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I Watched This Game: Canucks crush the Kings in Boudreau's debut and everyone's happy again

The Canucks are undefeated under Bruce Boudreau.
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The Vancouver Canucks kicked off the Bruce Boudreau era in fine fashion, running roughshod over the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s amazing how good change can feel. The vibe in Rogers Arena on Monday night was immaculate.

The Vancouver Canucks looked like an all-new team against the Los Angeles Kings. With a new coach in Bruce Boudreau and new — albeit interim — management in place, the Canucks played with more energy than we’ve seen from them all season.

It was like a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders — like they had been looking at the ice through a glass, darkly, but could suddenly see clearly again.

The fans responded in kind, erupting in chants — not the “Fire Benning” chants that had so recently echoed around the rink, but chants cheering on the players. Not always just the players, either. Towards the end of the game, as the Canucks were cruising to a 4-0 victory, Rogers Arena welcomed the team’s new head coach with a spontaneous and fantastic new chant.

“Bruce! There it is!”

 

DJ Tom Fleming didn’t hesitate, dropping the needle on Tag Team’s early-90’s hit “Whoomp! (There It Is)” at the next TV timeout. Sure, the organic crowd interaction was interrupted by the canned, forced crowd interaction of a karaoke singalong to “Sweet Caroline,” but Fleming smartly brought back “Whoomp! (There It Is)” as soon as he could to get the crowd chanting Boudreau’s name again.

Boudreau unfortunately had his hands full just trying to remember all the names of his new players and the chant escaped his notice.

“Oh, I didn’t hear it,” said Boudreau with a laugh when asked about the chant. “It would be nice, that’s great stuff. Anything positive. I mean, ‘Bruce’ is so close to ‘boo,’ so you never want to see it at all, actually,” he added with a grin.

The atmosphere in the arena was electric, like the fans suddenly were free to be happy again. It helped that the Canucks played an inspired game.

Whether it was the aggressive style preached by Boudreau, wanting to make a good impression for their new coach, or the motivational speech they received from interim GM Stan Smyl earlier in the day, the Canucks were rejuvenated. For most of the season, watching Canucks games felt like a chore for so many fans; on Monday night, it was fun again.

I should know: I had fun when I watched this game.

  • Just please try to ignore that the Kings were playing on the second night of back-to-backs because it might kill the vibe.
     
  • There it is! There’s that famously negative Canucks media!
     
  • In all seriousness, the Canucks were far more fun to watch in this game, largely because of the one significant change Boudreau made to their systems: a more aggressive forecheck that created all kinds of havoc for the Kings. That aggression might come back to bite them in the future but on Monday night it paid all kinds of dividends.
     
  • For a sample of just how aggressive the Canucks were on the forecheck, here’s a shift from the line of Vasily Podkolzin, Elias Pettersson, and Conor Garland, where all three got in on the forecheck down low, harrying the Kinggs into turning the puck over to Travis Hamonic on the most aggressive pinch since Lone Starr.
  • In fact, two of the Canucks goals came directly off turnovers created by their forechecking pressure. The other two came on the power play, which went 2-for-4.
     
  • Brock Boeser opened the scoring on the power play with his first goal in 14 games. It was exactly the kind of dumb-luck goal that he needed, as Tanner Pearson worked the puck from below the goal line to Boeser in the slot and his one-timer, which was going two feet wide, instead was kicked in by Drew Doughty with a very distinct kicking motion. If that doesn’t encourage Boeser to shoot the puck more, nothing will.
     
  • “Over this drought where I haven't scored goals, I felt that I got some pretty good chances, hit posts, crossbars and then that's the one that goes in,” said Boeser ruefully. “It's crazy how this game works, but at the end of the day, it went in the net and I'll take it.”
     
  • Boeser said that Boudreau’s message to him in a brief one-on-one talk at the morning skate was simple: shoot the puck. “He told me not to pass and shoot as many pucks as I could.” So, it must have been a dreadful disappointment to Boudreau that Boeser got an assist later in the game to go with his goal: “Yeah, he gave me some shit for that one,” joked Boeser.
     
