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I Watched This Game: Canucks give up NHL-record third-straight multi-goal lead to start the season

Three-straight losses to start the season isn't ideal for the Vancouver Canucks, but it could be worse.
The Vancouver Canucks took a two-goal lead into the third period against the Washington Capitals and gave up four-straight goals to lose 6-4. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

It’s hard to imagine a worse start to the season for the Vancouver Canucks.

Hard to imagine, but not impossible.

Instead of Tyler Myers, Travis Dermott, and Ilya Mikheyev out with injuries to start the season, it could have been Thatcher Demko, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes. The typically cagey Canucks only say that it’s a non-COVID illness for Demko, a lower-body injury for Pettersson, and a lower-body injury for Hughes.

With their three young stars out of the lineup, the Canucks wouldn’t have given up a 3-0 lead to the Edmonton Oilers in the season opener because they wouldn’t have taken any lead at all. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl light up backup goaltender Spencer Martin in a 6-2 rout. 

Tucker Poolman still leaves the game against the Philadelphia Flyers as the Canucks once again get shelled, but the Canucks say it was because of an illness. An insider reports that Poolman was one of the last Canucks to visit Demko before they left on their road trip, so now there are concerns that the illness is contagious.

As the Canucks prepare to take the ice against the Washington Capitals for their third game of the season, Tanner Pearson stumbles into the locker room. He’s pale and sweating profusely and clutching his hand in distress. Is…is that blood?

“Poolman…he…he bit me,” Pearson coughs out before collapsing to the floor. J.T. Miller rushes to his side and calls out for the training staff.

“He’s not breathing,” Miller yells as he checks for a pulse. “He’s…he’s dead!”

Suddenly, Pearson lurches up at Miller, grabbing him by the shoulders and sinking his teeth into Miller’s neck. The rest of the players scream as Miller stumbles backward, blood spurting everywhere. Luke Schenn tackles Pearson to the floor, only to cry out in pain as the first-line winger bites his shoulder.

Out on the ice, the Washington Capitals are left wondering why the Canucks haven’t hit the ice for warm-up yet. Suddenly, screams erupt from down the hall from the Canucks bench. Pale, blood-spattered creatures who were once the Canucks come spilling out of the hall and start climbing into the stands.

Fans clamber over each other, desperate to escape the bloodthirsty horde, but most fail to do so. Some escape with minor wounds, only to succumb to their injuries at local hospitals, spreading the contagion even further. Soon, the entire eastern seaboard is flooded by a growing mass of the walking dead, while the pacific northwest sees a similar outbreak stemming from the Demko household.

The NHL rules that the Canucks forfeit the game to the Capitals.

