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I Watched This Game: Bananas, Pepsi, and Silovs' first NHL win as Canucks top Flyers

Elias Pettersson led the way for the Canucks with a five-point night.
The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-2 thanks to a five-point night from Elias Pettersson.

You have to feel good for Arturs Silovs.

Just two years ago, Silovs barely played any games at all. Between a handful of games in the top Latvian league, two international games for Latvia at the Deutschland Cup, and one start with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, Silovs played just nine games in the 2020-21 season — less than ideal for a 19-year-old goaltender’s development.

That he just earned his first NHL win two years later at the age of 21 is a testament to the work he’s put in to translate his game to higher levels. When he was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2019, Silovs was seen as a project, with all sorts of raw talent but also major flaws in his technique that would make it hard for him to translate that talent into stopping pucks in the NHL. 

On Saturday night, on Hockey Night in Canada, Silovs stopped 35 pucks in the NHL.

Sure, it was against the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league but they’re still an NHL team with legitimate NHL stars. Silovs bounced back after giving up five goals to the New York Rangers in his first NHL start earlier this week and put together one of the best performances by a Canucks goaltender all season. 

That’s not even hyperbole. Silovs’ .946 save percentage against the Flyers was the fourth-best this season from a Canucks goaltender in a single game. 

At the very least, Silovs gave the Canucks some assurance that he and Collin Delia can hold the fort for the Canucks if Thatcher Demko doesn’t return this season. Even if Demko does return, at least the Canucks know that Silovs can hold his own in an NHL net if they have to call on him. Silovs still has a lot to work on — he has a tendency to knock down pucks with his glove rather than catch them, for instance — but getting his first NHL win is a nice feather in his cap, especially since the Canucks have won so few games this season. 

Getting Silovs his second start in short order after a difficult debut was the right choice, giving him a chance to settle into the rhythms of an NHL game as well as a more positive experience to take with him back to the AHL if and when he gets sent back down.

“Playing two games in the NHL in a row, it helps a lot too,” said Silovs. “First game, for sure, it was a tough one. But the second one was a way to bounce back.”

The Canucks have to hope this is a sign of things to come for Silovs. After all, he’s their top goaltending prospect now.

The future looked a little brighter when I watched this game.

