The Vancouver Canucks have the best home record in the NHL.
After closing out a close game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks moved to 8-1-1 at home on the season, a points percentage of .850, just ahead of the 7-1-1 Boston Bruins and 8-2-0 Colorado Avalanche.
After the game, Thatcher Demko suggested that the fans were the key to the team’s home-ice advantage.
“I just like these guys out here,” said Demko, looking around the arena. “It’s good energy. They deserve some of this for sticking with us over the last few years.”
That may just be playing to the crowd, but Demko is not wrong that the loyal fans who stuck with the team during an era where they missed the playoffs in seven of eight seasons deserve to see a little success. Those were some tough years for Canucks fans, who might have seen the rise of homegrown stars like Demko, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes, but never got to see them in the postseason, with their only playoff experience coming in the fan-less COVID bubble.
There’s another element beyond rewarding the loyal, long-suffering fans. The Canucks’ strong start to the season and ability to put together winning performances on home ice could bring back some fans that had given up on the team or win them new fans who might not have given the Canucks a chance when they were repeatedly missing the playoffs.
It’s pretty understandable that some fans might have checked out of the Canucks in recent years, preferring to devote their time to something that causes less emotional stress, like working a retail job during the holidays.
Some might call such people bandwagon jumpers or suggest that they’re not real fans because they didn’t stick with the team through thick and thin. But there’s something to be said for only giving the team your time, energy, and money when they deserve it. Bandwagon fans might be the smartest fans of all.
The risk, too, with so many futile seasons is that the Canucks might lose the next generation of fans — kids who had no chance to fall in love with the team during a long winning streak or a playoff run.
This season, those young fans have a reason to be excited: the Canucks are second in the Western Conference! Brock Boeser leads the NHL in goalscoring! Quinn Hughes leads all defencemen in scoring! Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Elias Pettersson are top ten in the league in points!
It’s finally a good time to be a Canucks fan.
Like a growing number of fans across the province, I watched this game.
- The big story of the game is that Brock Boeser, a year after he was going to be a healthy scratch on Hockey Fights Cancer night, is now leading the league in goalscoring after a two-goal game on this year’s Hockey Fights Cancer night. The night is deeply personal to Boeser, whose father had two bouts with lung cancer before his passing last year.
- “Everyone in this room and everyone out in the world knows someone that’s dealing with cancer or has lost someone to cancer,” said Boeser after the morning skate. “It’s obviously something that hits home for me. It’s an important night.”
- The biggest beneficiary of the Anthony Beauvillier trade, at least for one night, was Phil Di Giuseppe, who was set to be a healthy scratch for this game. Instead, he got back in the lineup and was back on a line with Boeser and J.T. Miller. We’ll see how long that lasts — Nils Höglander was bumped up to that line in his place in the third period.
- “It’s hard to get into the emotions of that,” said Boeser about the trade. “You feel for Beauvi, he’s worked so hard with us. He’s a teammate and you hate to see guys go, especially in that scenario…He’s a great guy and a great player, so I wish him the best of luck.”
- Things got a little weird right away when Quinn Hughes was run into the Canucks’ net by Mason McTavish in the opening minute, knocking it off its moorings. That’s not the weird part — that kind of thing happens all the time. What was weird is that the referees didn’t just let play continue but when Thatcher Demko made a save and froze the puck, they had a faceoff in the Canucks’ zone with the net still off.
- Play went on for a full five minutes before the Canucks’ net was put back on its moorings, which is wild, but Demko took it in stride: “I mean, if [the puck] goes in, it doesn’t count, so I wasn’t too worried about it.”
- Boeser opened the scoring by putting in the work to earn some luck. Miller made a diving play at the blue line to keep the puck in after he was knocked off stride, then took a pass from Di Giuseppe down the right wing and set up a pinching Filip Hronek for a backdoor chance. Hronek didn’t get all of the puck, but Boeser out-battled Pavel Mintyukov in front and was rewarded for boxing him out by having the puck land right at his feet in the crease with a wide-open net.
- “He had two open nets today,” quipped Elias Pettersson about Boeser’s two goals, the second of which went into an empty net to seal the victory.
- Boeser is getting puck luck but he's earned his spot at the top of the goalscoring race with his intelligence and diligence. According to Natural Stat Trick, Boeser is third in the NHL in individual expected goals this season. He's not just getting lucky; he's getting chances.
- “We had a video today about how we didn't have enough net-front presence and where is he when he scores that goal?” said Tocchet. “That's a big goal for us too.”
- The Ducks took an odd approach to killing off a first period Canucks’ power play. Sam Carrick chased down Quinn Hughes on the forecheck and tackled him to the ice, then Hughes grabbed hold of Carrick’s stick to prevent him from getting back into the play. The subsequent coincidental minors not only took Hughes off the power play, which looked lifeless in his absence, but also took him off the ice at even strength until the next stoppage in play, effectively removing Hughes from the equation for about four minutes. That’s a trade the Ducks will make any time.
