Having watched his Vancouver Canucks fall behind early far too often already this season, Travis Green says he might send the NHL a memo asking for the start time of their games to be pushed back.
“That would be an option,” quipped the rookie head coach.
All joking aside, Green’s club has surrendered the opening goal inside the first five minutes of the first period eight times this season, with four coming before the 70-second mark.
The Canucks have also fallen behind early in three straight, including Thursday’s 5-2 home loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, a result that came on the heels of a 3-2 road victory over Los Angeles despite trailing 2-0 after just three minutes and 14 seconds.
“We’ve got to be a little sharper at the start,” Green said following Friday’s practice. “We’ve been pressed into mistakes early because maybe we’re trying to do a little too much.
“We’ve had a couple rough starts. We’ve probably had a couple goals we wanted to have back.”
It’s true that Vancouver netminders Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson have both given up soft goals early — Nilsson surrendered one 23 seconds in versus L.A. as just the latest example — but the Canucks have also been sloppy in their own end, sometimes looking like they aren’t ready to play.
“At the beginning of the game, a lot of nights it’s almost like a little bit of a chess match where you’ve maybe got to grunt a puck out here or there, make a hard play early because teams have lots of energy,” said Green. ”Over the course of 60 minutes, sometimes things break down. That’s being mentally strong to your game, not just as the game goes on, (but) at the start.”
The Canucks are actually 4-3-1 in games where they’ve allowed opponents to open the scoring inside five minutes, but know that trend can’t continue if they’re going to stay in the conversation for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“If you’re down 2-0, it’s rare you can come back and win,” said Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin. ”We have done a good job so far, but if we keep doing this it’s going to be tough.”
Canucks centre Bo Horvat said the formula for getting a leg up is there for everyone to see.
“It’s pretty self explanatory,” he said. ”We’ve just got to be prepared right from the get go.”
Vancouver finished a four-game road trip 2-2-0 before the setback to the expansion Golden Knights, who were down to their fourth-string goalie because of a slew of injuries in the crease.
The Canucks looked tired, but getting just 21 shots was disappointing — the fewest Vegas has given up this season — including just one on two power-play chances for a man-advantage unit that showed signs of life with two goals against the Kings following a 2-for-21 stretch.
“Guys are holding onto it for too long or they’re gripping the stick a little too tight,” said defenceman Ben Hutton. ”We’ve just got to get back to the way we were playing earlier in the season. We were putting pucks to the net, guys were going to the net, and we were getting some greasy goals.”
Things will get a whole lot tougher for Vancouver (9-8-2) on Saturday when the St. Louis Blues (14-5-1) visit Rogers Arena before the Canucks head out on a six-game road trip that will take them to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, New York (against the Rangers and Islanders), and Nashville.
The Blues, who sit first in the West and second in the overall standings, got back on track Thursday following consecutive losses by downing the Edmonton Oilers 4-1.
“They’ve had a good team here for a while,” said Canucks centre Brandon Sutter. ”We know what their identity is.
“It’ll be a good test for us.”
Vancouver has tended to play up or down to the level of opponents so far in 2017-18, with victories over Minnesota, Washington, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, while also suffering a couple of setbacks like Thursday’s defeat to Vegas.
The Canucks have also tended to fall behind early, something they will look to shake before heading out of town.
“Coming from behind is never easy,” said Hutton. ”We’ve got to come out more mentally prepared.
“Giving up a goal on the first or second shift is always a kick in the butt. It sucks.”
Notes: Canucks defenceman Christopher Tanev (upper body) practised Friday and could return as early as Saturday. … A healthy scratch the last three games, Vancouver forward Jake Virtanen skated on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press