at 15:42 of the second period after he was hooked on a breakaway by Canuck Ethan Bear.

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Andrei Kuzmenko had a goal and assist for the Canucks, but Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson, after he intercepted Samberg’s pass to set up Kuzmenko 41 seconds into the game, were awfully quiet. Pettersson had five points in the win against Seattle, and Horvat followed with consecutive four-point nights against Edmonton and San Jose.

Nobody expects that kind of individual production every night, but the best players usually decide games and Winnipeg’s were simply better than Vancouver’s.

ONCE MORE WITH DELIA

Minor-league callup Collin Delia obviously impressed Boudreau by beating the Oilers 5-2 last Friday because he started against the Jets ahead of Spencer Martin, who was rested and coming off one of his best games of the season on Tuesday against the Sharks.

Martin had played in 10 straight games before being sat down for Delia in Edmonton, but it appears Boudreau may go with a goaltending tandem until someone seizes the crease before injured starter Thatcher Demko returns sometime in mid or late January.

Delia certainly did nothing to yield playing time to Martin on Thursday, stopping 35 of 38 Winnipeg shots. He was beaten only by Winnipeg’s power play – Scheifele bounced a deflection past him and later scored with a post-and-in wrist shot through a screen – and on Dubois’ penalty shot, when the goalie guessed five-hole as the Jet shot stick side.

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It should be Martin’s turn on New Year’s Eve against the Flames.

BAD MEMORIES

Although the Canucks have been a better team the last six weeks then they were the first month of the season, there was a disconcerting familiarity to Thursday’s loss. After a solid first period, they almost stopped playing in the middle frame when the Jets outshot them 20-7. And when the Canucks finally cracked on Scheifele’s tying goal at 13:52, Vancouver surrendered two more quick ones. The three goals against Delia were clustered over a six-minute span.

Needing a surge, down 3-1 in the third period, Vancouver was held to just six shots on net. The Canucks got within a goal when Conor Garland banked a rebound off the end boards off Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck to make it 3-2 with 6:49 remaining, but Vancouver never looked close to winning.

J.T. BEING J.T.

As he has done on occasion in the past, Miller pulled the goalie for Vancouver when he waved Delia to the bench in the final minute. Actually, Miller took the puck behind the Canuck goal and, exasperated that Delia was still crouched in the crease waiting for his team to get up ice, slammed his stick on top of the net to send the goalie scurrying with about 50 seconds remaining.

It was comical, but also a bad look. And naturally, it got people talking on social media and about Miller’s leadership. But these are the emotions you get with J.T. Miller, the bad with good. Also, he was right: Delia should have already left for a sixth skater.

WELCOME BACK

After missing more than three months with a concussion, defenceman Travis Dermott finally played his first game of the season with the Canucks – and got caved in territorially. On a third pairing with Luke Schenn, Dermott posted a Corsi of just 14.8 per cent, and the Canucks were outshot 14-3 at even strength with him on the ice. Unfortunately, this is pretty much what coaches lie awake at night thinking about when they consider dropping a guy who hasn’t played an NHL game since last season into mid-season conditions.

Still, Dermott should be a significant blue-line upgrade on Riley Stillman. And as long as Dermott wakes up Friday morning without any neurological complications, then Thursday’s ice time of 14:43 was a huge step forward for him.

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