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I Watched This Game: Bruins' 'top guys' get it done against the Canucks

Elias Pettersson had the least ice time on the Canucks at 5-on-5, while Travis Green made pointed comments about the Bruins' "top guys."
The Vancouver Canucks couldn't hang on after taking a one-goal lead into the third period against the Boston Bruins.

The Vancouver Canucks may never win another game.

At least, that’s the way it feels right now. On Sunday, the Canucks took a 2-1 lead into the third period against the Boston Bruins but at no point looked like a threat to hang onto that lead. 

Sure enough, the Bruins scored two goals in the third period and handed the Canucks their ninth loss in their last ten games. Worse, they came on the power play, so the Canucks penalty kill, which had managed to go four whole games without giving up two power play goals in one game, ended their streak.

Sure, in two of those games they gave the other team fewer than two power plays, but those are just details.

Of course, what happens on the ice right now isn’t the real story with the Canucks. As Thomas Drance so adroitly pointed out, the dream of meaningful games in March — so often the loftiest goal of this Canucks team — is over; they can’t even manage to have meaningful games in November.

It would take an utterly spectacular run for the Canucks to make the playoffs at this point. With 14 points through 22 games, the Canucks would need 79 points in their remaining 60 games to reach 93 points, the average playoff bar in the Western Conference in the last five full seasons.

That’s a pace of 108 points over 82 games, which would have been the highest in the Western Conference in 2018-19. It’s not happening.

No, the real story is what’s happening off the ice, as Canucks ownership continues to stall for time when it comes to making changes. The team’s brutal three-game road trip in mid-November should have been the wakeup call that change was necessary. Instead, they’ve spent two weeks hemming and hawing while the team has continued to disintegrate. 

Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens, coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final just last season, wasted little time making a clean sweep of management after a disappointing start to the season. 

GM Marc Bergevin — gone. Assistant GM Trevor Timmins — gone. Senior VP of public affairs and communications Paul Wilson — gone. Assistant GM Scott Mellanby — resigned when it became clear he was not in the team’s succession plans for Bergevin.

The Canucks have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons and are off to a historically bad start this season — only the 1984-85 Canucks had fewer regulation wins through 22 games than the 4 the Canucks have currently, and that team was sixth all-time in the NHL for the most goals allowed in a season. And yet the Canucks owners continue to dither, preaching patience and that they’re doing their due diligence.

It’s absurd. As the example of the Canadiens shows, you can be decisive, put an interim team in place to run the team, and then take all the time you want or need to hire the right people.

In the meantime, all we can do is watch the team continue to find new ways to lose or rather, repeat variations of the exact same way to lose. You’re telling me this team lost the special teams battle and fell short in a one-goal game? I’m shocked. Shocked!

Well, not that shocked. As I’ve watched so many similar games this season, I watched this game. 

  • Honestly, I’d love to see the Canucks find a new way to lose. I feel like Eddie Izzard riffing on original sin: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I did an original sin, I poked a badger with a spoon.” If you’re going to lose, at least give us something new. The Canucks are the Catholics going to confession saying, “Bless me, for I slept with my neighbor’s wife.” Heard it.
  • A major subplot to the game was the ongoing battle between Brad Marchand and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, with the Bruins winger spending the bulk of the game trying to get under the defenceman’s skin like bamboo splinters under the fingernails. It all started with an uncalled slew foot by Marchand, because Marchand must obey the inscrutable exhortations of his soul.
  • The Canucks opened the scoring for once, because giving fans hope is all part of the soul-crushing experience. 
  • After a couple of great power play chances, including Elias Pettersson ringing the post with a one-timer, it took a terrible chance to put the puck in. Nils Höglander chipped a puck towards the goal and Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark absent-mindedly watched the puck bounce towards him and stopped it with his stick instead of covering it up. Tanner Pearson crashed the net and somehow the puck slid over the goal line — I suspect the laws of physics were involved.
  • The lead didn't even last three minutes. Jaroslav Halak, who has been pretty good this season, let in an absolute stinker off the stick of Anton Blidh. Halak completely whiffed on Blidh’s wrist shot from distance, taking all the wind out of the Canucks’ sails: it took ten minutes after the goal for the Canucks to register another shot.
  • When Luke Schenn was paired with Quinn Hughes when the young defenceman played his first few NHL games, it seemed like a reasonable idea to give the rookie a big, tough veteran. It seems really, really bad that Schenn is paired with Hughes now, in Hughes’s third season when he ought to be playing top pairing minutes. 
  • For a moment, it seemed like the Canucks had taken the lead again late in the first period on a slap shot blast by Conor Garland but the Bruins challenged for offside and were correct in doing so: Nils Höglander tried to stretch his right leg to stay onside on his entry but, regrettably, his leg wasn’t quite long enough to reach the blue line.
  • At least Garland has provided consistent entertainment this season. Early in the second period, he ended Trent Frederic’s life, as the Bruins forward died of embarrassment after Garland sent him tumbling to the ice with a quick deke on the boards.
  • Garland’s second goal of the game actually counted. The winger came storming up the right wing and threw a puck to the front of the net. Jason Dickinson battled for the loose puck, knocking it off the stick of Jakub Zboril right back to Garland, who had looped around to the left faceoff circle. Garland’s shot was on and off his stick faster than lightning and found a way through Ullmark’s five-hole.
  • John Shorthouse and John Garrett, Sportsnet’s dynamic commentating duo, have also done their best to keep things entertaining for Canucks fans. I can’t lie, Shorty’s line that Marchand “almost went nose first into the top of the boards” made me chortle. Shorty paused, but Garrett refused to take the bait.
  • The Bruins tied the game on the power play shortly after Tyler Motte nearly extended the Canucks’ lead on a shorthanded breakaway. That was the PITB Transformative Moment of the game, which is legally distinct from “TSN Turning Point.” 
  • David Pastrnak’s one-timer hit the post, causing a massive scrum in front of the net, with all four Canucks penalty killers in the crease. Unfortunately, the puck wasn’t in the crease and Marchand swooped in and found a space with no Canucks bodies and scored. As the Canucks searched for the puck in an ad-hoc emu bob, I wanted to but I did not say it. (NSFW)
  • Marchand came through again for the go-ahead goal on the power play, undressing an over-aggressive Kyle Burroughs, then going to the net before feeding Pastrnak at the backdoor for the tap-in. It was such a tap-in that Pastrnak was able to put it in while Jason Dickinson completely tied up his stick. 
  • The most telling quote from head coach Travis Green after the game came in his first answer: “At the end there, their top guys find a way to get it done.” There seemed to be an emphasis on “top guys” and he repeated that phrase a moment later: “The way those two goals go in, it’s kind of crash-and-bang and again, there’s skill to that too with those top guys.”
  • Meanwhile, the Canucks’ top guy, Elias Pettersson, played a team-low 8:07 at 5-on-5 in his game. When Green pulled Halak for the extra attacker, Pettersson was on the bench. Instead of Pettersson, Vasily Podkolzin, who didn’t even have a single shot attempt in this game, was put on the ice. It’s hard to see that as anything other than trying to send a message to Pettersson.
  • Oddly enough, Pettersson was one of just three players who saw the Canucks out-shoot the Bruins when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. Shots were 6-to-3 for the Canucks with Pettersson on the ice; when he was off the ice, shots were 33-to-17 for the Bruins.