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I Watched This Game: Canucks go streaking against the Hurricanes

The Canucks battened down the hatches defensively against the Hurricanes and got a couple of timely goals.
After their 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Vancouver Canucks have won four straight games under new head coach Bruce Boudreau.

We’re going streaking!

This entire week has been an utter delight on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks. After so many painful weeks, both for the players and the fans, these last four games have been a breath of fresh air.

It’s not just that the Canucks have won four-straight games under new head coach Bruce Boudreau — though that’s pretty great — it’s that they’re doing so while playing a free-flowing, fun-to-watch style of hockey that has seemed to bring out the best in players like Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes. 

All the tension has left Rogers Arena as well, with the boos and jeers replaced by woos and cheers. The “Fire Benning” chants have become spontaneous “Bruce, there it is” chants. Even the goal song has changed — “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds was a hit at Friday’s 80’s Night, so they kept it for another game and it might be sticking around.

There are caveats to all of the wins, of course. For instance, three of the four wins came against teams playing on the second half of back-to-backs, three of the four have come against backup goaltenders, and Thatcher Demko has been unsustainably good. The Carolina Hurricanes, Sunday’s opponent, were playing on the second night of back-to-backs and third game in four nights and were also missing Sebastian Aho, their leading scorer, who had 12 points in his last five games.

If you would like to ignore all those caveats and just enjoy the wins, however, please do so. 

In fact, it’s all the more important to enjoy things when it’s possible that they won’t last. Maybe the Canucks are embarking on a magical run and will storm their way up the standings, perhaps all the way to the playoffs. Maybe not. Either way, enjoy the good times while they’re here.

Besides, a little twist in perspective can turn some of those caveats around. The Canucks have made a habit of making backup goaltenders look like Vezina winners before, so getting some wins against backups is a nice change of pace. 

Also, the Hurricanes are a bloody good team. They’re currently tied for second in the NHL in points percentage and, even without Aho, have a bevy of dangerous weapons, like Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. Beating even a tired Hurricanes team is a solid accomplishment for the Boudreau-ified Canucks.

So, let the good times roll. I let them roll right over me when I watched this game.

  • Boudreau has been preaching “just shoot” as a philosophy ever since he got to Vancouver, but Vasily Podkolzin and Justin Dowling didn’t follow Boudreau’s directions — they had the Canucks’ two best chances in the first period and they were both similar: they each got the puck in the slot and, instead of quickly shooting, tried to deke to the backhand and lost the puck. They both needed M in their ears telling them, “Take the bloody shot!”
  • Brock Boeser, on the other hand, has taken Boudreau’s words to heart. After some solid work on the boards by J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson, Boeser knocked a loose puck to Miller, who wasn’t at the right angle for a shot, so he gave it right back to Boeser. The puck was off Boeser’s stick faster than Francesco Aquilini conducts a thorough and exhaustive search. Just like that, 1-0 Canucks.
  • With the Canucks’ more aggressive style under Boudreau, strong defensive play from the forwards will be more important than ever, which is why I appreciate this great play by Brock Boeser to break up a 2-on-1 after Quinn Hughes got caught deep and Luke Schenn made an ill-advised pinch in the neutral zone. Boeser stayed in the passing lane and calmly broke up the pass before sending a nifty reverse pass himself to Hughes to start the breakout.
  • Tyler Myers made a fantastic play on the Canucks’ 2-0 goal, picking off a loft pass and jumping up through the neutral zone to attack in transition. The aggressive maneuver gave the Canucks a 4-on-2 and Myers smartly deferred to Conor Garland once he gained the zone and the winger immediately set up Elias Pettersson in the slot. Without any of the hesitation that had plagued him this season, Pettersson executed the catch-and-release to perfection, firing the puck top corner.
  • Vasily Podkolzin is becoming all kinds of fun to watch. I liked this particular rush, where he banked the puck off the boards to himself in the neutral zone, then chipped the puck ahead to squeeze past Ethan Bear on the boards, then leveled Seth Jarvis in the corner. He’s like a bull in a china shop but with the finesse of a bull that might visit a china shop intentionally.
  • Besides, Mythbusters showed that bulls in china shops are actually very graceful, as well as powerful. 
  • I’ve been hard on Tucker Poolman in this space at times, so it’s only fair to praise him when praise is due, and he had a monster of a shift to end the second period. First, he dove out to knock a puck away from Nino Niederreiter on a 2-on-1, then tied up Niederreiter to keep him from a loose puck, then poked the puck away from Jesper Fast as he drove to the slot, then blocked a deflection by Fast, and finally, when Myers couldn’t get the puck out, Poolman blocked one more shot by Niederreiter. To quote Penny Lane, it’s all happening.  
  • The Hurricanes got one back early in the third period after a puck bounced over Kyle Burroughs’ stick at the blue line and Jarvis moved in 2-on-1 with Martin Necas. Jarvis sent a lovely saucer pass over a sprawled-out Hunt, then Necas showed Podkolzin and Dowling how a backhand move is done, tucking the puck five-hole on Demko.
  • That’s the only goal Demko would give up. He was fantastic in this game, primarily because he didn’t make any of his saves look fantastic. Even superb glove saves looked routine: his glove flashed up, then snapped down, with no showboating. He made it look so casual, which is a nifty way to unnerve your opponents.
  • One of my main critiques of Travis Green was about his reluctance to use young players in high-leverage defensive situations, such as on the penalty kill or late in the third period of a tight game. So, it’s been gratifying to see players like Pettersson and Podkolzin thriving in penalty killing roles. Podkolzin was even trusted by Boudreau to close out a one-goal game alongside Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller in the final minute.
  • That said, Podkolzin still needs some work when it comes to scoring on the empty net. He tried to feed the puck to Horvat on a rush up the ice — after another Poolman block! — but got pokechecked and then utterly clobbered by Jaccob Slavin. I’m sure Tanner Pearson could give Podkolzin some empty net tips next practice.
  • So, that’s four wins in a row under Bruce Boudreau. Dare we hope for five on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets?