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I Watched This Game: Canucks break shutout in final seconds for moral victory over the Oilers

...but not an actual victory. The Canucks still lost.
The Vancouver Canucks held Connor McDavid to just one point — a legitimate feat this season — but the Edmonton Oilers still won 2-1.

The Vancouver Canucks have now lost their first three home games of the season, all by just one goal. 

After nine games, the Canucks have a 3-5-1 record, which is actually worse than their start last season. In fact, if they lose their next game, it will be the worst 10-game start to a season in Jim Benning’s tenure as general manager of the Canucks.

Even if they win their next game to go 4-5-1, the Canucks would only tie the worst start under Benning. That was the dreadful 2016-17 season where they lost a franchise record 52 games and set a new franchise low in goalscoring with just 178 goals. Unsurprisingly, head coach Willie Desjardins lost his job at the end of that season. 

That season was supposed to be the nadir of the Canucks’ slide, a low point from which things could only get better. Have the Canucks truly progressed so little in the last five years?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s still just ten games. The Canucks can still turn things around and have a successful season. Just look at the 2001-02 season for an example. They started that season 3-6-1 but ended it in second place in the Northwest Division with 94 points. The Canucks ended up leading the NHL in goalscoring; Markus Naslund led the way with 40 goals and was named a First Team All Star for the first time in his career. 

For those looking, like Win Butler, for signs of life in the Canucks  this season, Saturday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers provided a few scattered pulses. In real life, that’s bad — arrhythmia can be the sign of a serious medical condition — but it’s better than no pulse at all.

At times, Elias Pettersson looked like the exciting player he’s been in past years. Conor Garland shook off a bad game and had six shots on goal. Brock Boeser was heavily involved in the offence, with nine shot attempts, five of them on net. The team, as a whole, created some dangerous chances that just didn’t find the back of the net.

Overall, however, the Canucks were still soundly outplayed for the bulk of the game. Shots on goal were 34-to-30 for the Oilers, which doesn’t look too bad, but that’s only after the Canucks had seven shots in the final four minutes after pulling Thatcher Demko for the extra attacker. Two of those minutes were spent at 6-on-4 after an Oilers penalty.

That final push was exciting and it allowed the Canucks to break the shutout in the final seconds, but it also means the Canucks were out-shot 34-to-23 through the first 56 minutes of the game. 

There are moral victories to be had. The Canucks held Connor McDavid to just one point for the first time this season, bringing him down to just 2.29 points-per-game, which is just shy of the Canucks’ 2.33 goals-per-game this season.

More accurately, Demko kept McDavid to just one point. McDavid still had nine shots on goal, with six high-danger chances according to Natural Stat Trick. Yes, this was a one-goal game, but it wouldn’t have been a one-goal game without Demko. 

In any case, it’s too early in the season for moral victories. The Canucks need a few actual victories before this gets out of hand. I watched this game.

  • At least the Canucks kept the Oilers off the board at even strength. Of course, the Oilers went 2-for-2 on the power play, so no need to celebrate too hard.
  • The Canucks’ penalty kill looked so good on the Oilers’ first power play, with Justin Bailey wreaking all kinds of havoc with his speed and tenacity. He even set up Miller for a great shorthanded chance that Miller hooked well wide of the net. And then the Oilers scored anyway, with Demko unable to control a puck that deflected off Juho Lammikko’s stick and Ekman-Larsson unable to keep Warren Foegele from banging home the rebound.
  • Pettersson legitimately looked good in this game, even if he didn’t pick up a point. It’s frustrating to look for glimpses of quality from a player that was putting together five-point nights in his rookie year but you can see his game coming along. He had a strong rush in his first shift, then showed some nifty hands to exit the zone around Zach Hyman, only to have Hyman knock down a pass from J.T. Miller as he was heading to the net.
  • I felt this was a stronger game for Jack Rathbone, who looked more confident and assured with the puck. He jumped up in the rush a couple of times and had a good chance on a wraparound in the second period. I appreciated this drag move off the boards in the defensive zone that led to a clean zone exit and a Garland shot at the other end. 
  • Speaking of Garland, he was vastly improved from a shaky game against the Flyers on Thursday. His spinorama after Rathbone’s missed wraparound was smoother than a glass of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon. Unlike Four Roses, it had no finish.
  • The Canucks did have their chances, including a shot by Oliver Ekman-Larsson that hit both the crossbar and the post, so maybe this game was closer than it seemed. Just try to ignore that the Oilers also hit three posts. 
  • The Lotto Line had their best shift midway through the second period, hemming the Oilers in like Mickey Mouse in “The Brave Little Tailor.” Boeser gave Miller the Canucks’ best chance of the game with a hard pass to Miller’s stick at the top of the crease for a wide open net. Miller, on his backhand, couldn’t direct it in and it skipped past the far post. Man, what a pass by Boeser.
  • Despite a stronger period from the Canucks, the Oilers took a 2-0 lead into the second intermission after another power play goal. Luke Schenn got down to block a McDavid pass but the puck deflected out to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who acted like the connecting hyphen in his name and quickly moved things along to Leon Draisaitl for the backdoor one-timer.
  • At one point in my notes in the third period, it just says, “Demko robs McDavid” with the time of the game three times in a row. It got to a point where Mikko Koskinen had to make a good save and play-by-play announcer Harnarayan Singh excitedly shouted, “Thatcher Demko!” because it had become so routine for it to be Demko stopping the puck.
  • Honestly, the Canucks should have had a couple of goals with Demko pulled for the extra attacker. Ekman-Larsson was robbed by Koskinen, then Boeser had a great chance that Koskinen just got his blocker on. It’s hopefully something the Canucks can build on but it was also at 6-on-4 and 6-on-5. The Canucks really need to play better at 5-on-5.
  • Heck, the Canucks arguably should have been 6-on-3 at one point when Draisaitl shot Boeser’s stick down the ice. The refs might have let it go because the only reason Boeser’s stick was on the ice is because Boeser had tripped Draisaitl with it.
  • Boeser finally broke the shutout with a perfect shot, putting it just off the bar and in. It was a gorgeous goal and the 100th of his career but it came with just 5.3 seconds left — like Fab Morvan attempting a solo career, it was too little, too late. Hopefully, that’s a confidence-building goal that can open the floodgates for Boeser.