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I Watched This Game: Canucks can't hit the net in Game 2 loss to Predators

The Vancouver Canucks had plenty of shot attempts in Game 2 but not enough shots on goal to beat the Nashville Predators.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 4-1 to the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of their first-round series in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There was one number that defined Tuesday night’s loss for the Vancouver Canucks: 18.

The Canucks managed just 18 shots on goal in Game 2 against the Nashville Predators: four in the first period, eight in the second period, and six in the third period. That’s in spite of trailing for nearly 59 minutes and in desperate need of a goal. 

There are other concerning numbers. Casey DeSmith allowing three goals on 15 shots certainly doesn’t look good. The Canucks’ power play going 0-for-4, making it 0-for-6 in the series, isn’t great either. But it’s hard to get past the fact that the Canucks managed just 18 shots on goal in a playoff game on home ice.

The reasons for the lack of shots varied. In the first period, the Canucks seemed reluctant to shoot. They literally passed up opportunities to shoot, moving the puck to a teammate seemingly in a worse position or looking for the perfect play instead of firing away.

Why were the Canucks seemingly so reluctant to shoot the puck? What were they seeing that the fans yelling “Shoot!” from the stands didn’t see?

“A yellow jersey in the way,” said J.T. Miller. “You could say, ‘Shoot every puck,’ for sure…We could start blasting, get up in the 40s and 50s into them but sometimes there’s guys in the way. They’re trying to play defence against us. It’s hard.”

Miller had a point. When the Canucks started to fire the puck more frequently in the third period, those yellow jerseys got in the way an awful lot. By the end of the game, shot attempts were 84-to-36 in favour of the Canucks in all situations but 33 of those attempts were blocked.

Another 33 attempts missed the net but it wasn’t just that the Canucks missed the net so often but that they missed the net when it was wide open. It’s one thing to send the puck just wide when you’re trying to pick the corner on a goaltender like Juuse Saros; it’s quite another when Saros isn’t even there and the puck still goes wide.

The most egregious of those missed chances came off the stick of Elias Pettersson at the end of the first period, hitting the side of the net on what looked like a sure goal. Beyond that one miss, Pettersson had a disastrous game. He had nine shot attempts but not a single one was on goal and was on the ice for three goals against — one of them was an empty-net goal, sure, but he was directly to blame for the 3-0 goal, which came after he gave the puck away at the blue line.

“I put us in a bad spot with my mistake on their third goal. That can’t happen,” said Pettersson. “If I score in the first period, it’s a 1-1 game, and maybe it’s a different outlook…I’m always my biggest critic and I take a lot of blame for this one.”

There are positives to take away from this game. Yes, they missed their chances but at least they were creating chances to miss. The Predators blocked a ton of shots but at least the Canucks were taking shots for them to block. 

Ultimately, the Canucks had the territorial advantage like a Risk player that captures Australia in the first round. If they continue to possess the puck at that level and create the same quality of chances in the coming games, they should win this series, even without Thatcher Demko and with Pettersson struggling to recover from whatever curse has been placed upon him.

Or maybe this is the revenge of PDOseidon, the hockey god that blessed them so much earlier in the season. Maybe they didn’t appreciate his blessings enough and he was angered by their attempts to win games without relying on bounces. Maybe these missed open nets and goalposts are his way of saying, “You thought you were too good for my bounces but see, you still need me.”

Perhaps the path forward is prayers to PDOseidon. There are no hockey atheists in hockey foxholes, after all. I found religion after I watched this game.

