Is history repeating itself?
Last season, the Vancouver Canucks were 21-20-12 on February 9 and four points out of a playoff spot after a 3-1 win in Colorado where they lost both Brandon Sutter and Alex Edler to season-ending injuries.
Right now, the Canucks are also four points out and had a 25-25-6 record after their 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on February 12—a game in which both Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat were injured.
I included the GIF of Horvat's injury in Monday's blog. Here's a look at the play where Sutter appeared to be hurt:
Both players are currently said to be day-to-day, but they were badly missed as the Canucks fell 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.
Here are your highlights:
Brendan Gaunce was recalled from Utica for the game, and slotted into Horvat's spot at centre with Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen. Alex Biega was pressed into service as a fourth-line winger with Reid Boucher and Michael Chaput. And Jayson Megna—a right-winger—slotted into the middle with Loui Eriksson and a promoted Jack Skille.
Poor Megna has taken 14 faceoffs in his entire NHL career. Twelve of those happened last night— including five against Sidney Crosby, and three against Evgeni Malkin.
Megna looked absolutely rueful when asked about this challenge by Dan Murphy on the Sportsnet broadcast between periods, admitting that his best strategy in the circle was to try to tie up the puck and prevent a clean win.
Megna was 1-for-12 on the night, with his lone win coming against Crosby.
By the end of the game, the Canucks had won 41 percent of their draws, with Chaput and Gaunce both over 50 percent, but the Penguins dominated in the earlier stages, when the score was close.
Losing both Horvat and Sutter created a huge void down the middle for Vancouver—and the chasm between the Penguins and the Canucks was made even wider with Evgeni Malkin's return at centre for Pittsburgh. Malkin picked up right where he left off before missing seven games with a lower-body injury with a two-point night and a first-star award—even as goaltender Matt Murray picked up his third shutout of the year.
At the other end of the ice, Ryan Miller faced 42 shots and made some big saves to keep his team in the game until the late stages of the third period. The Canucks did manage 29 shots of their own but they were chasing the play for much of the night.
When they got out of the first period in a scoreless tie, I thought the Canucks might be able to get enough puck luck to squeeze out a point, but Vancouver's best chances were two breakaway tries by Skille, and a crossbar for Markus Granlund.
All four Pittsburgh goals came at 5-on-5, which means pretty much every Canuck's plus-minus took a hit. The team's goal differential also stretches to minus-29—third-worst in the league, ahead of only Arizona and Colorado.
The Canucks were spared the indignity of having to witness Sidney Crosby's 1,000-point celebration. Crosby did pick up his first point in three games with his assist on Jake Guntzel's third-period goal, which made the score 2-0, but ended the night at 999.
Another item of note—Biega's 8:22 of ice time earned him his 19th NHL game of the season and 70th over the last two years. That means Biega has now hit the threshold that would allow him to be a 'qualifying defenseman' to be exposed to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.
Basically, that gives Jim Benning the opportunity, if he chooses, to trade one of his other defenseman but still have someone available to offer to Vegas without gutting his core roster—or possibly to deal Biega to a team that needs a defenseman to expose.
As humbling as Tuesday's game was, the Canucks' playoff chances remains basically unchanged—for now. The Jets beat the Stars last night so they've caught Vancouver at 56 points but the Canucks still hold 10th place in the West thanks to two games in hand.
The Flames will get another shot to grab the second wild-card spot from the Kings and extend Vancouver's gap to five points as Calgary hosts Philadelphia on Wednesday. Vancouver's taking a day off in St. Louis today while their next opponents, the Blues, play the Red Wings tonight in Detroit before coming home to catch Vancouver on the second half of a back-to-back for them.
The Blues are 5-1 since Mike Yeo took over for Ken Hitchcock behind the bench on February 1 and have climbed back into third place in the Central Division. They're back on track for the playoffs after making their change.
Meanwhile, the Canucks are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games and in a deeper hole than ever if Horvat and/or Sutter—and especially both of them—are out for any period of time.
After losing Sutter and Edler last February, the Canucks held the fort until the trade deadline. They were still just one game below .500 after the dust settled on February 29, but then went 7-13-1 the rest of the way to free-fall into 28th place.
Last year's situation definitely serves as a cautionary tale for Canucks management if they are tempted to hang onto their key players at the deadline with the hope of pushing to make the playoffs. They have two weeks to decide whether or not they're going to try to make bold moves this year.