See, things could be worse. At least the Canucks didn’t spark a zombie apocalypse when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks’ slogan to start the season was “unfinished business,” which seemed awfully presumptuous. That’s the slogan of a team that fell just short of winning a Stanley Cup, not a team that fell just short of making the playoffs. “Unstarted business” would have made more sense. But it turns out that it wasn’t a slogan — it was a promise to leave a lot of games unfinished this season.
  • It’s generally not good when a team holds a players-only meeting just three games into the season. Or rather, the meeting itself can be a good thing, as the players can speak their minds about what’s going wrong and bring everyone closer together as a team. Needing that type of meeting after just three games, though — not great, Bob.  
  • After jumping out to early leads in their first two games of the season, the Canucks tried a different tack. Brock Boeser went to the box half a minute into the game to give the Capitals a power play and Alex Ovechkin capitalized. It wasn’t your typical Ovechkin power play goal, though — instead of a one-timer fastball, it was a sneaky slider that Demko initially trapped under his pad, only to accidentally kick it into his own net.
  • J.T. Miller was on the ice for the penalty kill when Ovechkin scored, which means he was on the ice for the first nine goals scored against the Canucks this season. The one positive for this game is that Miller wasn’t on the ice for all six Capitals goals, finally breaking the streak.
  • The Canucks responded well after the goal. Bo Horvat jammed a puck in at the side of the net, but it was after the whistle. Brock Boeser rang the post with a hard wrist shot on a 3-on-1. Elias Pettersson was doing all kinds of dekes to create chances, but the Canucks just couldn’t score. It felt like it would take a miracle to get the puck past Darcy Kuemper.
  • Okay, maybe not a miracle; they just needed a brutal puckhandling gaffe. With seconds left in the first period, Hughes sent a long bank pass off the end boards for Pettersson and Kuemper came out to intercept it, but instead of covering it up with his glove, he tried to play it with his stick and completely whiffed, gifting Pettersson wide-open net. Pettersson still fired the puck off the far post and in, just in case Kuemper somehow elongated his body like Mr. Fantastic to try to stretch back to make the save.
  • Buzzcut, goatee, scoring on a bank pass off the end boards? Pettersson’s transformation into the third Sedin is nearly complete.
  • The Canucks scored with 8 seconds left in the first period, then the Capitals responded 8 seconds into the second period. The Canucks’ goal came off an intentional bank pass off the end boards, while the Capitals’ came off an unintentional one, as a dump-in hit a seam in the boards and deflected in front to Lars Eller for the 2-1 goal.
  • Bo Horvat got the Canucks back even with a goal in transition. It was a 3-on-3 rush but the Canucks played it perfectly — Boeser darted across the ice to take a bank pass from Pearson on the entry, dragging across the defenceman in the process. He then sent a return saucer pass to Pearson streaking up the middle for a chance in the clear. Kuemper made the initial save, but Horvat neatly knocked in the rebound.
  • Just 11 seconds later, the Canucks took their first lead of the game. Pettersson broke up a Capitals rush at the blue line, sending Curtis Lazar and Andrei Kuzmenko back the other way. Kuzmenko pulled up inside the Capitals’ blue line, swung into the middle, and sent a shot that Lazar deflected back against the grain on Kuemper. It was a brilliant tip, if it was intentional.
  • Late in the second period, Miller made a costly error — he gave the Canucks a two-goal lead, which everyone knows is the most dangerous lead in hockey. It was a gorgeous wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle on the power play, with Kuzmenko cutting across Kuemper’s crease at just the right time to make like The Mountain on Oberyn Martell and take away Kuemper’s eyes. 
  • The Capitals scored 56 seconds into the first period and 8 seconds into the second period. In the third period, they leisurely took their time: a whole one minute and 16 seconds. John Carlsson took a point shot on the power play and Dylan Strome knocked it down in front before tucking it under a diving Demko. Suddenly, the dangerous two-goal lead was a nice-and-safe one-goal lead. Much better.
  • “There’s definitely something wrong. I mean, I must have the wrong guys out there, because they’re scoring in the first 15 seconds all the time,” said Boudreau about the power play. “And that’s not right. But, I mean, the coaches, they go over that. They have great meetings. And we usually have our most experienced players out there for it.”
  • Wrong guys, eh? J.T. Miller, who is one of the Canucks’ worst penalty killers by the underlying numbers, is always first out on the penalty kill and leads all Canucks’ forwards in shorthanded ice time. He’s been on the ice for all six power play goals against this season. I'm not saying it's entirely his fault, but maybe he shouldn't be the first guy over the boards every single time.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov should get a call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for this intentional slash to the face of Burroughs. I’m not sure how a two-handed slash to the face could be anything but intent to injure. He only got a two-minute minor.
  • This was a great game by Pettersson. He had a goal, two assists, a team-leading 75% corsi, and the Canucks out-shot the Capitals 8-to-2 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. To top it off, he showed his typical gentlemanliness after Connor Brown got crushed in open ice by Noah Juulsen. As Brown struggled to the bench, Pettersson immediately moved to help him to the bench even though the play was still going on. You have to laugh at the linesman moving to hold Pettersson off, as if he was going to fight him instead.
  • Aside from the hit, it wasn’t a great game for Noah Juulsen, who got in the lineup with all of the injuries on the right side on defence. At this point, you have to wonder what it will take for Jack Rathbone to get on the ice — he’s been a healthy scratch for all three games. 
  • Juulsen was on the ice for the 4-4 goal, stuck in the defensive zone when he couldn’t clear the zone effectively. It wasn’t all on him — the scrambling Canucks botched their defensive zone coverage, with Pearson leaving Carlson all alone to double-team Ovechkin with Horvat. Carlson walked in by himself and sniped the top corner from a tight angle. Juulsen was stapled to the bench after that goal — Pearson was not. 
  • Like they were too wild to keep together, the Canucks fell apart. The Capitals took the lead again when Hughes lost track of Conor Sheary on the rush and he snuck in behind to tip in an Ovechkin pass to make it 5-4.
  • The Capitals made it 6-4 a few minutes later when Höglander didn’t get inside position on Ovechkin as he went to the net. Ovechkin tipped in Kuznetsov’s pass and knocked down Pettersson all in one motion. You could see Höglander looking over his shoulder, trying to find his man, but he was looking over the wrong shoulder. 
  • With the loss, the Canucks are now the first team in NHL history to blow three-straight multi-goal leads to start a season. The zombie apocalypse is starting to look mighty attractive.
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