Kyle Burroughs was the Vancouver Canucks’ best player on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers.
That’s great for Burroughs, but not so great for the Canucks. When the team’s sixth defenceman making near league minimum is playing better than the stars getting paid millions of dollars, there’s something wrong.
Burroughs was legitimately excellent in this game. He scored the second goal of his career on an absurdly good wrist shot. He had seven shot attempts, with four of them on goal, and set up chances for his teammates with aggressive pinches and smart passes.
In his 19:29 of ice time, Burroughs tilted the ice in the right direction, with a 65.5% corsi percentage and a team-high 74.42% expected goals percentage at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5, high-danger chances were 6-to-1 for the Canucks, as he played well at both ends of the ice.
For those who care more about grit and heart than fancy stats, Burroughs dropped the gloves with the much heavier Nicolas Deslauriers after a high hit on his teammate, Curtis Lazar.
It was a complete game for Burroughs, doing a little bit of everything to help his team. The trouble was that his team didn’t do a whole lot.
“When your best players aren’t your best players, then you’re in trouble any night,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I don’t think they’ve been our best players yet.”
The Canucks have now kicked off the 2022-23 season by giving up two multi-goal first-period leads. On the one hand, it’s just two games. On the other, it’s the first two games of a season where the Canucks repeatedly emphasized the importance of getting off to a good start.
At least Burroughs was good when I watched this game.
- The Canucks may have come out of the first period with a 2-0 lead, but they were pretty soundly out-played by the Flyers, who out-shot them 14-to-4 as the Canucks paraded to the penalty box. Honestly, they played better in the second and third periods even though they gave up three unanswered goals to lose 3-2. Hockey is weird, man.
- “It’s not like we had a good start today by any means, we just happened to be up two,” said Miller bluntly.
- Special teams were once again a big part of the problem. Not only did the Canucks go 0-for-5 on the power play but they also gave up a shorthanded goal, as well as a power play goal against. Through two games, the Canucks are 1-for-13 on the power play and are minus-1. As Britney Spears would say, that’s horrible.
- “It’s been both games now, it’s special teams,” said Boudreau. “If we don’t shore that up, we’re going to be in trouble.”
- The Canucks’ top line of J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, and Brock Boeser was badly outplayed. When Miller was on the ice at 5-on-5, shots on goal were 8-to-2 for the Flyers. In fact, Miller was on the ice for all three Flyers goals after he was on the ice for all five Oilers goals in the season opener. It might be time to reconsider using Miller as the team’s match-up centre.
- If it seems unfair to point out that Miller has been on the ice for all eight goals against this season, take it up with Miller himself. “I’ve been on for all eight f***ing goals,” said Miller after the game. “Pretty frustrated.”
- “I don’t really have the right to talk about the team at the moment,” said Miller, adding later, “I’m not going to sit here and talk about how bad we played when I can’t even lead by example right now.”
- At least Thatcher Demko was locked in right from puck drop. He made a stunning toe save on Wade Allison on the opening shift and kept the Flyers off the scoreboard in the first period with 14 saves. He was making more stops than a cop in Brookside, Alabama.
- Burroughs gave the Canucks the lead a minute and a half into the game when he jumped up the right side, took a pass from Boeser, and fired a hard wrist shot that took a slight deflection off defenceman Nick Seeler’s leg and went bar down with a satisfying *ping*. Even Burroughs seemed surprised by how good his own shot was.
- It took the Canucks nearly 13 minutes to get another shot on goal after Burroughs scored. When they did, it was the 2-0 goal. Schenn stepped up in the neutral zone to cause a turnover, then Vasily Podkolzin took over, patiently controlling the puck until Conor Garland darted up the middle like he was thrown by Ted Lasso. Garland took the pass and sent a perfect shot off the far post and in.
- The Canucks’ injury situation on defence got worse when Tucker Poolman didn’t come out for the start of the second period. He didn’t seem to miss a shift in the first period so it’s unclear how he got hurt. Hopefully, it’s not a return of the migraines that ended his season last year.
- With Poolman out, the pressure was on the rest of the defence, with Hughes playing a whopping 28:27, including a few shifts on the right side. If Poolman is out for some time, Hughes might have to slide over to the right, as the Canucks’ seventh defenceman is the left-handed Jack Rathbone.
- The line of Andrei Kuzmenko, Elias Pettersson, and Nils Höglander continues to be good in puck possession, leading the team in corsi percentage again, but they’re going to need to find some finish. They should’ve had a goal early in the second period when Höglander stole the puck on the forecheck and set up Pettersson alone in the middle. But Pettersson didn’t quite sell the shot hard enough before setting up Kuzmenko on the backdoor and Carter Hart got his right pad back to stone him like he was without sin.
- Another game, another missed penalty on the Canucks that drew blood. It was Höglander this time, who got a butt end from Hayes and then, to add insult to injury, got called for a double-minor for high sticking when he recoiled in pain and his stick clipped Hayes in the face. Poor Höglander, still bleeding, had to go to the penalty box and watch the Flyers go on the power play.
- The Flyers scored their first goal on a later power play — the Canucks really couldn’t stay out of the box — when a Tony DeAngelo point shot was waved at by multiple sticks but was never deflected, fooling Demko as it went into the top corner. If it had been tipped, Demko probably would have made the stop.
- Kuzmenko scored his first career goal in the opener on the power play but he got knocked off the top unit against the Flyers after missing a golden chance in front from a Pettersson pass. Honestly, it might have been more about a couple of lost puck battles earlier in the power play. He was replaced on the top unit by Boeser — we’ll see how permanent that is next game.
- The Flyers tied the game on a shorthanded goal. Miller turned the puck over inside the Flyers blue line, then got caught flat-footed as Scott Laughton burst away from him. Miller desperately dove out, hoping to intercept the breakaway pass up the middle, but Travis Konecny smartly sent a bank pass ahead instead. Given more space than a sitcom character in their apartment, had all the time he needed to snipe top corner over Demko.
- Miller’s going to get flak for missing the puck on the Flyers’ game-winning goal, but you have to wonder what both Riley Stillman and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were doing at the top of the defensive zone during that shift. Maybe one defenceman should be at the front of the net? Maybe?
- Stillman got locked onto Laughton as his man off the faceoff instead of reevaluating the situation and dropping back to the front of the net. That left Miller as the last man back when Ekman-Larsson followed his man up high as well. Konecny snuck in behind the net and neither Miller nor Demko seemed to be aware of him, with Konecny stealing the puck before Demko could pounce on it, then tucking it inside the far post.
- That was it for the Canucks. They pulled Demko for the extra attacker and had a power play for the final two minutes to go 6-on-4, but they couldn’t get another puck past Carter Hart after scoring two goals on three shots to start the game. Hart stopped the next 26 shots for the win.