Canucks match Kings’ pressure but can’t capitalize on limited scoring chances

LOS ANGELES — The Vancouver Canucks finally met pressure with pressure, as their coach had been pleading. They just didn’t generate enough scoring chances from it.

In a classic Los Angeles Kings‘ game, the home team ground out a 3-0 victory Monday, scoring a greasy first goal, an opportunistic second, and an empty-netter third while holding the Canucks to just 20 shots on goalie Joonas Korpisalo.

But the Kings were playing for National Hockey League playoff positioning, moving back ahead of the Seattle Kraken for third place in the Pacific Division, while the Canucks are playing for next season. So the combativeness Vancouver displayed was heartening for head coach Rick Tocchet, who felt his team had yielded too easily in some recent games when pushed by hungrier opponents.

“You like to see that fight, especially for our team not making the playoffs,” Tocchet told reporters post-game. “So it’s good to see some individuals really not giving up.”

Earlier, Tocchet said: “I thought, you know, hard fought for most of the game. Millsy and Driesy dragging guys in (to the fight). I don’t think we gave (the Kings) a lot till the end. This is what L.A.’s good at: they’re comfortable playing 0-0 or 1-0. That’s one of their fortes. We have to get to that level. We can’t get antsy. I didn’t like the second goal. A bad change and we got a little bit flustered. That goal killed us. We were okay until that goal.”

After Canucks Sheldon Dries and J.T. Miller engaged the Kings in second-period fights, Vancouver trailed only 1-0 early in the third period when a line change and turnover by Tyler Myers on a bouncing puck gave Los Angeles an outnumbered rush that ended with Vladislav Gavrikov scoring as the trailer to the double the lead at 4:03.

The tight-checking game was scoreless until 15:13 of the second period when a broken play left the puck in front of the Canucks net. Arthur Kaliyev had his first shot hit defenceman Cole McWard, but the puck bounced straight back to the King who whacked it unseen through the pads of Vancouver goalie Collin Delia.

The Canucks, who slipped one position to 25th in the overall standings after the Washington Capitals beat the New York Islanders 5-2, visit the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday before ending their season Thursday in Arizona.

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NOT SO YOUNG SHELDON

Sheldon Dries is sneaky tough. The five-foot-nine forward finally became an NHL regular for the Canucks this season at age 28. His ability to provide speed and energy as a depth centre –— and the early arrival in the league of Swedish rookie Nils Aman –—made free-agent acquisition Curtis Lazar expendable at the trade deadline.

But a decade ago, Dries had 20 fights in two seasons in the United States Hockey League, then went four years without fighting at Western Michigan University. On Monday, he had an old-school scrap with Sean Durzi after the Kings defenceman challenged him for pancaking Blake Lizotte with an open-ice hit in the second period.

Dries got his helmet knocked off, but came back at Durzi as each landed a couple of punches in front of an enthusiastic Canucks bench.

“Anytime you can stand up and fight for your team, I think you take that chance, right?” Dries said. “It didn’t work out, but it gave the boys some energy and that’s what I wanted.

“I don’t know what it was back in junior (in the USHL). We had a tough team and maybe I was a little more dumb, too, and didn’t care as much about my face and head. But it’s still part of the game. You still want to stick up for yourself and your teammates.”

When Tocchet talks about playing for jobs down the stretch, Dries is one of the Canucks who absolutely must compete. He hasn’t played as well under Tocchet as he did under Bruce Boudreau, and Dries’ play-driving statistics have largely cratered since the coaching change in January.

“I don’t think that coaching change has anything to do with it,” Dries said. “It’s me, it’s between my ears. I’ve got to be mentally stronger and do my job better. There are guys fighting for jobs and these last two games here are huge.”

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CALIFORNIA KEEPER

When the Canucks beat the Ducks 2-1 in Anaheim on March 19, Delia came within seven minutes of becoming the first goalie from California to register an NHL shutout in his home state. On Monday, the 28-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga didn’t allow a goal for 35 minutes and was beaten just twice on 27 shots.

Only three Californians have played goal in the NHL, and two of them are on the Canucks. San Diegan Thatcher Demko plays Tuesday in Anaheim.

“Yeah, they’re fun to play,” Delia said Monday. “I mean, anytime you get to go home — I went back to my pop’s house yesterday just to hang out — it was great to see some family members and whatnot.

“I want to play as much as possible. I want to be the guy that helps pick up those wins, convert those games into wins. I was looking at the standings and it really seems like the difference between (us) being in the playoffs or not is maybe five or six wins. So, those are crucial games for backups to win, as well.”

PRESSURE TO PERFORM

While the Canucks’ focus looked inconsistent over several games before Monday, the coaching continues to be intense daily.

At the start of the Canucks’ morning skate, Tocchet spent four or five minutes in a one-on-one conversation with Anthony Beauvillier, whose impact has ebbed the last month after the winger had a terrific start in Vancouver following his Jan. 31 trade from the New York Islanders.

“We were just touching base,” Beauvillier said. “A little bit of (talk about) playing more with instincts and being a little bit more confident with the puck.

“I take a lot of pride in my game and the way I want to play. I know I can be a big piece of this team, so I do have to be better. We both agree on that.”

Beauvillier had six goals and 11 points in his first 11 games when he played mostly with Elias Pettersson on the top line and replaced former captain Bo Horvat as the bumper on the first-unit power play. But playing largely down the lineup since his hot start, Beauvillier has three goals in the last 20 games, and his five-on-five shot share of 42.7 per cent is among the lowest on the Canucks.

“The basics of the game is the same,” Beavillier said, dismissing deployment as an issue. “It’s just the simple things like winning the battles, managing the puck and being good with the puck. I think it’s just really simple but at the same time it can get in your head.”

MORE POISE

Another day, another voluntary compliment from Tocchet about defenceman Akito Hirose, the 24-year-old who played his fifth NHL game after signing with the Canucks as a free agent out of Minnesota State University. In telling reporters about the team’s recent troubles dealing with opposition pressure, Tocchet lauded Hirose for his ability to relieve it.

“I just live my life,” Hirose said when asked about the sudden focus on him. “I can’t really do anything else but be myself.”

The defenceman seems as calm and chill off the ice as he is when he’s playing. His heartbeat may never get above 60.

“That’s just how it is,” Hirose said of his dead calm. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It seems like every level I go to, it seems like it’s a pretty common theme.”

It’s a nice theme to have.