The Vancouver Canucks opened up the preseason with two simultaneous games on Sunday evening, as the squad was split between two cities to take on the Calgary Flames.
This is typical for the preseason but what was less typical is that both games were available to watch — one televised on Sportsnet with the Canucks’ play-by-play crew and the other streamed online with the Flames’ crew. Because it is my goal each season to watch and cover every single game the Canucks play, I watched both of them, dividing my attention between both games.
Was this a good idea? Oh, definitely not.
It turns out that even though I have two eyes, they’re only able to focus on one thing at a time and even my excellent peripheral vision was inadequate to the task. Like the squad, my attention was split, as I bounced my eyes from game to game.
But I did it. Through perseverance, frequent rewinding, and the understanding that this is only the preseason, so chill out, I watched these games.
Flames at Canucks in Vancouver
- The more talented of the two Canucks lineups played at home, including the line of Elias Pettersson with his two Russian wingers, Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev, and Bo Horvat with his one Russian winger, Vasily Podkolzin, along with Conor Garland. Call them The A-Squad, because “The A-Team” is trademarked and I pity the fool who violates trademark law.
- Those lines didn’t last long, however, as Mikheyev left the game in early in the second period after a hard check by Nicolas Meloche that sent him crashing hard to the ice. Considering it’s just preseason, his absence for the rest of the game could just be precautionary, but Mikheyev has missed quite a bit of time to injury in his career.
- The early returns on Kuzmenko were like licorice allsorts: a mixed bag. Here are the positives: he looked fantastic on the power play, had three shots on goal, and even drew the game’s first penalty with his excellent puck protection. He and Pettersson were connecting in the offensive zone and his shot looks like a true threat, snapping off his stick with similar devastating power to Thanos snapping his fingers.
- The downside is that when Kuzmenko was on the ice at 5-on-5, shot attempts were 16-to-9 for the Flames and shots on goal were 10-to-5. And Kuzmenko whiffed on his best chance to score — a power play set up at the back door from Pettersson. Considering Pettersson puts mustard on his passes like John Garrett puts ketchup on everything, Kuzmenko might have been better served presenting his backhand to deflect the puck in instead of going for the one-timer.
- This is likely just learning-curve type of stuff for Kuzmenko and it is just the first preseason game. I’m not too concerned about Kuzmenko getting out-shot that badly when he was on the ice — I’m expecting some time to adapt to the pace of the NHL — but it is something to keep an eye on for the future.
- Before leaving the game, Mikheyev was victimized for the opening goal. He lost a battle in the neutral zone with Mitch McLain, then assumed he had defensive help behind him and didn’t take McLain as he drove to the Canucks’ net. But with the Canucks taking an ill-timed change, McLain was able to slide into the slot like it was a strangely weight-bearing air duct and flick the puck like a Zippo lighter past Spencer Martin on the backhand.
- Jack Rathbone was paired with Luke Schenn, as he was at training camp, and the two showed some good communication and passing on the breakout. Rathbone led the Canucks with 25:45 in ice time, buoyed by 8 minutes on the power play and 5 minutes on the penalty kill — there were A LOT of penalties in this game. Rathbone had nine shot attempts, with three of them hitting the net, and he blocked three shots himself.
- Unfortunately, Rathbone and Schenn got stuck on the ice for a long shift in the second period and the Flames made it 2-0. Martin got caught sliding past his post and as he scrambled back into the net, Ben Jones banked the puck in off his pad.
- Martin was otherwise quite good, with 23 saves on 25 shots before a planned goaltending change to Arturs Silovs for the third period. Silovs was even better, stopping all 14 shots he faced in the third, then making five more saves in overtime before finally getting beaten on a power play one-timer. He finished with 19 saves on 20 shots.
- With Silovs holding the fort, the Canucks mounted a comeback that started with a fantastic Vasily Podkolzin goal. Garland hit Myers with a cross-ice pass and the lanky defenceman swooped into the offensive zone, then dropped the puck to Podkolzin. With the defenceman occupied with Myers, Podkolzin was able to dart around his man and drive to the net unimpeded for the backhand-forehand finish to the five-hole.
- Podkolzin had a great game. His line with Bo Horvat and Conor Garland was the Canucks’ best line and Podkolzin was particularly good, playing a hard, physical game and also creating chance after chance. He had a team-high five hits and seven shot attempts, five of them classified as high-danger chances by Natural Stat Trick.