  • The win was an unwelcome one for Team Tank but all is not lost. The Arizona Coyotes pushed their game against the Los Angeles Kings to overtime after falling behind 5-1, so the Canucks only moved one point ahead of the Coyotes in the standings. Also, the New York Islanders lost, meaning they’re still out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference by points percentage — good news for their first-round pick owned by the Canucks.
  • Elias Pettersson had a five-point game, though it was five points with an asterisk considering his two goals were both into an empty net. Still, it was a dominant performance for the Canucks’ franchise forward, followed by a great interview on After Hours with Scott Oake and John Garrett. Pettersson was clearly the Canucks’ best player in this game.
  • It’s monumentally depressing that Pettersson is having the best season of his career — on-pace for 40 goals and 105 points — while simultaneously the Canucks as a team are enroute to their worst season of his career. It turns out there’s more to building a team than drafting a couple of good players. Who knew?
  • Meanwhile, Luke Schenn had a three-assist game and was on the ice for five Canucks goals. His game was, like Harrison Ford being a quarter Jewish, not too shabby, especially with the Canucks currently gauging trade interest around the league for the veteran defenceman. With 21 points in 55 games this season, the Canucks can upgrade their pitch to other teams from “stay-at-home defenceman” to “two-way defenceman” and raise the asking price accordingly.
  • Pettersson and Schenn picked up the assists on the Canucks’ opening goal. In transition, Pettersson drifted into shooting position as Andrei Kuzmenko carried the puck in, then fed Pettersson for a bomb of a one-timer. Like Vasili Arkhipov, Carter Hart stopped the bomb but Pettersson retrieved the rebound and set up Schenn for a point shot that Anthony Beauvillier neatly tipped over Hart’s glove.
  • The Flyers snuck one past Silovs to tie the game shortly after. After cutting off a J.T. Miller breakout pass, the Flyers counter-attacked and a harmless-looking shot from the sideboards by Justin Braun was tipped by Scott Laughton and went under Silovs’ arm like it was unfreezing him in freeze tag.
  • It wasn’t a terrible game for Miller overall and he and his linemates did a solid job shutting down the Flyers’ top line, but he did have some puck management issues in his own end all night. The most egregious moment came with just 15 seconds left in the first period, as Miller tried to cut up the middle from below his own goal line and instead handed the puck directly to the Flyers’ leading scorer, Travis Konecny, who rang the underside of the crossbar.
  • Pettersson and Schenn combined again to set up the Canucks’ second goal. Pettersson protected the puck with some nifty dangles along the left boards, then spotted Schenn sneaking up the right side and hit him with the cross-ice pass. Not to be outdone, Schenn followed that up with some slick playmaking of his own, surprising everyone — probably even himself — with a backdoor feed to Kuzmenko for the tap-in goal.
  • Not long after the goal, Kuzmenko was spotted on the bench indulging in a quick snack: a banana, washed down by a sip from a Biosteel cup, only it wasn’t a sports drink in the cup. Pettersson asked him if it was coffee, and he replied, “No, no — Pepsi. Pepsi, brother,” said Pettersson in a great approximation of Kuzmenko’s Russian accent on After Hours.
  • “The game is hard. You sweat a lot. So you need some sugar in your body,” said Kuzmenko about his snack break, with some interpreting from the multi-lingual Silovs. The potassium, magnesium, and calcium in bananas can also help prevent muscle cramps, while Kuzmenko’s fellow Russian, Alex Ovechkin, also drinks Pepsi during games to help keep his energy up.  
  • Kuzmenko’s minutes are back up after a few games of getting benched by Rick Tocchet. Kuzmenko was fourth among Canucks forwards with 18:58 in ice time and was actually second in 5-on-5 ice time. That’s a good indication of his adaptability under a new head coach with a new system.
  • “I think Kuzy — Sergei’s been working with him and we’ve been working with him and he’s chipping away at his game,” said Tocchet. “He wants to learn, that’s what I like about him. He’s not pouting or nothing and he’s getting rewarded…His game management, coming back in his own end — he’s learning the system. He’s just more conscientious without the puck. Every day, he’s with Sergei — he’s actually seeking out Sergei now. I love guys like that: self-starters. You don’t have to find him, he’s finding Sergei. That’s the players I like on the team.”
  • Beauvillier has settled in nicely as Horvat’s replacement on the top power play unit, scoring his third power play goal in seven games with the Canucks to make it 3-1. It came off an incredibly impressive tip, as he somehow managed to get his stick on a one-timer blast by Pettersson from the point, neatly deflecting it off the post and in. It’s the best tip I’ve seen since “wear sunscreen.”
  • The assist on Beauvillier’s goal was the 69th point of the season for Pettersson, setting a new career high. There are still 26 games left in the season.
  • The Flyers had the worst power play in the NHL coming into this game but the Canucks have a historically-bad penalty kill. It took just 12 seconds for the Flyers to score on their first power play of the game, as Silovs couldn’t cover up a rebound and no one could tie up the Flyers in front, who got multiple chances to bang away at the puck until Morgan Frost finally poked it in to make it 3-2. 
  • Silovs may have allowed the power play goal but he came up big on a breakaway to prevent a shorthanded one less than a minute later. Like the Captain and Cool Hand Luke, what Pettersson and Quinn Hughes had here was failure to communicate, as each thought the other was going back for the puck. Instead, Konecny burst past them both only for Silovs to get the blocker on his backhand chance.
  • Phil di Giuseppe has quickly found his way into Tocchet’s good books, earning himself a promotion to J.T. Miller’s line with Brock Boeser, and the Pizza Man got appropriately greasy for a goal in the third period. Boeser stole a breakout pass and fired a hot shot off Hart’s shoulder that Hart thought he covered up, but Di Giuseppe crashed the crease and slid the puck in like it was on a peel.  
  • A late penalty by Di Giuseppe helped Pettersson reach five points. The Flyers pulled Hart to go 6-on-4 in hopes of a late comeback but instead Pettersson scored two shorthanded goals into the empty net. The second goal, which made it 6-2, led to childish outbursts from both Tony DeAngelo, who slammed his stick on the Flyers’ net multiple times, and Konecny, who gave Pettersson a cheap shot after the puck was already in. They’re a reflection of their coach.