Canucks get out-competed in ‘frustrating’ loss to Ovechkin, Capitals

VANCOUVER —  One of the greatest players, near the end of his career, met one of the great ones just starting out. Alex Ovechkin had two goals, a crossbar and 12 shot attempts on Tuesday. Elias Pettersson was minus-five.

Each player had many teammates to help him determine the outcome, but the performances of Ovechkin and Pettersson encapsulated the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 walkover against the Vancouver Canucks. It wasn’t close in any sense.

Ovechkin scoring is not a surprise. He has 793 goals, now just eight behind Gordie Howe for second in National Hockey League history. But the Canucks failing to compete on home ice, coming off a three-game road sweep that included a couple of opponents much better than the sub-.500 Capitals, was surprising.

After seeing the Canucks’ sashay all season two steps forward, one step back (or is it one step forward, three steps back?), nothing Vancouver does really shocks anyone. But Tuesday’s dismal loss, when the Canucks had a chance to move back to .500 themselves after losing their first seven games of the season, was a reminder just how awful they can be defensively when they aren’t moving their feet or the puck.

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“It’s frustrating because when you lose games, it shouldn’t ever be about your compete level and battle level,” veteran Canuck J.T. Miller said. “They didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us, they literally just out-battled us and created their chances and scored on them.

“I don’t know why, but everybody, head to toe, lost urgency. We didn’t move our feet. We let them dictate the play. We weren’t really physically engaged, playing on our heels — the exact opposite how you want to play. That’s the disappointing part because those are all things that we can control, starting with myself and all the way down. A game like today, we can’t expect it to be an easy game. Like, every game is going to be hard. You know, every team has a reason that they’re coming in to win. Whether they lost a bunch or they’re on a heater, it doesn’t matter. We can’t lose games because we got out-competed. That’s not our DNA.”

The Canucks seemed to give up almost as many two-on-ones in the first period Tuesday as they did on their three-game roadie that included wins last week in Denver and Las Vegas.

The opening goal just 5:35 into the game – naturally, by Ovechkin – was a pure gift as Vancouver’s star defenceman, Quinn Hughes, played the puck against the Capital right beside the Canucks’ net, leaving goalie Spencer Martin unprepared for a sudden chance at the top of the crease.

The Canucks failed to defend a three-on-three rush when Ovechkin made it 2-0 at 11:52 with a one-timer that powered between Martin’s arm and body.

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And after Vancouver looked in danger of waking up with a goal by Nils Hoglander at 13:55, Anthony Mantha scored unchecked from the slot for Washington just 40 seconds later – and about five seconds after Lars Eller knocked Pettersson off the puck behind the Canucks’ net.

An early Selke Trophy candidate, Pettersson was on the ice for all five Capital goals. John Carlson scored in the second period and Martin Fehervary, into an empty net, in the third.

“Of course, I’m surprised by that,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I mean, that’s when you know something’s not right in tonight’s game. When was the last time you saw Petey minus five? That doesn’t happen.

“I’m not worried about him being a great player anymore. I think it’s a one-off. Not every great player has a great game every night and this was (Pettersson’s off night). I’m confident. . . that he’ll be great again. . . next game.”

The Canucks’ four-game homestand continues Thursday against the Florida Panthers. Then the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens visit Rogers Arena, with a day between each game. So Boudreau has goaltending choices.

He chose Tuesday to play Martin again over struggling starter Thatcher Demko, and the backup tried to take the blame for the loss. It was just the second time in 15 starts for the Canucks this season and last that Martin did not get his team at least a point.

“We feel like we’ve come together and we’re getting better and better, and building, so to come here and have a game go that way is disappointing especially,” Martin told reporters. “I take a lot of responsibility for this loss because, you know, the goalie has a unique way to affect the game, and I felt like early in the game I didn’t do enough to give ourselves a chance to win.”

“It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances they had,” Boudreau said, rejecting Martin’s offer of culpability. “Ovie is going to score. It looks like on his second goal that maybe (Martin) should have had it. But I mean, I’ve seen him score 100 goals like that. He’s got that shot that finds its way in. Listen, Spencer has been great for us. He was probably a little bit like the rest of the players today; they weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard.”

But why weren’t they ready?

“Believe me, as coaches here, we’re wondering the same thing,” Boudreau said. “They competed so hard on the road and then tonight, just a bigger, stronger team came in and just sort of bullied us around.”

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