- With Silovs pulled for the extra attacker, Pettersson pulled off a superb pass to Garland at the backdoor — his first shot was robbed, but he fired the rebound home on one knee to tie the game. Kuzmenko picked up the secondary assist on the goal for his first NHL (preseason) point.
- Unfortunately, overtime went poorly. The whistle-happy referees called a phantom penalty on Podkolzin when Nick Desimone fell down near him and the Flames capitalized on the 4-on-3 power play — Horvat was a touch too high in the triangle and couldn’t take away the cross-seam pass, giving Silovs no chance to stop the one-timer.
- I thought Phil Di Giuseppe had a strong game, with some good work on the penalty kill and some strong two-way play at even-strength. Shot attempts were 5-to-1 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 — the best ratio on the Canucks — and he drew a penalty to boot. Like a guy who just bought a PS5, Di Giuseppe should get some games this year.
- Danny DeKeyser has struggled in recent seasons with the Detroit Red Wings but he didn’t look like someone who had lost a step tonight. He was skating well on a pairing with Tyler Myers and looked good on the penalty kill. We’ll see how he does as the pace picks up as the preseason progresses, but it was a good start to his PTO.
Canucks at Flames in Calgary
- The Canucks sent more of an AHL lineup to Calgary and faced a much stronger Flames squad that iced a lot of their top players. The presumed NHL forwards in the lineup for the Canucks were the fourth line of Dakota Joshua, Jason Dickinson, and Curtis Lazar, along with Nils Höglander, while the only real NHL defencemen were Travis Dermott and Kyle Burroughs. The end result was somewhat predictable.
- Honestly, the line of Joshua, Dickinson, and Lazar wasn’t too bad. They held their own in tough minutes and even out-shot the Flames’ top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, and Tyler Toffoli when they were on the ice together. Dickinson still handles the puck like it’s covered in razor blades, but he can be effective in a defensive role.
- The line that looked the best — relatively speaking for a game the Canucks lost 4-0 — was that of Nils Höglander, Nils Åman, and Linus "Not Nils" Karlsson. I particularly liked this play by Höglander off a turnover: he cuts across the path of Karlsson and takes the stick away from the defender with a quick stick lift, then opens up for a one-timer, giving Karlsson room to take the shot but also a passing option. Like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it was a smart play.
- Höglander might get some flak for his two penalties, however, one of which took the Canucks off the power play. Shortly after, Danila Klimovich took a penalty too, giving the Flames a 5-on-3 power play, where Huberdeau opened the scoring. His backdoor pass was blocked by Brady Keeper but the puck came right back to him with an open net to make it 1-0.
- Klimovich then gave the puck away for the 2-0 goal, skating right into Mikael Backlund on the breakout. In the chaos that ensued, Cody Eakin, who is on a PTO for the Flames, poked the puck past Collin Delia. In Klimovich’s defence, it looked like he was tripped, but he shouldn’t have been trying to deke past Backlund inside his own blue line in the first place.
- The Flames added another power play goal when Blake Coleman stepped into a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Joshua, who hasn’t killed penalties at the NHL level, was caught way too deep in the zone and gave Coleman too much space, but that’s also a shot that Delia probably should have stopped.
- Despite the three goals, Delia was decent in the Canucks’ net, stopping 21 of 24 shots before Michael DiPietro stepped in for the third period. He’ll have to be better if he’s looking to battle Martin for the backup job behind Thatcher Demko, but his real battle is with DiPietro and Silovs in Abbotsford. That will be a battle to watch, as Delia has a lot of the same assets as Martin when he joined the Canucks and started getting coaching from Ian Clark.
- Arshdeep Bains wasn’t as noticeable on Sunday as he was at the Young Stars, but he did get one of the Canucks’ best chances, anticipating a pass from Colton Poolman and racing away for a breakaway, only to lose the handle on his backhand move.
- Klimovich also had a glorious chance to get the Canucks on the board on a great pass by Tristen Nielsen, but he sent the shot into the middle of the net, where he was robbed by Dan Vladar. Scoring goals in hockey is a lot like drawing the human figure — you have to see the negative space where the body isn’t.
- Nielsen led the Canucks with four shots on goal, continuing the scrappy play he showed at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton. Look for him to play a much bigger role in Abbotsford this season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a call-up for a couple of games in Vancouver too.
- The Flames made it 4-0 on the power play with just 13 seconds left in the game. Brett Sutter jammed the puck past DiPietro on multiple attempts in the crease while Noah Juulsen failed to tie up his stick.
- The first cuts are likely coming on Monday. A good chunk of the players from this game could be among those cuts.