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I Watched This Game: Canucks booed off the ice in home opener after sixth-straight loss

“It just looked like there was very little effort,” said Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau after a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
The Vancouver Canucks lost their sixth-straight game to start the season, falling 5-1 to the Buffalo Sabres in their home opener. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks had more jerseys hit the ice than pucks hit the back of the net.

By the end of an embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, three jerseys were thrown on the ice by disgruntled fans, including a Henrik Sedin jersey at the very end of the game. 

While the other two jerseys were quickly swooped up by the on-ice officials, the Henrik jersey lay on the ice for a long time after the final horn sounded, with the number 33 facing up, directly underneath his number 33 in the rafters.

When your fans are throwing the jersey of one of the most beloved players in franchise history, something has gone horribly wrong. 

The Canucks didn’t just lose to the Sabres, a team that has missed the playoffs in 11-straight seasons — they seemed to flat-out give up in the third period. They were down by one goal after forty minutes and had seemed to turn the momentum in the second period. The game was in reach.

They even got a bounce to start the third period, as what appeared to be a goal by Vinnie Hinostroza was revealed to have hit both posts and stayed out. Gifted a chance to reset, the Canucks instead immediately gave up the 3-1 goal less than 30 seconds later.

All the air seemed to go out of the Canucks after that. Even though the Canucks have repeatedly shown this season that two-goal leads are not unassailable, no one truly believed that the Canucks could possible come back.

“I don't get how a team that hasn't won a game — and you have a really good second period — isn't excited about coming out in third and doing the same thing as you did in the second,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “It just looked like there was very little effort.”

When asked if the team quit after the 3-1 goal, Boudreau found it tough to say no.

“I never like to use that word,” he said. “It just looked like they said, ‘Oh, there’s no way we can catch up’...I would like to think that there wasn’t anybody that was saying, ‘I don’t care what happens now, I quit.’ I’ll never accept that in my mind.

“But, I mean, it certainly — when you want two men to forecheck because you need a goal and only one man’s going in or they know exactly what they’re supposed to do on a few of the goals in our D zone and they’re not doing it at all, that’s just really frustrating.”

When asked what he said to the players after the game, Boudreau said, “I tell them to look in the mirror.”

I looked in the mirror after this game and discovered that my mask had made my face look very red and sweaty, making me question why I had made a rare TikTok video right after the game, which was still less embarrassing than the Canucks performance when I watched this game.

