VANCOUVER – A feeble power play has sucked the life out of the Vancouver Canucks at times this season.
Another night of missed chances left the door open for the Nashville Predators to capitalize on a man advantage of their own.
Nick Spaling scored the winner on the power play midway through the third period Thursday as the Predators defeated the Canucks 2-1.
Vancouver’s 25th-ranked power play finished 0 for 5, including a four-minute man advantage in the first period that could have significantly altered the game’s complexion. Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis had a tough game, missing chance after chance from the side of the Nashville net on that sequence.
“We had some great looks on the power play early on. We had probably four backdoor opportunities that we didn’t finish on,” said Canucks assistant coach Mike Sullivan. “I thought our power play did everything tonight except put it in the net.”
Despite Sullivan’s positive take, Vancouver is now just 2 for 30 with the man advantage over its last eight games.
“We had good chances, good looks. I thought we moved the puck well,” said Daniel Sedin, who has now gone 11 games without scoring. “In the end it doesn’t really matter right now. We’ve got to get some goals.
“It’s up to us in here to make it happen. No excuses.”
Craig Smith had the other goal for Nashville (23-22-7), while Carter Hutton made 32 saves as the Predators picked up their fourth victory in the last five outings. Spaling also had an assist.
“We got some good goaltending, Carter was really good on those backdoor plays,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team improved to 1-21-2 when trailing after two periods. “They were executing that pretty well. We were having trouble trying to stop that and he got over there a couple times.
“It was a good character test. That was huge for us to get through the first period.”
Chris Higgins had the only goal for Vancouver (26-17-9), which got 24 stops from Roberto Luongo.
The Canucks, who still hold down the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, saw their modest two-game winning streak come to an end.
Down 1-0 after two periods, Nashville tied it at 3:28 of the third when Smith ripped a shot upstairs past Luongo from the faceoff dot off a feed from Spaling for his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
“Going into the third when you’ve got a lead the least you can do is bring it to overtime. It’s disappointing,” said Luongo. “I need to make a better play on the first one, be more patient on the wrap and read that play a bit better.”
The Predators kept pushing as the period wore on, with their sixth-ranked power play getting a couple of chances. The Canucks penalty kill—which sits second in the NHL this season—held firm until Seth Jones connected with Spaling at 12:38.
Jones fired a shot from the point that Spaling tipped past Luongo with just three seconds left on the Nashville man advantage to give the Predators their first lead.
Vancouver had another power-play chance late, but couldn’t find a way past Hutton.
“The NHL is about a lot of low scoring games,” said Luongo. “We’ve got to find ways to win them. We’ve got to find ways to bring these games to overtime. We’ve got to find ways to protect leads. When we get scored on we’ve got to keep playing.
“It’s a tough one to lose going into the third with the lead.”
After a scoreless first period, Higgins broke the deadlock at 9:09 of the second with his 13th of the season on a nifty deflection. Canucks forward Dale Weise floated a shot towards the Nashville net that Higgins tipped up and over a helpless Hutton for his first goal in seven games.
All 13 of Higgins’ goals have come at even strength and Thursday’s effort was just Vancouver’s sixth overall in the last six contests.
The Canucks’ power play continued to miss the mark in the second, with defenceman Jason Garrison blasting a shot from the point midway though the period that Hutton handled.
“I thought this particular game, the power play had better puck movement and even though we didn’t score we got some momentum off of it because at least they had some looks and they had some opportunities, which for me is progress in the right direction,” said Sullivan. “The next step is we have to finish. We have to put it in the net.”
The Canucks were again without head coach John Tortorella, who served the second game of his 15-day suspension for attempting to get into the Calgary Flames’ locker-room after Saturday’s line brawl.
Vancouver was also missing captain Henrik Sedin and fellow forward Mike Santorelli. Thought to be nursing rib and finger injuries, Sedin saw his iron man streak of 679 straight games come to an end when he sat out Tuesday’s 2-1 road victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Santorelli, meanwhile, missed his third in a row, also with an upper-body injury.
Despite their recent run of good form, the Predators still sit eight points back of the final wild card spot in the conference behind the Canucks and Minnesota Wild.
“This team has been really resilient all year,” said Trotz. “It’s been a little bit of an uphill battle all year. This team has got a lot of backbone, a lot of character and this group cares about each other so when things are a little bit rough they dig in and that’s a great quality to have.”
Notes: Michael Del Zotto, acquired from the New York Rangers on Wednesday for fellow defenceman Kevin Klein, wore No. 18 for Nashville and played alongside Jones. … Canucks defenceman Ryan Stanton returned to the lineup after missing the last 15 games with an ankle injury. Earlier in the day, the Canucks assigned forward Jordan Schroeder to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint. He’s been out since October following ankle surgery. … The Canucks downed the Predators 3-1 in Nashville on Dec. 1. The teams play the final game of the regular season series March 19 at Rogers Arena. … The Canucks play the second game of a four-game homestand on Sunday against the Phoenix Coyotes. … The Predators continue a four-game road trip on Friday against the Calgary Flames.
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