The Vancouver Canucks' road trip ends with a shutout loss in Winnipeg
Tuesday January 14 - Winnipeg Jets 4 - Vancouver Canucks 0
Don't say you weren't warned.
After I spent a good chunk of Tuesday's blog writing about how the Vancouver Canucks now have a long history of losing in Winnipeg and getting stymied by Connor Hellebuyck, the team's five-game road trip ended with a 4-0 shutout loss to the Jets on Tuesday night.
Here are your highlights:
Though the Canucks dodged an early bullet when a Winnipeg goal was called back on an offside coach's challenge just a couple of minutes into the game, in one sense the game was already decided.
Kyle Connor's 23rd goal of the year, just 1:22 into the first period, ultimately stood up as the game winner.
The goal was a quick strike off a faceoff, where the Jets were especially strong in the first period, winning 11 of 19 draws against a Vancouver team that has excelled in the circle this season.
The numbers got a little better as the game went on, but J.T. Miller and Jay Beagle, who are second and third in the league in faceoff proficiency, behind Claude Giroux, both lost more draws than they won on Tuesday. Miller was 8-for-17 while Beagle was 5-for-12. Bo Horvat was right at his usual level of 56 percent at 10-for-18, but lost the defensive-zone draw to Scheifele that led to Connor's opening goal. He finished up 0-for-4 against Scheifele for the night.
I've written plenty in the past about how I see Horvat following in Scheifele's development footsteps. Horvat's two years younger and his 61 points last season didn't quite match that point-a-game level that Scheifele hit as a 23-year-old and has maintained ever since. But Horvat is at 0.85 points per game this year, his best pace to date, and has continued to improve every year.
In my last blog, I invited you to compare Vancouver's Brock Boeser with Winnipeg's Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, all of whom went through long negotiations for their second contracts last summer. Connor identified himself as the best of the three on Tuesday, adding an empty-netter and an assist to that opening goal and finishing the night as the game's second star behind Connor Hellebuyck. As well as Winnipeg traditionally plays against Vancouver, I feel like that might have been Connor's best showing against the Canucks. Or, maybe I'm just starting to pay more attention to his game?
I wasn't surprised to see Connor Hellebuyck playing as well as he did — that's a regular occurrence against the Canucks. And while we've often seen Vancouver look tired and listless as they drag their butts around the ice in Winnipeg at the end of a long road trip, I do have to give the Canucks credit for their energy level on Tuesday. They outshot Winnipeg 41-25, including 14-6 in the third period, and pushed hard to try to get back into the game, right till the end.
The Jets' win pulled them even with Vancouver in the standings, but the Canucks still rank higher thanks to one additional regulation win — the new tiebreaker that has come into effect this year. Vancouver was weak in that category earlier this season but has now improved to 19 regulation wins, tied with Arizona among the teams in Pacific/wild card playoff mix. Only Edmonton, with 21, is better.
With a 6-3 win over San Jose on Tuesday, Arizona moved into sole possession of first place in the Pacific ahead of their first meeting of the year against Vancouver on Thursday. Edmonton also beat Nashville to leapfrog the Canucks and move into second place.
That bumps Vancouver into the first wild-card spot, their 54 points tying them with the Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights, who made a shocking move when they replaced Gerard Gallant with Peter DeBoer on Wednesday morning after a loss in Buffalo — their fourth in a row.
Here's more from me on Gallant and the situation in Vegas. I'm very curious to see how Golden Knights players and fans respond to the arrival of their sworn enemy DeBoer — and whether we'll see Gallant rejoin his old pal Steve Yzerman in Detroit before too long.
Gallant's firing impacts Travis Green in a couple of ways:
• Firstly, Green becomes the longest-tenured coach in the Pacific Division. He was hired about two weeks after Vegas brought in Gallant, in April of 2017.
The Pacific has been especially volatile through this recent stretch of coaching turmoil, which started when John Stevens was replaced by Willie Desjardins in L.A. on November 4, 2018.
Here's what has happened in the Pacific since then:
November 20, 2018 - Todd McLellan replaced by Ken Hitchcock in Edmonton
February 10, 2019 - Randy Carlyle replaced by Bob Murray in Anaheim
During the summer, all three of those interim coaches were replaced — by McLellan in L.A., Dave Tippett in Edmonton and Dallas Eakins in Anaheim.
November 29, 2019 - Bill Peters replaced by Geoff Ward in Calgary
December 11, 2019 - Peter DeBoer replaced by Bob Boughner in San Jose
January 15, 202 - Gerard Gallant replaced by Peter DeBoer in Vegas
Rick Tocchet has also been on the job for two and a half years in Arizona. He was hired in July of 2017, a couple of months after Green.
Green has now moved into the top 10 among longest-tenured coaches, and Jon Cooper is officially a unicorn. He has spent nearly seven years with the same team, and has only one NHL club on his resume.
Like Cooper and Green, Jeff Blashill also moved up from his club's AHL affiliate and has only been with one team — in his case, Detroit. But even though I think Steve Yzerman is happy enough with the Red Wings' tank job this year and would like nothing more than to secure the best odds of drafting Alexis Lafreniere, I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised to see Gallant take over for Blashill — perhaps even before this season ends.
• The other thing? Less than two weeks ago, the Golden Knights were good. Good enough that Gallant was tapped to coach the Pacific Division at the All-Star Game, as the owner of the division's best record.
As we discussed at the time, Vegas narrowly edged out Vancouver for that honour.
If I'm Gallant, I'd still go. What better opportunity to hobnob with the league's movers and shakers, as a free agent?
If he does decline or the NHL decides it would be too weird to feature an unaffiliated coach, will the honour fall to Green? And if so, how will he handle the rift between Matthew Tkachuk and the Edmonton Oilers which is sure to be one of the more intriguing subplots on All-Star weekend?
And speaking of All-Star weekend, i wrote about that this week as well:
We're still waiting on official word from the league, but new additions this year will reportedly include a crazy new skills competition event that will feature players shooting pucks down from high in the stands and a 3-on-3 women's game.
The Canucks have two more home games to knock out before their bye week and All-Star Break begins. After hosting Arizona on Thursday, they'll see San Jose on Saturday night.
The team is off on Wednesday — just as well, considering the messy road conditions after the big blizzard.
Hopefully the city will be functioning a little more normally when they get back to work on Thursday.