VANCOUVER — Boos rained down on the Vancouver Canucks as they skated off the ice Saturday night.
The team had lost at home yet again, this time dropping a 4-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The lacklustre result prompted one fan to toss their blue, green and white jersey to the ice during the final stoppage in play.
“We heard the frustration from the fans tonight," said forward Tyler Motte. "We need to look ourselves in the mirror, find a way because we do owe it to more people than just ourselves to put a better product together.”
The Canucks are 8-15-2 on the season, including a 3-7-1 record at Rogers Arena.
Captain Bo Horvat understands the crowd's growing angst.
"Fans want wins and we’re not giving them to them," he said.
Once again, penalties proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for Vancouver on Saturday.
The squad saw three players sent to the box in quick succession midway through the second period, and the Penguins capitalized with Jake Guentzel scoring a pair of power-play goals en route to a hat trick.
The left-winger also added an assist in the third and extended his point streak to 12 games (10 goals, six assists).
“Just the bounces are going my way right now," Guentzel said. "I think you go through stretches where you don't get these bounces and for me, I'm just trying to shoot the puck as much as I can and if it goes in or if it creates rebounds, I'm just trying to just try to be around the net and shoot as much as I can and you never know what happens.”
Sidney Crosby had a goal and a pair of assists, and Kris Letang registered three helpers as the Pens improved to 11-8-5 on the season.
Rookie Vasily Podkolzin replied for the Canucks.
Surrey, B.C., native Tristan Jarry stopped 22 shots for Pittsburgh as he made his first-ever start in Vancouver.
At the other end of the ice, Thatcher Demko made a season-high 40 saves in the losing effort.
“It’s no secret he’s been our most consistent and one of our best players all year round," Motte said of his goalie. "He’s kept us in a lot of games and given us opportunities to push back. And unfortunately, it’s sad the number of times we’ve left him out to dry.”
The Canucks got a prime opportunity to cut into the deficit with less than three minutes left on the clock as John Marino was called for interference.
Vancouver pulled Demko in favour of an extra attacker, but the home side struggled to maintain possession, eliciting boos from the crowd. Chants of "fire Benning!" also echoed through the stadium late in the game, referring to Canucks general manager Jim Benning.
“When you lose, it’s hard. I get it," said Canucks head coach Travis Green. "Fans, people get frustrated, we get frustrated too. Our players, they’re mad when they lose, coaches are upset when they lose as well."
Crosby gave the Pens a three-goal lead 11:15 into the third, tapping in a long bomb from Letang.
It was the third goal of the season for the Pittsburgh captain, who missed 13 games with injury and illness.
After a scoreless first period, the Penguins' offence erupted in the second. Pittsburgh outshot the Canucks 22-5 across the period, with Guentzel scoring three goals in the process.
He put the visitors on the board just 2:19 into the frame with a blast from inside the faceoff circle. Demko initially appeared to make the stop but the puck hit Oliver Ekman-Larsson in front of the net and bounced in past the goalie.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said it's Guentzel's hockey IQ that gives him an edge.
"He has a unique ability to find the soft spots and when he plays with a guy like (Crosby), he usually gets the puck, but he gets there at the right time and I think that's the genius of Jake's game and I also think that's why Jake and (Crosby) have been so complimentary in all the time they've been playing together," he said.
The Canucks replied at the 6:18 mark when Podkolzin, stationed in the middle of the slot, sent a deflection in off Jarry's shoulder for his fifth goal of the year.
Trouble began brewing for Vancouver midway through the period when defenceman Tyler Myers was sent to the box for closing his hand on the puck.
Thirty seconds into the infraction, Motte was clocked for cross checking Letang and joined Myers in the box. Defenceman Tucker Poolman made the duo a trio 20 seconds later when he sent the puck over the glass for the Canucks' third straight penalty.
Guentzel blasted a shot over Demko's shoulder 17:13 into the second period.
He added another tally — his 13th goal of the season — 70 seconds later with a shot from high in the slot that hit defenceman Luke Schenn's backside and ricocheted in past Demko to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.
Pittsburgh was 2 for 6 with the man advantage Saturday, while Vancouver went scoreless on three power plays.
The Canucks came into the game with the league's worst penalty kill (64.5 per cent) but Green said he's seen progress in recent outings.
“I think we’ve made improvements with the penalty kill in the last four or five games," the coach said. "When you get two goals scored against you on 5-on-3s, they’re power play goals, but they’re different than where we’ve been hurting, I guess.”
The Canucks will continue a six-game homestand on Monday when they host the L.A. Kings. The Penguins will face the Kraken in Seattle the same night.
NOTES: Guentzel has scored in each of Pittsburgh's 13 road games. … Guentzel now has four regular-season hat tricks and two in the playoffs. … Saturday marked the Pens' second win over Vancouver in 11 days. The Canucks also lost 4-1 in Pittsburgh on Nov. 24.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press