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I Watched This Game: Canucks lack Midas touch vs Golden Knights

"I just thought we were a little light everywhere," said Canucks coach Rick Tocchet after a lopsided loss to the Golden Knights.
The Vancouver Canucks gave up too many dangerous chances off the rush on Tuesday night against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Oh boy.

This game went south faster than a scientifically accurate Santa Claus. Ten minutes into the first period between the Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights, the game was essentially over, as Jack Eichel scored a demoralizing 3-1 goal just after Nils Höglander had gotten the Canucks on the board.

The rest of the game was just the Golden Knights making it progressively more and more over until it was the most over it could possibly be. 

The Canucks were not only done in by that bad start but by the mistakes they made every time they came close to getting back into the game. Twice the Canucks gave up a goal to the Golden Knights within 30 seconds after scoring, which cut short any opportunities to push for a comeback.

“Not a good start and it starts with me,” said Canucks captain Quinn Hughes, who made a rare skating mistake before the opening goal. “Everyone’s got to look inwards here.”

Hughes was quick to blame himself but he was easily the Canucks’ best player in this game, tallying two goals to give the Canucks a modicum of life, a soupçon of hope, and a smidgen of belief. There were plenty of other goats for the Canucks in this game; Hughes didn’t need to make himself the scapegoat, though that is often the lot of a captain.

“I didn’t think four or five guys were ready to play,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “We had our moments in the second and the third but obviously that first put us behind the eight ball.”

It seems particularly frustrating to lose so consummately to a team like the Golden Knights, who are a potential first-round opponent for the Canucks in the playoffs. The Canucks are now 1-2-0 against the Golden Knights this season and have been out-scored 11-to-7 in those three games. 

Hughes, however, dismissed that as a major concern. To him, it wasn’t any more disappointing to play poorly against the Golden Knights.

“If we play like crap against a team that’s not in the playoffs, it’s even more disappointing because that shouldn’t happen — it shouldn’t happen tonight either,” said Hughes. “When you play like that against any team in the league, it’s going to be disappointing.”

While the Canucks have had some good games over the past month, the way they’ve played at times since the All-Star break, particularly against top competition, has been legitimately concerning. The Canucks could completely erase those concerns once the playoffs start but, until they do, fans are going to be a little bit nervous. Now the Canucks have just seven games remaining in the regular season to get things in order.

“I just thought we were a little light everywhere,” said Tocchet. “And that’s not the type of game you want when you’re getting into the stretch drive. So, we’ve got to find it quickly.”

Unlike when you’re singing a gospel song, you don’t want to be a little light in the NHL. The Canucks certainly weren’t shining when I watched this game. 