- Pettersson is so good at killing penalties that he can disrupt passing lanes with a stick that isn’t even in his hands. On a first-period PK, Pettersson’s stick was broken on a shot block. He managed to snag a new one from the bench, but his broken stick remained in play and performed a long-distance pokecheck.
- The Canucks’ first period was pretty mediocre apart from the goal but the second period was just plain bad. The Ducks were all over the Canucks like they had brought a bowl of peas on the ice. The Ducks out-shot the Canucks 12-to-6 and it honestly felt even more one-sided than that.
- The Ducks evened the score on the power play after a Tyler Myers holding penalty. A pass that was seemingly meant to go to Jakob Silfverberg in front of the net instead skittered through to Ryan Strome. With Ian Cole trying to check Silfverberg, he couldn’t get to Strome, who had the time he needed to fire the puck top corner over Demko’s glove.
- “He’s in a tough spot there,” said Demko of Cole. “He was on the net-front guy and then he had to scramble…It was just kind of a weird bounce.”
- The Canucks were far better in the third period, taking over the game and out-shooting the Ducks 15-to-4. Boeser said that Tocchet gave the team some tactical adjustments in the second intermission and Tocchet said they made more of what he called “scissor plays” in the offensive zone.
- “We were skating the puck to people and then passing it and you don’t want to do that against a man-to-man team,” said Tocchet, then explicated scissor plays by talking about overlapping at the point instead to create space. “When a forward comes out of the corner and starts to climb, you either want your D to go down the wall or maybe through the middle. I felt, as the forward was climbing with the puck, he was skating to the defenceman and then giving it to him…When you go through, now if it’s man-on-man, what does the guy do? He goes with him and it creates havoc. I thought we created a little more havoc [in the third period] and that’s why we started getting more shots.”
- Why are they called scissor plays? I don't know. Maybe it's because the defenceman is supposed to cut down the ice, or the two players cross like the arms of scissors, or because it slices through a man-to-man defensive structure. Maybe Tocchet is a fan of the Scissor Sisters. I don't know.
- Andrei Kuzmenko drew back into the lineup after two healthy scratches and looked like he had a strong game, with a team-leading 93.7% expected goals percentage, primarily because the Ducks only got three shots on goal when he was on the ice, none of them from anywhere near the net. That seems like the kind of thing that would get a Maury Ballstein-esque, “That’s what I’m talking about!” from Tocchet.
- Nope. Tocchet was tepid with his assessment of Kuzmenko: “He was okay. I mean, you know, I thought he was okay.”
- Kuzmenko looked better than okay on Pettersson’s go-ahead goal early in the third period. Kuzmenko got to the front of the net and battled hard for position with Mintyukov, providing a massive distraction for John Gibson, who gave Kuzmenko a punch with his blocker as Pettersson whipped in behind the net. When Gibson scrambled back into position, he left the far side open for Pettersson’s wraparound to make it 2-1.
- “I was just trying to protect the puck and did what I did,” said Pettersson. “But then I saw the replay and [Gibson] was out boxing Kuzy or whatever it was.”
- Pettersson threw a big hit against the San Jose Sharks on the weekend and he kept the physical play going with a big hit on Jackson Lacombe behind the Ducks’ net, sending him flying to the point that Lacombe’s skate came up and hit Pettersson in the side of the head. That was a bit scary, but the hit was just nice.
- “It’s fun,” said Pettersson of throwing hits. “I wish I was a little heavier earlier in my career. Sometimes I get pretty mad out there and then I throw a hit.”
- When asked the most fun part of hitting, Pettersson smiled and said, “Laying guys out! Usually, it’s the other way around, I end up on the ground. It’s nice to give it back sometimes.”
- While the win was a positive, there was a scary moment midway through the third period when Ilya Mikheyev took a Tyler Myers shot off the left knee — the same knee on which he had surgery for an ACL tear — and needed assistance getting off the ice as he was unable to put any weight on his leg.
- “Somebody said that he’s going to be okay,” said Tocchet, suggesting the initial prognosis is positive for Mikheyev. “The x-rays were negative, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be okay.”
- Both the Ducks and Canucks missed golden opportunities to score late in the third. The Ducks rung a puck off the post as a power play expired, then Pettersson burst the other way for a 2-on-1 and gifted Conor Garland with an open net on an oddly-delayed play, only for Cam Fowler to get just enough of the puck to send it into foul territory.
- “Looking back at it, I probably should have shot it,” said Pettersson. “I had a breakaway but I wanted to pass the whole way.”
- The score remained 2-1 and a late power play drawn by Garland set up a chance for what is likely the longest power play goal of Boeser’s career. The Ducks pulled Gibson for the extra attacker to go 5-on-5 but a centring pass by Alex Killorn found its way to Boeser’s stick and he threw a dart from the defensive zone into the empty net to make it 3-1.
- “Looked off Petey there, but whatever,” said Boeser with a smile, then added about scoring from distance, “As long as you don’t think about it, it’s a lot easier.”
- When my distinguished competition from The Athletic suggested that Boeser might have picked up some empty-net tricks from former teammate Loui Eriksson, Boeser laughed and said, “Oh yeah. I should shoot him a text.”