The losing streak is over.
After five-straight losses, the Vancouver Canucks earned a hard-fought win over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night. It was the type of one-goal win they’ve been on the wrong side of too many times this season, so it had to feel good to win one for once.
Of course, their recent losses have mostly been by a lot more than one goal, so avoiding that had to feel good too.
“It’s big. Obviously, we haven’t been going the way we want to the last few here,” said Thatcher Demko. “We’ve got some ground to make up now. Hopefully, tonight’s the start of stringing a few together here.”
“Tonight, we played well and battled ‘til the end and got our points,” said Conor Garland.
Any win that breaks a losing streak is a big win. But it came with a few qualifications. Not the type of qualification that means you’re in the playoffs, but the kind that states a modifying limitation.
For instance, the Jets were playing their third game in four nights on the second half of a back-to-back. Their game the previous night against the Edmonton Oilers was a long one, going to the shootout, and five of their top-six forwards played over 22 minutes.
Understandably, they looked pretty gassed at times.
Also, the Jets were playing their backup goaltender with a career .889 save percentage in his limited NHL experience, starting just his fourth game of the season after last playing two weeks ago.
In addition, the Canucks power play coming to life for two goals comes with the caveat that they were facing the NHL’s second-worst penalty kill — the worst being their own.
Speaking of their own penalty kill, the real reason they won the special teams battle against the Jets is they didn’t take any penalties. That’s not a bad thing, by any means, but it’s hard to be optimistic that this win will lead to future success when their awful shorthanded play is looming in the wings like the Phantom of the Opera, just waiting to play a terrifying pipe organ stab as soon as the Canucks take their next penalty.
Also of note, the tired Jets team out-shot the Canucks 39-to-29 and largely dominated the game at 5-on-5. It also took a literal last-second save by Thatcher Demko to rob Nikolaj Ehlers point blank to keep the game from going to overtime.
So yes, a few qualifications to this win.
But all of that could have still been true — minus the game-saving stop by Demko — and the Canucks could have lost. That would have been much, much worse. A win is a win is a win.
Off the ice, Chester Ming, the man behind the “Thank You Jim” jersey and sign at Wednesday’s game, was back again with another quippy sign on Friday. This time, he quoted an infamous tweet by Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini: “Man, so tight, almost like a playoff game.”
That Aquilini tweet came during the 2018-19 season while the Canucks had a record below .500 against the last-place Los Angeles Kings and was part of a stretch where the Canucks lost 12 of 13 games. It was not, in fact, “almost like a playoff game.”
Neither was it “almost like a playoff game” when I watched this game.
- That intro was pretty cynical, eh? Forgive me, I just want to make sure that one win doesn’t overshadow the already quite shady situation the Canucks are in. Feel free to dismiss my cynicism and just be happy the Canucks won. Honestly, there’s quite a bit to be happy about! Let’s get into it.
- The Canucks shook up their power play units ahead of the game, creating two more balanced units rather than a distinct first and second unit. Quinn Hughes quarterbacked one unit with Conor Garland, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, and Alex Chiasson. The other was the Swedish Connection of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Elias Pettersson, and Nils Höglander, alongside Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson.
- The most intriguing aspect is that the two power play units evenly split the power play time rather than one unit staying on the ice for the bulk of the power play. The result, even if it was against the Jets’ brutal 31st-ranked penalty kill, was excellent: one goal for each unit. If these two units could stick and start to get a sense of competition, rivalry, and one-upmanship with each other, that would be greatly appreciated.
- The Canucks’ first goal technically came with a third unit, as Vasily Podkolzin replaced Pearson, who was in the box for a coincidental minor. Podkolzin made the most of it, getting creative with his netfront role by peeling off and setting up behind the net with the puck, pulling the penalty killers down low before feeding Pettersson. That created more space up top for a shot by Ekman-Larsson, which darted through traffic like an anxious squirrel to find the back of the net.
- Things got chippy late in the first period when Juho Lammikko ran into Jets goaltender Mike Comrie while going for a rebound. Defenceman Neal Pionk took exception, shoving Lammikko’s head into the ice, then started pointing at Demko at the other end of the ice, seemingly threatening to run the Canucks’ goaltender in return. Honestly, it all seemed designed to deflect from the fact that Pionk caused the collision by pulling Lammikko’s left leg out from under him.