  • I would just like to point out that we are just ten days from the start of the season. Things have gone this far off the rails in ten days. We’ve already had a players-only meeting. The players have unconvincingly claimed that things are upbeat in the room. J.T. Miller and Luke Schenn were flat-out arguing on the ice at the end of the second period, in full view of the fans. And those fans threw three jerseys on the ice. Ten days!
  • It seemed poetic that this loss was to the Sabres, who committed to a full rebuild less than a year ago with their trade of Jack Eichel. Even as Jim Rutherford talks about how long rebuilds take and how he would much rather rebuild on the fly, the Sabres are in the midst of proving how quickly a rebuild can actually take place if you make smart decisions. 
  • In defence of the Canucks, they had a ramshackle defence for this game, with Quinn Hughes added to the injured list with Tucker Poolman and Riley Stillman. Jack Rathbone came in for his first game of the season and Noah Juulsen was a late call-up from Abbotsford, while Kyle Burroughs was called upon to play top-four minutes on his off-side. 
  • Nils Höglander got sent down to Abbotsford to make cap room for Juulsen, with Boudreau saying, “We’ve got two guys who are eligible to be sent down without waivers to make room for a defenceman…either him or Podz.” Here’s the thing — the Canucks have another forward who’s exempt from waivers beyond Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin: Andrei Kuzmenko, which makes me think they have a deal with the Russian winger to not send him down to the AHL this season.
  • Boudreau started the fourth line for the opening faceoff, which is quite the thing to see in the team’s home opener. But Boudreau wanted to match up the fourth line against the Sabres’ first line of Jeff Skinner, Tage Thompson, and Alex Tuch. The Sabres were all over that fourth line but they didn’t score against them, so mission accomplished, I guess. 
  • Rathbone was a lot of fun to watch in this game, with his typical aggressive mobility in the offensive zone to create space and opportunities for his teammates. But, and this is awkward, at the end of the game, scoring chances were 10-to-4 for the Sabres when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, he was on the ice for two goals against at 5-on-5, and he had the worst expected goals percentage on the team at 18.73%, all according to Natural Stat Trick. He looked good but his numbers definitely didn’t.
  • “He did what he could,” said Boudreau of Rathbone. “A lot of the defencemen that were in there were working their you know, the young guys anyway, doing what they could to help stem the tide. But it’s our veterans, they’re the ones — the leaders have got to take this and say, ‘Okay, enough is enough.’ And if they don’t do it, then it’s a long year.”
  • One of those veterans, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, had giveaways on both of the Sabres’ first goals in the first period. The first was a power play goal. Bo Horvat won the faceoff and Ekman-Larsson had a chance to clear but failed to do so. Moments later, Rasmus Dahlin’s point shot hit Elias Pettersson’s leg and skipped like a stone thrown by Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner under Thatcher Demko.
  • The second came after a long shift in the defensive zone, with Rathbone on the ice for over two minutes. Ekman-Larsson got ahold of the puck in the slot, then tried to force a pass through a Sabre, who proved less intangible than he had hoped. The puck deflected to Alex Tuch all alone in front and Tuch tucked it in. Then he probably took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel after the game.
  • The Canucks were much stronger in the second period but that’s a relative statement — apart from one chance from Connor Garland, they were really only creating dangerous chances when Elias Pettersson was on the ice. The problem was that Andrei Kuzmenko and Vasily Podkolzin couldn’t put the puck in the net. Kuzmenko had an open chance deflect off Jeff Skinner and go wide, while Podkolzin completely whiffed on an open net. Pettersson is doing everything he can out there but his linemates have less finish than the Swedish national team.
  • “We had six chances in the first period and that line had all six,” said Boudreau. “Petey is one of the guys that works his ass off every day and he’s not getting rewarded for it, so we’ll see what we have to do.”
  • One of the best moments of the game for the Canucks was when Pettersson outmuscled the 6’6” Tage Thompson along the boards to win a puck battle, leading to Vasily Podkolzin drawing a penalty at the other end of the ice. Up until that moment, it seemed like the Canucks had no answer for Thompson’s size and power and, frankly, that should have been the wake-up call for the coaching staff that it’s time to use Pettersson as the team’s match-up centre.
  • The power play that resulted led to the Canucks’ first goal, with the second unit coming through with their first goal of the season. Rathbone made a smart play at the blue line, drawing a penalty killer up high with a fake cross-ice pass, then sending the puck to Ilya Mikheyev at the right faceoff circle instead. He sent the puck down low to Tanner Pearson, who sent a beautiful backhand pass to Conor Garland for a wide-open net. 
  • It was the only time the Canucks gave their fans something to cheer about, though they did give the fans something to talk about, like the heated discussion between Schenn and Miller that ended the second period, with Garland jumping in to play peacemaker. Miller had given the puck away in the defensive zone in the final seconds, giving the Sabres another chance to attack and Schenn seemed upset about it.
  • I asked Miller what that discussion was about and Miller replied, “No offence, it’s none of your business.” Fair enough. 
  • The third period was a disaster. Kuzmenko and Podkolzin turned the puck over inside the Sabres blue line, leading to a 2-on-1 the other way. Schenn played far too tight to the puck-carrier, leaving Victor Olofsson wide open to hammer in a one-timer. Just two minutes into the third period, it was already game over, man, game over.  
  • All that was left was the fans booing, an empty-net goal to make it 4-1, one last Olofsson goal against Demko to make it 5-1, and three Canucks jerseys hitting the ice. 
  • “I hope the players feel the same way I feel about it. It’s just totally embarrassing,” said Boudreau about the jerseys tossed on the ice. “It’s something you never want to see. I've seen it happen in other arenas and everything and never thought it would happen here or on a team that I'm coaching. But if I was the fans I would have been frustrated too because they're watching what we're watching.”
  • It’s just six games but it feels like the culmination of eight years. That’s why the fans responded the way they did, with loud booing, jerseys of future Hall-of-Famers thrown on the ice, and leaving the arena long before the end of the game. Fans were hoping for something different when a new management team took over — so far, they’ve just been fed more of the same. Is it any wonder they’re disgusted and have had enough?
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