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I Watched This Game: Canucks fall into a hole in Montreal, can't climb out

The Vancouver Canucks have proven that teams can come back from being down 3-0 but they made the mistake of falling behind 4-0 to the Montreal Canadiens.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 5-2 to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Montreal Canadiens finished dead last in the NHL last season. They had a 22-49-11 record for the sixth-worst season in the past two decades.

On Wednesday night, while missing the first-overall pick they got from that godawful season thanks to a suspension, the Canadiens stomped all over the Vancouver Canucks. They took the lead less than a minute into the game and never relinquished it, going up 4-0 before the Canucks finally found some pride buried deep inside their shrivelled, Grinch-esque hearts and scored a couple goals in the third period to make it seem like they were ever in this game.

But they weren’t. At no point did it even seem remotely possible that the Canucks could mount a comeback. They weren’t so much a hockey team on the ice in Montreal, but a withered husk vaguely blown about the ice by the wind currents created by the Canadiens as they skated past. 

Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but lord, it wasn’t good.  

The Canucks can’t even use the excuse that it was the second half of back-to-back games because the Canadiens were also playing for the second night in a row. And their game went to a shootout, so they theoretically should have been even more tired. 

This comes a game after the Canucks gave up 41 shots to the Ottawa Senators, one of the few teams below them in the standings, only escaping with a win because of some heroics by goaltender Spencer Martin. It’s a couple games removed from them giving up a 3-0 lead to the Nashville Predators to lose in the shootout.

It’s already becoming a slog and we’re just 14 games into the season. The Canucks have a 4-7-3 record and even that seems generous given how they’ve played in some of the games they’ve won.

There are some individual performances to be excited about — Bo Horvat is scoring goals at a franchise-record pace and Elias Pettersson is playing like a legitimate star — but the team as a whole is borderline unwatchable. If you think about it, that makes me, like a comedian, a hero because I watched this game.

  • Tanner Pearson left this game with an injury in the second period but he was already at the point where he probably needed to be scratched, as his undisciplined penalties are proving far too costly with the team’s struggling penalty kill. The Canadiens opening goal was scored on the power play after Pearson took a blatant hooking penalty 200 feet from his own net. It’s not like Pearson has brought a lot to the table this season — the Canucks have been out-shot 96-to-78 and out-scored 13-to-6 when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5.
  • The goal itself probably should have been stopped by Thatcher Demko, even if it was the Canadiens’ leading scorer Nick Suzuki in a prime scoring position and even if Tyler Myers didn’t take away the far side of the net like a defenceman is supposed to do in that situation. Demko was beat along the ice because he didn’t seal off the ice with his pads and that will always be frustrating for a goaltender.
  • Pearson was involved in the 2-0 goal as well, as he first lost the faceoff then accidentally tipped in a point shot from the improbably-named Arber Xhekaj. Bruce Boudreau was incensed, and not in the sense that he was burning incense, which probably would have calmed him down, but in the sense that he was angry — he thought J.T. Miller had been interfered with as he tried to check Xhekaj. 
  • The 3-0 goal came off one of the worst turnovers I’ve seen in a long time. Miller picked off a pass on the backcheck, but then he turned in the middle of the slot and fired the puck directly into the skates of Kirby Dach, who sucked it up like his namesake, said, “Thank you very much,” and spat the puck right back out underneath a caught-off-guard Demko. 
  • Things got messy in the second period thanks to — who else — Brendan Gallagher. The pint-sized pest crashed the crease after Evgenii Dadonov blew past Oliver Ekman-Larsson for a chance and he appeared to spear Demko, causing both Ekman-Larsson and Demko to flip out. That led to a three-way wrasslin’ match between them and a Montreal power play.
  • Why did Demko respond so strongly to Gallagher? No one was able to ask him after the game because he wasn’t made available to the media, the second time in his last three starts that he’s ducked out on answering questions. 
  • Jack Rathbone had a better game against the Canadiens than he did against the Senators, but he was also largely responsible for two goals against. The first came after he attempted to pull the puck off the boards at the offensive blue line and whiffed on it, giving Mike Hoffman a partial breakaway. Hoffman burst down the right wing and flung the puck past Demko’s blocker to make it 4-0.
  • The Canucks had a much stronger third period, scoring two goals and hitting three posts. Luke Schenn got the Canucks on the board after Brock Boeser forced a turnover on the forecheck. Schenn’s shot navigated its way through traffic like the Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field, finding the top corner over Sam Montembeault. Never tell Schenn the odds.
  • Nils Höglander, back in the lineup after he was a healthy scratch in Ottawa, made it 2-0 a few minutes later. Quinn Hughes pinched down the boards to keep the puck in, then Höglander handed off the puck to Elias Pettersson before hustling to the net. Pettersson couldn’t find a passing lane, so made his own by firing a shot from a tight angle to get a rebound for Höglander to chip in.
  • This was a dominant puck possession game for Elias Pettersson. Even though his line was primarily matched up against the Canadiens’ top line, shot attempts were 15-to-2 when Pettersson was on the ice at 5-on-5 and shots on goal were 10-to-0. That’s right, the Canadiens had zero shots on goal at even-strength when Pettersson on the ice, which kind of raises the question as to why Pettersson was sixth among Canucks forwards in 5-on-5 ice time. 
  • The Canucks had a chance to pull within one on the power play but Miller and Hughes both found iron like an expert Minecraft player. Add that to Myers’ iron from earlier in the game and the Canucks can craft a bucket ​— very useful in Minecraft, not so useful for winning hockey games. 
  • There were highs and lows for Rathbone late in the third. He expertly broke up a 2-on-1 with a well-timed Kevin Bieksa-esque slide, which was great. Love a good a sliding pass breakup. 
  • Unfortunately, later in the same shift he coughed a puck up on the breakout, then had a second chance to get the puck out when Boeser tied up his man along the boards but he immediately gave the puck away again. That could have been okay if he immediately scanned the ice and went to the front of the net to regroup defensively as Tyler Myers came across to play the puck. But he didn’t and, when Myers also turned the puck over along the boards, Dach was wide open on the other side of the ice to move in and pick his spot on Demko.
  • “I think he makes rookie mistakes,” said Bruce Boudreau of Rathbone. “He wants to do great, like every player out there, but sometimes you try too hard to be perfect and then the perfect thing doesn’t happen.”
  • Will the Canucks ever play a game where they play well in all three periods? Are they aware that playing well in all three periods is possible? Because you can’t win games playing well for one or two periods at a time. I mean, opposing teams seem to be able to do it against the Canucks all the time, but the Canucks don’t get to play themselves.
  • “They did the same thing last year,” said Boudreau. “No matter how you push it, you just never know which period’s gonna be good and which period’s gonna be bad. For this team to go anywhere, they’ve got to be consistent and they haven’t had a game yet where we’ve allowed less than three goals except for the Pittsburgh game. Unless you start defending, it’s not gonna happen.”
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