  • Everyone knew that Thatcher Demko would miss Tuesday night’s game; Tyler Myers’ absence was a surprise. Myers had the flu — “He was really under the weather,” said Rick Tocchet — which drew Noah Juulsen into the lineup, while Casey DeSmith got the start in place of Demko.
  • It wasn’t a banner night for either DeSmith or Juulsen. DeSmith gave up a goal on the first shot of the game and finished with an .800 save percentage, while Juulsen had two penalties and a breakdown on one of the Predators’ goals. In the words of Stephen A. Smith, this is bad. This is very, very bad. 
  • The opening goal had a twinge of irony to it, as it came just as the crowd was chanting, “Let’s go Casey” in hopes of spurring on the goaltender to greatness. Instead, he badly overplayed a Filip Forsberg point shot, anticipating a tip by Ryan O’Reilly at the top of the crease, and was unable to push back across when Anthony Beauvillier tipped it instead and helplessly watched it bounce past him. Apparently, the crowd needed to be more specific about where Casey should go.
  • “I didn’t see the guy’s stick in the lane,” said DeSmith. “I was just kind of moving over to that backdoor guy, expecting him to tip it and it got tipped up higher. My blade slipped out. Yeah, that was a tough way to start.”
  • The Canucks had a chance to respond on back-to-back power plays in the first period but Elias Pettersson made an ill-advised pass on their best opportunity. J.T. Miller found Pettersson cross-ice but instead of immediately shooting with Juuse Saros down and out, he double-clutched then tried to give Conor Garland a tap-in goal with a saucer pass that had about a gallon too much sauce on it. The puck was still a foot in the air when Garland did his darnedest to knock it in the net.
  • As time expired in the first period on another Canucks power play, Pettersson at least had the right idea. This time, when Quinn Hughes hit him with a cross-seam pass, Pettersson immediately shot the puck, only to hit the side of the wide-open net, which is, unfortunately, not the part of the net where pucks are supposed to go.
  • The miss was so shocking that not only did Pettersson collapse to his knees in disbelief, Miller literally did not believe it, instead throwing up his arms to celebrate the goal that had obviously just happened before suddenly realizing why no one else was joining him in celebration.
  • “Petey’s a young kid and this is his first kind of taste of the pressure playoff thing,” said Tocchet. “This is good for him. He’s going to learn. He’s going to dust himself off and be ready for Game 3. He’s gotta be very decisive with the puck. I want to see him shoot the puck, he’s got to take it. I think he’ll be fine.”
  • Filip Forsberg made it 2-0 in the second period when Juulsen chased the puck along the boards instead of maintaining body position on the 48-goal scorer. Unsurprisingly, the 48-goal scorer scored a goal. Forsberg, whose moustache makes him look like a hipster who is into IPAs way too much, handcrafted a small-batch deke to beat DeSmith, then probably said, “If you can’t taste the bitterness of the hops, what’s the point?” as he celebrated the goal.
  • A game like this is so frustrating because the Canucks made some legitimately great plays that get lost like tears in the rain. For example, these two holds at the blue line by Quinn Hughes that led to a couple of tips from the slot but no goals. These are brilliant plays but ultimately meaningless, like an experimental avant-garde performance at Vancouver Fringe.
  • The Canucks’ passes were off the mark all game but Pettersson’s giveaway that led to the 3-0 goal was like the Funky Bunch after Mark Wahlberg went into acting with how off the mark it was. There was literally no one there for him to pass to and, worse, he sent the puck back into his own zone. Jason Zucker jumped on the loose puck and set up an Anthony Beauvillier chance that DeSmith stopped but Pettersson couldn’t keep Colton Sissons from knocking in the rebound.
  • J.T. Miller showed the perfect way to get away with a penalty in the second period. After his stick exploded on a one-timer attempt, he grabbed Sissons around the head on his way to the bench for what ought to have been an obvious penalty except that the back referee was a little too busy picking up the piece of his broken stick. Very clever, Mr. Miller.
  • The Canucks finally got on the board late in the second period when Zadorov did the simple thing: he took a shot. Crazy, I know. There was no traffic, really — Saros could see it the whole way — but since Zadorov simply took the pass from Ian Cole and immediately sent the puck on net, no one had time to block the shot and Saros’s weak blocker was victimized yet again in this series.
  • This just wasn’t the Canucks’ night. A Miller centring pass went off Carrier in front of the net, the type of fortunate bounce that would’ve been a goal back in the PDO days, but it instead hit Saros then donked off the post. Later in the third period, Dakota Joshua drove the net and a puck again went off a Predator skate, giving Joshua a chance at the open net, but he hit the post too. The Canucks were hitting post like someone who bought into the rebranding of Twitter and refused to say the word “tweet.”
  • Here’s the thing: with the number of open nets the Canucks missed, the Predators should be very, very worried as this series heads back to Nashville. The Canucks have too many excellent finishers to keep missing those types of chances. Is that enough to comfort Canucks fans? Probably not.