The Vancouver Canucks drop their final game of a four-game road trip after registering a rare first-period opening goal. With the win, the Nashville Predators took two of three matchups against the Canucks this season.
After playing in four different cities in five days, the Canucks will return home, minus goaltender Thatcher Demko who will head to Vegas as the Canucks lone All-Star, for a much-needed break before a short three-game homestand.
With Canucks forward Vasily Podkolzin drawing back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch against the Chicago Blackhawks the night before, Nils Höglander watched the game from the box for the first time in his 101-game NHL career.
Höglander last recorded a point with an assist in the Canucks last showing against the Predators on January 18. He has yet to snap an 11 game goalless drought.
Tanner Pearson also made his return to the lineup after a four-game absence due to COVID-19 protocols, playing on the wing with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. Defenseman Noah Juulsen filled in again for the injured Tucker Poolman.
Vancouver got off to a slow start aided by a hooking penalty against returning Canuck Pearson in the first three minutes of play. Demko was able to turn aside both Predators shots, pushing across his post to rob the wide-open Nashville forward walking in from the bottom of the circle, with support from penalty killer Tyler Motte who previously blocked a Mikael Granlund shot attempt.
After that, the Canucks settled into the game heading on the offensive. Forward Matthew Highmore snapped a nine-game pointless streak after being set up on a tee by linemate Juho Lammikko after a puck bounced off a skate in the neutral zone.
Vancouver got a glorious opportunity to add to the lead with a powerplay in the second half of the frame. The red-hot powerplay in Winnipeg has been shutout in its subsequent seven attempts, and it continued to look discombobulated – starting with a faceoff win by a much more dominant Predators in the circle.
The cross-ice pass that the Canucks managed to get off to defenseman Brad Hunt, who strangely was the only player open down low, was just a few seconds behind the beat. By the time it was sailed across, goaltender Juuse Saros, who read the play well, was able to slide across for the save.
The Predators were even able to capitalize on Vancouver’s giveaways to record a shot on the penalty kill, searching for their first shorthanded tally of the year, before Ryan Johansen beat Demko upstairs to tie the game at one.
Nashville doubled down a few minutes later on a shot from the point which was redirected post and in on the toe of the stick of Filip Forsberg.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson had the equalizer from a spin around shot at the point which fluttered its way past the screened Saros. Ekman-Larsson’s third goal of the season increases the Canucks total of goals by defensemen to nine on the year.
After a back-and-forth sequence of shots hitting the post to start the second, the tides turned in favour of the home team who got the go-ahead goal on the powerplay after winning the draw – ending the nine consecutive penalties the Canucks unit killed off on the road.
Nashville ultimately placed the dagger in a Vancouver comeback with a goal off an unfortunate rebound that landed on the tape of a Predator’s stick.
The Canucks (20-20-6) finished another road trip .500, and at this point in the season, they have to be on the winning side of the split. They sit in seventh place in the Pacific Division, one point behind the Oilers who still have five games in hand.
In a 50/50 game for a larger part of the game, the Canucks have to find ways to pocket some gritty goals. The Predators could have easily scored two or three more goals if it wasn’t for the work of Demko. Vancouver has to support their netminder with some offensive – he can only keep them in the game for so long.
The performance in the circle tonight for the Canucks centremen was simply not up to par. Bo Horvat has the second-highest faceoff percentage, behind Patrice Bergeron, and the Canucks are the ninth-best faceoff team in the league. They didn’t look like it in Nashville. In one of the few categories where the Canucks excel, they have to be consistent with it on a nightly basis.
The Canucks were also noticeably outmanned in the physicality department. If it wasn’t draws that were creating offensive zone time for the Predators, it was stepping into Vancouver players for one of their 44 hits on the night.
If the Canucks stand any chance in making their way into a playoff spot, their top six has got to pick it up. Vancouver outshot the winning opponents but failed to execute on some scoring chances. This issue has to be addressed before the Canucks take on the blistering offensive of the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 12.
Vancouver will be back at it after the All-Star Game against the Arizona Coyotes on February 8 at 7:00 PM. It will be their first matchup of the season. You can catch the game on Sportsnet Pacific or listen to it on Sportsnet 650.