Judging by how they played in the first period, the Vancouver Canucks seemingly forgot they were playing a hockey game on Thursday night.
The Minnesota Wild flooded the Canucks’ zone to start the game, piling up nine shots on goal before the Canucks even managed a single shot attempt.
It’s not even like the Canucks were weathering the storm by keeping the Wild away from the most dangerous areas of the ice. Scoring chances were 14-3 for the Wild in the first period and high-danger chances were 9-0, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Canucks were getting blown all over the place, like a new Vancouverite who foolishly bought a flimsy umbrella just before the arrival of an atmospheric river.
Fortunately for the Canucks, at least one Canuck showed up to start the game. Backup goaltender Casey DeSmith was sharper than the Honjo Masamune, stopping every shot he faced in the first period, then every shot he faced after that as well for his first shutout as a Canuck.
“Great job [by DeSmith], especially in the first period when they were flying,” said Conor Garland. “Their speed was hard to keep up with and he kept us in it, let us get our legs into it.”
DeSmith gave some of the credit for the shutout to goaltending coach Ian Clark.
“Clarkie and I have been putting in a little extra work here and there,” said DeSmith after the game. “Just cleaning some things up that I had to work on and it paid off tonight.”
He clarified what areas needed some tidying a little later.
“Some down-low stuff, some post stuff, just cleaning up some movement especially down in tight, which, in the first period, I saw a lot of that,” he said. “So, it’s a good thing we worked on it.”
DeSmith slammed the door shut early on and the slamming door seemed to wake up the rest of the team. The Canucks took over the game in the second period, then carefully guided the game to completion in the third period by keeping the Wild and the puck on the perimeter as much as possible.
“At the end, guys were trying to block every shot we can,” said Garland. “Preserve that shutout for him because he deserved it.”
“I thought we took care of the house,” said DeSmith. “I thought we blocked a lot of shots, took care of sticks in front, and cleared some loose change.”
I also took care of the house because an illness kept me away from Rogers Arena and the press box when I watched this game.
- Head coach Rick Tocchet had an interesting take on the game: "I just felt after that Jersey game, I think the day off won us this game. We were supposed to practice yesterday and I just had a gut feel. I thought the guys needed it and they responded. Those are the sort of calls as a coach, you're like, 'Thank god I made the right call,' because they needed that day off."
- Despite the lopsided first period, the Canucks came out of it with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Nils Höglander goal against the flow of play. Höglander was bumped up in the lineup to play with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, getting the ice time that Tocchet said he deserved and proving exactly why he deserved it.
- "I thought he had a lot of energy; he gave that line energy," said Tocchet. "They were a hard match-up against 97 on their team [Kirill Kaprizov] and he's a hell of a hockey player and I thought [Höglander] held his own. That was a good step for Höggy, playing in his own end against their top line."
- Höglander actually gave the puck away just before his goal when his pass to Miller was off the mark, but the Canucks broke up the subsequent Wild rush and Boeser sent Höglander back the other way with a nice pass. Nikita Zadorov read the play well and jumped up to make it a 3-on-2, driving the middle lane to the net so that Höglander could slide into the high slot behind him and use the sizeable Zadorov as a screen to beat Filip Gustavsson, who never saw the puck. It’s no surprise Zadorov makes a better door than a window — “door” is basically in his name.
- J.T. Miller was held off the scoreboard (as were Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson) which has been a rare sight this season. But Miller could’ve had a hat trick on the power play: Boeser set him up in the bumper early in the second period but his shot was kicked aside, then he was robbed on a backdoor chance late in the second again set up by Boeser, then tipped a Pettersson pass off the post seconds later.
- Of course, Miller couldn’t have actually had a hat trick on those three chances, as if the second chance went in, he wouldn’t have gotten the third chance. This is what we call in the business “artistic licence,” assuming you’re willing to call any of what I do here “art.”
- Conor Garland had a fantastic game. He drove the third line, drew two penalties, and had a marvelous assist on the Canucks’ second goal of the game. He nearly had a goal to go with his assist but he was robbed by Gustavsson with the blocker on a chance set up by Quinn Hughes, who pounced on a flubbed breakout pass like a tiger on tuna.