  • While Hughes was quick to blame himself for losing his feet on the opening goal, the mistakes were multifarious for the Canucks. It started with a bad change by Arshdeep Bains and Teddy Blueger, as they went to the bench as the Golden Knights were rushing the other way. With no one taking away passing lanes in the neutral zone, it was all too easy for William Karlsson to send Pavel Dorofeyev in alone on a breakaway behind Hughes. Fortunately, Casey DeSmith was able to come up with a big pad save to bail out his teammates — a great chance for the Canucks to settle down after the early Vegas pressure.
  • Then DeSmith tried to gather the puck into his glove to freeze it and instead batted the puck right under his glove to Anthony Mantha, so he could score into the open net. It was, to be blunt, a very stupid way to give up a goal. Like Ash Williams, DeSmith was doing great until he messed up the very last step.
  • The Canucks have done very well at preventing odd-man rushes this season but the Golden Knights seemed to have found a weakness in their system in this game, repeatedly attacking the weak side on their breakout to create chance after chance on the rush. That’s either a major problem for the Canucks or the Golden Knights tipped their hand too early and gave the Canucks a sneak preview of how they plan to attack them in the playoffs, giving the coaching staff a chance to plan for it.
  • One of those odd-man rushes led to the 2-0 goal, as Ian Cole stepped up on Ivan Barbashev at the same time that Brock Boeser backchecked on Barbashev, taking both of them out of the play as Shea Theodore and Jonathan Marchessault attacked 2-on-1 against Nikita Zadorov. With Theodore driving the net, Zadorov was forced to give Marchessault too much room and he beat DeSmith cleanly past the blocker.
  • “The first couple of goals, we’re leaving him out to dry — 2-on-1s,” said Hughes in defence of DeSmith, defending him far more effectively than the Canucks did during the game. “On the power play, he made a great save at the end [of the first period] that could’ve made it 5-1 and then we take a five-minute penalty there and they get a bunch of good looks. Casey did his job tonight; we were not very good around him.”
  • The Canucks clawed one back midway through the first. Elias Pettersson got the puck in deep, then Nils Höglander threw a hit on the forecheck to free it up for Pettersson to send in front for Brock Boeser. While his initial shot couldn’t beat Logan Thompson, Boeser made like Phish and kept jamming away, freeing up the puck for Höglander to chip in to make it 2-1.
  • Unfortunately, 20 seconds later the Golden Knights scored on another rush to restore their two-goal lead. Cole again gambled on Barbashev, who just passed the puck right past him to Marchessault, who was speeding away from Bains. Zadorov got caught in no man’s land and Teddy Blueger didn’t get back to Jack Eichel in the slot. It was a mess.
  • It was already a rough night for Zadorov and it only got rougher, as he was tagged with a phantom high-sticking penalty when he shoved Alex Pietrangelo in the chest and the Vegas defenceman snapped his head back so hard I expected PEZ to come out of his neck. 
  • To make matters worse, the Golden Knights scored on the unjust power play to make it 4-1. As the penalty kill scrambled, Cole set an accidental screen on DeSmith, who looked around the defenceman on his left side just as the puck went by on his right from a Noah Hanifin point shot.
  • If it sounds like Ian Cole had a bad game, then you have assessed the situation correctly. The veteran defenceman was on the ice for the first five Golden Knights goals and was at fault in some way on at least three, maybe four of them. He was straight-up not having a good time.
  • This game was so bad that an almost miraculous save by DeSmith almost got overlooked. The Canucks broadcast wasn’t even sure that DeSmith had made the save at all, but the Golden Knights broadcast at least found a replay that showed DeSmith getting his paddle on Karlsson’s shorthanded chance off yet another odd-man rush.
  • At the end of the first period, Zadorov had clearly seen enough and decided to end his night early. He lined up Brett Howden along the boards and ran through the numbers like Gaal Dornick. ​​That earned him a five-minute major and a game misconduct, which was, in my opinion, the correct call, even if Canucks fans were primed to see it as yet another blown decision by the officials after his earlier high-sticking penalty. 
  • The Golden Knights made it 5-1 early in the second period on that power play. Cole and Pius Suter couldn’t out-battle Vegas on the boards to get the puck out, leading to Pietrangelo powering a shot through DeSmith. The puck dribbled into the crease and Karlsson beat Cole to the loose puck to poke it in. 
  • The Canucks kept pushing and Quinn Hughes scored his first goal of the game to make it 5-2. The power play showed some urgency after some lackadaisical play over the past month, whipping the puck around and getting it to the net. Finally, Conor Garland sent the puck to Hughes at the point and he whipped a wristshot past a Pettersson screen.
  • Judging from social media, there seems to be some frustration setting in surrounding Elias Pettersson, with the expectation that he take over games and dominate given his new, big-money contract that kicks in next season. But Pettersson was far from the problem in this game. He was directly involved in two of the Canucks’ three goals and set up a couple of other grade-A chances. Could he have been better? Sure, but there were far more deserving targets of criticism in this game, so it was odd to see Pettersson’s name get dragged through the mud.
  • Vasily Podkolzin showed signs of life in this game. He’s been an effective enough role player on the fourth line with his physical play but, like Brian Regan, he hasn’t been the least bit offensive. His drive to the net midway through the second period showed promise of the power forward he could be.
  • It almost seemed like the Canucks were going to mount a comeback when Quinn Hughes scored early in the third period. Hughes obeyed the inscrutable exhortations of his soul ​​and went for a skate, then flung the puck towards the net and beat Thompson with Teddy Blueger parked in front providing the screen. 
  • The hope for a comeback ended 24 seconds later. Carson Soucy got caught up ice and J.T. Miller didn’t realize he needed to cover for him at the point, leading to another 2-on-1 rush. Tyler Myers slid to the ice hoping to take away the pass but somehow his 6’7” frame, outstretched arms, and stick weren’t enough to prevent Keegan Kolesar from giving Brett Howden a tap-in goal.
  • The best thing you can say about this game is that it at least gave the Canucks plenty to work on in practice. You know, just in case the coaches were running out of topics to discuss, this one game gave them at least a week’s worth of material. That’s always nice at the end of a long season.