  • Thatcher Demko made 31 saves to pick up his first shutout of the season. He made some sharp saves throughout the game but it was most notable how easy he made so many saves look, frequently far easier than they actually were. Never was that more evident than in this third period save on Dustin Brown off some crisp puck movement: Demko tracked the puck perfectly, came across, and took the puck directly in the crest, making a difficult save look completely routine.
  • Pettersson, Podkolzin, and Garland all got in on the 2-0 goal: Podkolzin got his stick on a breakout pass and Pettersson hustled to keep the puck in at the blue line, then fed Garland down low. Garland put a puck on net for a rebound but Podkolzin sent the puck wide. No matter — Garland picked up the missed shot behind the net and tucked it into the open net on the opposite side. 
     
  • The biggest surprise of the game was when Pettersson popped up on the penalty kill. He immediately took advantage of the aggressive pressure up ice, stole a puck, and moved in on a shorthanded breakaway, drawing a penalty shot. Pettersson missed the net on the penalty shot — he said he could feel the puck stand up on edge right as he shot it — but that he was even in that position is fascinating.
     
  • This afternoon, Boudreau said that a player approached him and asked to be on the penalty kill but Pettersson said it wasn’t him. “I saw I was on the PK meeting list, so it was just go there and listen with both my ears and learn where to go,” said Pettersson. “I’ve been in a few PK meetings before but it was only my first or second time being on the ice on the PK.”
     
  • “You look at the good teams, a lot of their best offensive players are also better killers and they get more ice time and they feel more into it,” said Boudreau. “I think it's a good thing, as long as they're committed to doing the right things defensively when they're killing the penalty. I mean, if they're going out and looking for goals and cheating and swinging up the top, then they're not going to do it.”
     
  • Pettersson had a strong game overall, but there was still a hesitancy at times that looks like he lacks confidence. Several times, he got the puck in a prime shooting position and second-guessed himself: instead of the puck being on and off his stick in a split second, instead he stickhandled the puck and tried to pick a corner. As Boeser demonstrated, you don’t always need the perfect shot.
     
  • Here’s a neat thing that was completely inconsequential to the game. Luke Schenn lofted a puck out into the neutral zone and Jason Dickinson, instead of trying to control the puck with his stick, instead redirected the puck to the onrushing Garland with a nifty kick pass. It was great! I liked it! Garland missed the puck so it didn’t matter!
  • You know the Canucks are feeling it when Juho “Offensive Black Hole” Lammikko is getting grade-A scoring chances from the slot. Lammikko rung the post on one second period chance, then got another in the third period when Rasmus Kupari coughed up the puck directly to him while being hit by Alex Chiasson on the forecheck. Lammikko ripped the puck inside the far post like it was routine for him and not a once-in-a-blue-moon miracle. 
     
  • To put on my spring-green-coloured glasses — the opposite of rose is spring green, you see — the Canucks had some defensive issues at times. Of course, Boudreau hasn’t gotten around to the defensive zone yet; he said that’s coming next practice. My favourite defensive lapse for the sake of comedy is when the right-handed Luke Schenn and Tucker Poolman forgot that one of them — let’s be honest, it was Poolman — was supposed to be playing on the left side.
  • J.T. Miller made it 4-0 with an absolute rocket of a one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle on the power play. It was set up from the point by, surprisingly, Boeser. Quinn Hughes led the rush and was down below the goal line, so Boeser rotated to the point to cover, faked a shot (for shame), and put a pass right in Miller’s wheelhouse for a hardest shot competition-caliber slap shot. 
     
  • To go along with the hustle and aggression, the Canucks were noticeably more physical than in past games. Schenn threw his weight around, Dickinson had a couple of big hits, but my favourite came from Miller on the penalty kill, who decked Sean Durzi to the ice in the neutral zone to an approving roar from the crowd.
  • It shouldn’t be overlooked that this was Alex Edler’s first game against the Canucks since he signed with the Kings in the offseason. He got a well-deserved ovation during an early TV timeout, going for a skate to acknowledge the crowd. It was a lovely moment.