- “I think we’ve had success for a while. It’s just sometimes when you get points, I think people think you’re playing better,” said Garland. “We just try to generate offence, try to generate O-zone shifts. We start a lot in the D-zone but we finish a lot in the O-zone. That’s usually a good sign for us that we’re playing the right way. We just try to make it hard on whoever’s out there as a line and try to tire some teams down so our top guys can get out there.”
- There’s a certain irony to the fact that the Canucks’ only goals came in the period where they had four and three shots, respectively, and not their ten-shot second period. Maybe the key to beating Jonas Gustavsson is lulling him into a false sense of security.
- The Canucks made it 2-0 in the third period after Noah Juulsen and Dakota Joshua combined at the blue line to keep the puck in, then Garland fired a hard pass through to Teddy Blueger, who was all alone in front. Blueger’s deke to the forehand sent Gustavsson into the shadow realm, giving him a net emptier than that of the fishing disciples before the resurrected Jesus showed up.
- “It’s a good play by Juuls first, pinching, and then Dak covers Juuls,” said Garland. “I was actually going to cover as well, so I knew I had a little bit of time because they all flew the zone. Good finish by Teddy.”
- "Hashmarks down is where they're at their best," said Tocchet of that line. "Dakota, the way he's been playing for us, you get a lot of loose pucks, and then Garland's feeding off them from the hashmarks down. And then Teddy plays that safety valve for us. I think it's a chemistry line, where hashmarks down, they're really good. That's where they get a lot of their chances...When we do game reviews, very rarely is that line on in our D-zone making mistakes — they're pretty mistake-free."
- I enjoyed Garland’s take on putting up points, something he’s done too little of this season. “Winning is more fun [than scoring],” said Garland, with a rueful laugh. “I’ve scored a lot in my career but I’ve never really gone deep in the playoffs. I would enjoy that a little more.”
- Boeser came close to adding to his league-leading 18 goals on a breakaway set up by a perfectly weighted backhand saucer pass by Miller. Boeser had Gustavsson dead to rights with his move to the backhand but clanked the puck off the post.
- There was a time when games against the Minnesota Wild were soul-crushingly boring, so it felt a little nostalgic when the game stopped completely for a full ten minutes while they replaced a section of curved glass along the boards. That extended period of time with nothing happening brought me right back to the days of Jacques Lemaire.
- Elias Pettersson has received some criticism for his lackluster play of late, some of it deserved. He’s getting his points but he hasn’t dominated play the way Canucks fans known he can. But that Pettersson is still there, showing up in blips like on radar, like this lovely toe-drag move followed by a quick burst of speed for a clean zone exit midway through the third period.
- What Pettersson’s critics seem to miss sometimes is the way he contributes in other ways beyond points. One sequence in the second period illustrated a couple of those ways: he made solid contact on an open-ice hit on Matt Boldy, then made a diving play in the neutral zone to force the Wild offside shortly after.
- This game got unexpectedly chippy, with two fights breaking out: one between Dakota Joshua and Jake Middleton seemingly because Joshua embarrassed Middleton by beating him on the rush and one between Nikita Zadorov and Pat Maroon, which was a little more understandable because Zadorov hit Maroon from behind. At the very least, it’s a more respectable reason to fight than, “Stop being better at hockey than me.”
- The latter fight came with just 11 seconds left and Maroon is lucky he didn’t get an instigator for his three crosschecks that led to the fight: an instigator in the final five minutes of a game is an automatic one-game suspension.
- Finally, shout out to this kid who was shown on the Sportsnet broadcast absolutely gorging himself on Rogers Arena treats as John Shorthouse wrapped up the game, first eating a bowl of ice cream nearly as big as his head, then chowing down on popcorn, and finally shoving cotton candy into his mouth. Like the Canucks, it seems like he had a pretty good night.
- Also, Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair was at the game and seemed to have a grand time. That was neat. It's the second time this season the Canucks have hosted royalty.