- He may not have slain the dragon, but Kyle “Not Alex” Burroughs did get his first career NHL goal at the age of 26. It’s been a long journey to the NHL for Burroughs, who grew up cheering for the Canucks in Langley, BC. Getting his first NHL goal at home in Vancouver was extra special.
- The play started with a strong play down low by Pettersson to win the puck to Jason Dickinson. As Dickinson relayed the puck to Tyler Myers, who fed Burroughs, Pettersson went to the front of the net to provide a screen, where he was met by Nate Schmidt. Burroughs’ flung the puck to the net and Schmidt tried to kick it aside. Instead, he deflected it past his own goaltender.
- “It’s a big accomplishment, especially for me — I don’t score a lot of goals in any league,” said Burroughs with a grin.
- As is tradition, Burroughs got an aggressive facewash from J.T. Miller at the bench after his goal.
- Burroughs didn’t just get a big goal. He also ended up on the top pairing with Quinn Hughes midway through the second period when the Canucks switched up their D pairings. He acquitted himself pretty well in the role, honestly.
- “He’s a competitive guy,” said head coach Travis Green of Burroughs. “We show a lot of clips of him doing things in the defensive zone that are quite frankly impressive. He’s good at cutting hands, winning puck battles — he’s been a nice addition to our group.”
- The Jets responded just a minute later with a stunning individual effort by Nikolaj Ehlers, who was a nightmare for the Canucks to deal with all game. He took advantage of a misplaced pass by Travis Hamonic, busting in on Hughes with speed before spinning to the inside and whipping the puck top corner while falling to the ice. It was an incredible goal.
- The Canucks got back up by two on the power play thanks to a wonderful pass by Chiasson and a heavy finish by Garland. Miller got in a battle on the sideboards and Chiasson nabbed the puck out of skates and flung it across to Garland, who was more open than Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s marriage. Garland got jiggy wit it and drilled a slap shot top shelf.
- Garland was hammering the puck all game. He got off another hot shot from a lovely backhand saucer pass by Podkolzin in the third period that landed right in his wheelhouse. It was a great reminder that Podkolzin is a pretty adept playmaker.
- Staying disciplined and avoiding penalties was a point of emphasis for the Canucks after a complete lack of discipline cost them Wednesday’s game. The Canucks deserve kudos for that, particularly considering some of the Jets’ long offensive zone possessions that have typically ended in Canucks penalties in the past.
- “Penalty kill was 100%, so that’s huge,” quipped Demko after the game.
- I would be remiss and surely chastised by my math teacher father if I didn’t make a note that zero divided by zero is, in fact, undefined or indeterminate, not 100%. Pedantry — it’s fun for you and me, but mostly me.
- Of course, you could argue that the Canucks did, in fact, give up a goal while the Jets had the man advantage as the Jets scored at 6-on-5 while they had the goaltender pulled for the extra attacker. To that, I say “Pfah!” You heard me. “Pfah.” Empty net situations are technically still even-strength as both teams have an equal number of players on the ice.
- That made it 3-2, with enough time for the Canucks to get very, very nervous. The most intriguing development, however, is that Green put Podkolzin on the ice with less than two minutes left to help defend the one-goal lead. I liked this sequence where he couldn’t clear the puck on the backhand, but quickly got the puck back and didn’t panic, but instead got his feet moving and drew an opponent to him before laying the puck off, leading to a much easier clear.
- “He’s committed to all areas of the game,” said Green of Podkolzin. “He understands the importance of defending, checking. He’s willing to get in the way of a shot, he’s a heavy body on the wall. I think you reward guys that are playing well and I thought he played well tonight and went with him right down the stretch.”
- It shouldn't go unmentioned that Demko made 37 saves on 39 shots. So, this is me mentioning it.
- But seriously, Demko was fantastic all game. It took a ludicrous shot by Ehlers and a deflection off a leg to beat him. A little more structure in front of him made his life easier as well, though that structure did disappear at inopportune times.