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I Watched This Game: Canucks kick off Saturday morning with a loss to Red Wings

“There’s a history here of giving up a lot of freebie goals.”
The Vancouver Canucks ended their road trip with a fizzle, falling 5-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The nice thing about watching a Vancouver Canucks game at 9 a.m. is that your day can only go up from there.

If Canucks fans weren’t ready to watch a game at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, the Canucks were equally unready to play it, even if it was a noon start in Detroit.

Spencer Martin wasn’t ready, giving up two goals on the first two shots he faced but neither were the skaters in front of him, who turned the puck over, lost their checks in defensive zone coverage, and took undisciplined penalties.

Down 2-0 early and with a goaltender struggling through the worst stretch of his career, this game was essentially a write-off for the Canucks less than three minutes in, before many Canucks fans had even had their first cup of coffee. 

At least Canucks fans had the option at that point to turn the game off and go about the rest of their Saturday. The Canucks had to keep playing the rest of the game and some of us had to keep watching.

I’m talking about me. I watched this game.

  • Spencer Martin going undefeated in regulation through his first ten starts with the Canucks seems like it was far off in the distant past at this point. Martin had a .930 save percentage in that ten-game stretch; he has an .865 save percentage ever since. The team in front of him hasn’t helped and it’s telling that Collin Delia and Thatcher Demko have also had save percentages below .900 this year, but it really shows the difference between being a starter and being a backup.
  • It started with a turnover by Ethan Bear and Quinn Hughes down low, then Bear couldn’t win the puck back in a battle with Tyler Bertuzzi. A series of passes later and Dylan Larkin was using Bear as a screen to fire the puck under Martin’s arm to make it 1-0. One shot — one opportunity — one goal. 
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson was the goat on the 2-0 goal. Under pressure as he came back into the zone for a loose puck, Ekman-Larsson threw the puck around the boards to no one. As the Red Wings took possession, Ekman-Larsson lost his man, Jonatan Berggren, as he went behind the net. Fortunately for Berggren, he wasn’t lost forever; Ben Chiarot found him with the puck and Berggren tipped it behind an over-aggressive Martin.
  • “This team cannot give free goals,” said Tocchet. “There’s a history here of giving up a lot of freebie goals and we have to clean that up.”
  • Needing to change the momentum, the Canucks instead saw J.T. Miller take an undisciplined penalty in front of the Red Wings net on their first extended time in the offensive zone. With Olli Maatta subtly grabbing his stick, Miller much-less-subtly hauled off and started punching Maatta in the back of the head. Unsurprisingly, Miller got the only penalty, then unwisely said some unkind words to the referees to add an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as well. On the subsequent four-minute power play, David Perron hit the post on what would have been the Red Wings’ third shot of the game.
  • Aside from that moment, however, Miller and his linemates, Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin, had a fantastic game. They were all over the Red Wings, out-attempting them 15-to-1 when they were all on the ice together at 5-on-5, with Miller leading the way with a team-leading 10 shot attempts in all situations. It was outright domination in puck possession; they just couldn’t put the puck in the net. 
  • Miller did help get the Canucks on the board on the power play in the second period. It was a classic Miller setup to the bumper, like he did for years to Bo Horvat. But the Canucks, like Drew Barrymore every time you turn around, have a new Beau, and Anthony Beauvillier finished off the passing play this time around to make it 2-1. 
  • It was a strong start to the second period, with the Canucks out-shooting the Red Wings 8-0 through the first ten minutes, but then Riley Stillman took a tripping penalty, Curtis Lazar couldn’t clear the puck on his backhand along the boards on the subsequent power play, and the Red Wings passed the puck through the slot with impunity to give Larkin an open net to restore the two-goal lead. There was nothing Martin could have done about that one.
  • “You can’t give a team 14 minutes in power plays,” said Tocchet. It was 12 minutes, but his point still stands, especially when you have not just the worst penalty kill in the NHL but the worst penalty kill in the history of the NHL.  
  • The Canucks managed to kill off an early third-period power play, then Dakota Joshua made a poised play in front of his own net, recognizing that he had time to control the puck and spring Bear on a breakaway out of the box. Filip Hronek dove out on the backcheck and tripped Bear and he went spinning hard into the boards. I haven’t seen a Bear suffer a trip that bad since Cocaine Bear.  
  • As Bear went to the room to assess his injury, someone on the ice had to step in to take his penalty shot. Quinn Hughes, who had just stepped onto the ice in place of Stillman, was called to take the shot and he made a legitimately great move to undress Ville Husso, but then the puck went into X-Games mode and did a backflip over the top of Hughes’s stick at the last second. 
  • Here’s a question: why do teams not get a power play after a failed penalty shot? Why is it not treated the same as a delayed penalty, where if the team fails to score, they still get a power play? The penalty shot is just meant to replace the stolen scoring chance, after all. It might be more of a deterrent to taking a penalty on a guy on a breakaway if the other team will get both a penalty shot and a power play if the penalty shot fails. Worth a thought.
  • To add insult to Bear’s literal injury (don't worry, Bear would later return), Hronek scored the Red Wings’ next goal. Stillman was too slow to move the puck and had his pocket picked, allowing the Red Wings to throw the puck around the zone. It came to Hronek at the top of the zone and, with Martin cheating to his right to look around the screen, Hronek’s wrist shot zipped home through traffic like a motorcyclist lane-splitting in California.  
  • The Canucks penalty kill looked great during a third-period penalty by Hughes with their aggressive puck pressure up ice. Then the puck got into their zone and it all fell apart, first giving up a point-blank chance to Tyler Bertuzzi in the slot that Martin turned aside, then a backdoor pass through the slot to give Berggren an open net to make it 5-1. Ekman-Larsson didn’t look great on the goal, with a weak clear to the boards off the Bertuzzi rebound and giving up the passing lane to Berggren.
  • Funny thing is, by killing four of six penalties in this game for a penalty kill percentage of 66.7%, the Canucks actually improved their penalty kill percentage for the entire season, which currently sits at 65.8%.
  • Despite being down by four, the Canucks didn’t give up. Elias Pettersson pressured the puck on the Red Wings breakout and got his stick on a pass. The puck fluttered to Moritz Seider, but Brock Boeser played the body to create a turnover. Pettersson took the puck, dropped it to Beauvillier, then went to the net to finish off the rebound to make it 5-2. But that, as Don Taylor would say, was as close as they would come.
  • “Beau skates and he supports the puck,” said Tocchet. “Petey needs wingers that are going to support and come up with loose pucks.”
  • One has to wonder if Tocchet’s view of what Pettersson needs on his wings is why, for the third-straight game, Andrei Kuzmenko was benched for a long stretch, this time in the second period. He finished with 10:35 in ice time, the lowest on the Canucks, though the amount of time the Canucks spent killing penalties played into that. 
  • Honestly, there was some weird usage elsewhere in this game, perhaps a consequence of playing four games in six nights. Miller only had 16:24 in ice time after playing nearly 23 minutes in the Canucks’ last game against the New York Islanders, which is odd given how much his line was dominating the Red Wings. Pettersson still played 20:24, so it wasn’t a case of cutting everyone’s ice time at the end of a road trip.