There was a palpable sense of relief for two members of the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.
For Brock Boeser, that relief came right in the middle of the game. Ten minutes into the second period, Boeser set up on top of the crease on the power play, stepping back away from defenceman Mikey Anderson so he had a little room. When J.T. Miller fired a hard pass, Boeser was ready to deflect it into the open net for his first goal of the season.
Boeser celebrated with a wide, uncontrollable smile as Miller attacked him with an aggressive hug and he was quickly embraced by the rest of his teammates on the ice.
The opportunities have been coming for Boeser, as he hit posts and was robbed repeatedly on the Canucks’ road trip but it’s hard to take comfort in chances when you just want to put the puck in the net.
“Being a goalscorer, that kind of rides your mind a little bit,” said Boeser before the game. “I want to get that goose egg out of there. It takes hard work to get out of it, so I’ve been trying to do that in practice and morning skates.”
The hard work paid off, as he cracked the egg in the second period, then quickly added a little bit of paprika with his second goal of the season in the third period. It’s amazing how goals can come in bunches.
“That’s what I get paid to do,” said Boeser. “I’ve got to continue to find ways to put the puck in the back of the net and that comes with hard work.”
The other player who felt a clear sense of relief was Thatcher Demko, who made 36 saves on 37 shots for a vintage Demko performance. When asked if that was the best he had felt after a game, Demko smiled.
“After a game? Yeah. Emotionally, for sure,” he said.
Demko had a couple early bounces go his way and it was like you could see him relax and settle into the game. It also helped that the Canucks cut down on the number of cross-seam passes and gave him a fighting chance to stop every shot.
“They tried some stuff through the middle and our D-zone coverage, I thought as a whole, was excellent,” said Demko. “Just guys having their head on a swivel, sticks on the ice — it sounds silly and mundane, but it makes a big difference.”
Whenever a pass did get through, however, Demko was able to make the save.
“Thatcher came up huge for us tonight,” said Boeser. “He looked like his old self there. I think we’re going to see a lot of that coming up.”
The two players clearly needed a game like that but it wasn’t just Boeser and Demko — you could tell the team as a whole fed off how they were playing and were thrilled for their teammates.
“You could see the smile on Brock’s face on the first one,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I’m very happy for both of them. Demmer’s taken a lot of heat this year but he was the one that made the difference in the game and that’s great.”
Personally, I had a palpable sense of relief when I realized I wouldn’t have to write about yet another loss after I watched this game.
- Before the game, Curtis Lazar talked about wanting to “drag some guys into the fight.” He may not have shown up on the scoreboard but he absolutely accomplished what he set out to do, sparking energy with a game-high seven hits. He was like DJ Khaled, with hit after hit after hit. Every time he stepped on the ice, there was another one.
- “I honestly think I hit more bodies than I did the puck out there,” said Lazar. “It’s a month of preparation, you have it circled to get back in — I just wanted to go out there and make my presence felt…
“It takes a lot out of you, energy-wise. When you’re trying to rehab-skate, you’re not really playing physical, so you’ve got to pick your spots, but I was able to push the limits in my rehab and came back in pretty good shape where I could keep on throwing the body around. You get the crowd into it and you get the guys engaged.”
- “His energy of finishing checks and his professionalism of knowing where to go, I really think he helps the two young kids on the line he's with,” said Boudreau of Lazar. “He's sort of a veteran that is guiding them and it makes it a pretty good fourth line right now.”
- The Canucks played a low-event first period, limiting the Kings to just four shots on goal. But the most dangerous of those shots came on a disastrously bad turnover by Riley Stillman. With four seconds left, Stillman could have just rimmed the puck around the glass or just ate the puck against the boards to kill off the remaining time — instead, he threw it up the middle where it was picked off by Kevin Fiala, who just happens to be the Kings leading scorer. Take a seat, Stillman. Take several seats. Actually, like ECW’s Public Enemy, take all the seats.
- Fortunately for Stillman, as he gave the puck away he simultaneously knocked Adrian Kempe’s stick out of his hand and it went flying into the slot, where it stick-checked Fiala by proxy — the longest pokecheck of Stillman’s career. That gave Demko enough time to get set and bail out his defenceman with a blocker save.
- Elias Pettersson opened the scoring in the second period with a little bit of accidental help from Trevor Moore. The Kings winger checked Pettersson’s stick as he shot, cutting off his follow through. That meant instead of the puck firing top shelf glove side, where Quick was expecting it and ready to make the save, the puck zipped through Quick’s five-hole. Quick stared daggers at Moore like Luigi in Mario Kart 8 after the goal.
- Lazar impacted the game beyond hits, drawing the penalty that led to Boeser’s 2-0 goal. He threw a hit on Sean Walker, who retaliated with a stick to Lazar’s chops. “I kind of left my feet on that hit on Walker, I felt a little bad for it,” said Lazar. “But, I mean, I got under his skin and he gives me one. It’s a big goal for us, a big goal for Brock.”
- The goal came on the second of two seemingly-identical plays. Both times, Miller came down the left side to the top of the faceoff circle after a pass from Quinn Hughes — the first time, he fired a shot high and wide, so the Kings expected the same thing again, but Miller subverted their expectations like The Last Jedi and sent a pass to Boeser instead.
- “A lot of people can score that goal — it wasn’t too hard,” said Boeser, self-effacingly.
- The Kings got a goal of their own a few minutes later, with Blake Lizotte tipping in a Walker shot. It was a fantastic deflection by Lizotte — for Demko, it was like when Chancelor Johnathan Bennett was a kid: little chance.
- The Canucks responded with a dominant shift from the fourth line, with Lazar again having an impact. In a battle with Lazar down low, Alex Edler broke his stick — I know, that never, ever, ever happened when he was a Canuck.
- Rasmus Kupari gave Edler his stick but that left the forward unable to defend and the Canucks took full advantage. Pettersson came on for Lazar with the puck still in the offensive zone and snuck behind the stickless Kupari, where Andrei Kuzmenko found him with a lovely cross-seam pass to give him a wide open net.
- “I know, if I get open, he’ll get me the puck and vice versa,” said Pettersson of Kuzmenko’s pass. “I’m glad he found me — it’s one of the easier goals I’ve scored.”
- Demko was fantastic but he got a little help from a couple of posts and a couple of quick whistles from the officiating crew that had Kings captain Drew Doughty throwing a temper tantrum like his brother stole the good Playstation controller. Did Doughty have a point? Well, yeah, the puck came loose in the crease both times, but that doesn’t change how ridiculous Doughty looked.
- Demko, on the other hand, had a different opinion on the speed of the officials’ whistles: “I thought they were perfect.”
- The Canucks have given up a lot of multi-goal leads this season but, with Demko dialed in, they never seemed in danger in this game, particularly after Boeser extended the lead to 4-1. Sheldon Dries did most of the work, jumping up in the rush and fling a hard shot off Quick’s shoulder, but Boeser deserves credit both for his hustle and his hand-eye coordination to knock the puck in out of mid-air — as opposed to low-air and high-air.
- Fun fact: though it’s not listed as a shot type among the statistics on the NHL website, the NHL play-by-play sheet has a special shot type designated for that kind of goal: “Bat.”
- “I've actually been working on tipping pucks a lot after practice, so it paid off a bit,” said Boeser. “I was just happy I made contact.”
- The Canucks defence seemed to be activating in the offensive zone and pinching down the boards a lot more than we’ve seen from them this season, resulting in the team keeping the puck in the offensive zone with more consistency and creating some coverage issues for the Kings. Hughes said it wasn’t a change of strategy but a response to how others on the ice were playing.
- “No, I think the forwards did a really good job of reloading and tracking,” said Hughes. “It was probably one of their best games. So, for the D then, we can trust them and we’re available to move around a bit more…We can pinch and we can trust that they’re going to cover us and that’s pretty much what happened.”
- “We want them to do that as long as there's backup,” said Boudreau of the more aggressive defence. “If the forward is backing them up, then we want to do it because if you don't have that and you just go aimlessly, then you're gonna see a lot of two-on-ones against you.”
- Boeser, Pettersson, and Kuzmenko all had two-point nights, but so did Quinn Hughes, whose two assists brought him up to 16 points in 14 games. That’s good for fourth among NHL defencemen in points per game but Hughes believes he has a lot more to give.
- “I’m trying,” said Hughes. “I think my game has been good but not where it was towards the end of last year and I’m workin towards that. Today was one of my better games. You know, I’ll get there. It was only my 14th game this season — it’s 64 more to go.
“I’m on the yellow brick road and I’ll get there.”