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I Watched This Game: Canucks lose to Leafs in 'stinker' of a game

Rick Tocchet: "It’s one of those games, we’ve got to flush it, it wasn’t good."
The Vancouver Canucks' point streak came to a crashing halt against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

A game like this was bound to happen at some point for the Vancouver Canucks. It’s just a shame that it happened in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada.

Regression hit the Canucks and it hit them hard. At 5-on-5, the Canucks out-shot the Toronto Maple Leafs 22-to-15 but the Leafs scored five goals and the Canucks scored none. That dropped the Canucks’ league-leading PDO from 1.092 to 1.067 in just one game.

Bounces that had been going the Canucks’ way all season suddenly abandoned them, bouncing the way of the Leafs instead. Turns out the bounces are traitorous bastards, the lot of them, and should be tried for treason.

“Quite frankly, we’ve had some good bounces this year,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “We’ve been fortunate. Some nights, you’re not going to have the bounces but you still have to make sure you stay in your game...If you’re in the right spots, you’re going to get the bounces most nights and I don’t think we were in the spots tonight, defensively or offensively.”

That’s the key, of course: the Canucks simply did not play well enough. Too few of their passes connected on the breakout, they couldn’t come up with pucks on the forecheck, and they failed to get to the inside for scoring chances. It was some sloppy, disjointed hockey and far from the best we’ve seen from the Canucks this season.

“It’s one of those games, we’ve got to flush it, it wasn’t good,” said Tocchet, adding later, “We were just off. We haven’t practiced that much, I don’t know if that’s the problem, but we’ve had a lot of days off. I find with this team, if we don’t get some practices, we get sloppy.”

For some NHL media types, this will have been the first time they watched the Canucks play this season and it might have them wondering, what’s the big deal?

Instead of a Norris-caliber Quinn Hughes, an Art Ross-favourite Elias Pettersson, and a Vezina-worthy Thatcher Demko, eastern media saw the worst game those three Canucks stars have played all season. And, instead of building on their five-game winning streak, the Canucks stumbled to a 5-2 loss — the most goals they’ve given up all season.

“It’s just creeped the last couple of games,” said Tocchet. “We’ve got to work a little bit harder. I thought we had those two power play goals and then we got a bunch of power plays and we didn’t have the killer instinct. And our 5-on-5 play wasn’t that great.”

It’s far from the end of the world. That was the first regulation loss in ten games for the Canucks and just their third regulation loss of the season. They’re still 10-3-1, they’re still second in the Pacific Division, and they still have the league’s best goal differential.

“Obviously, that wasn’t a great one but we’ve been playing some good hockey,” said Hughes. “There’s going to be nights like this and nights where we feel really good about ourselves. As far as today, we’re going to have to put it behind us and look forward to playing tomorrow.”

The Canucks themselves have said it: good teams don’t let one loss turn into a losing streak. They’ll look to turn this loss into a one-off — something to learn from and move on from.

“It’s 82 games and you learn from them,” said Tocchet. “There’s some stinkers and sometimes you learn from a stinker.”

I placed a clothespin over my nose as I sat down to write about how I watched this game.

  • The real reason the Canucks lost this game is because John Shorthouse and John Garrett were reunited on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast — calling the game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens instead of the Canucks game. It’s a crime against nature, I tell you, so it’s no wonder the vibes were all wrong on the ice.
  • The Canucks should have known they were in trouble as soon as Ryan Reaves was a healthy scratch. The Leafs handed the 36-year-old Reaves a three-year, $4.05 million contract to help solve their team toughness troubles but the Leafs have been outscored 11-0 when Reaves has been on the ice this season. Seems unfair that every other Leafs opponent other than the Canucks has gotten to play against Reaves.
  • Without Reaves, it seemed like the Leafs were overeager to prove how tough they were, taking two instigator penalties for challenging Canucks to fights after clean hits. Both instigators led to Canucks power play goals and, rather than make the Leafs look tough, made them look soft — what, you can’t take a hit and keep playing? Toughen up.
  • Of course, because the Leafs eventually won the game, the narrative out of Toronto will surely be that the two pointless fights galvanized the Leafs and led to the win rather than that they almost cost them the game. 
  • J.T. Miller opened the scoring after Mark Giordano went after Dakota Joshua for a clean hit on David Kampf. There was no struggle for the Canucks power play: skating downhill at the top of the left faceoff circle, Miller rifled the puck inside the far post with Brock Boeser screening in front. 
  • The Canucks’ second goal similarly came after Max Domi jumped Ian Cole after he clobbered Nick Robertson. This time, the second unit came through: Anthony Beauvillier hammered a low one-timer, forcing Ilya Samsonov to kick a rebound into the slot, where Pius Suter was the loose shooter.
  • The Leafs first two goals came from Knies and knees and both bore similarities, as Thatcher Demko got spun around both times on pucks that went below the goal line. Both times, defencemen scrambled behind Demko to cover for him, with Cole kicking a puck off the goal line and Tyler Myers kneeing the puck into the net. 
  • In Myers’ defence, he got knocked over by Tyler Bertuzzi. In Myers’ offence, he’s huge and should not be getting knocked down that easily.
  • The Canucks had a clear opportunity to take over the game after the Leafs tied it up. Elias Pettersson drew a penalty by keeping his feet moving against Mark Giordano, then the Leafs compounded the issue with a too many men penalty, giving the Canucks a 5-on-3. But the Canucks never got set up and failed to even get a shot on goal with the two-man advantage. In fact, they were out-shot 3-2 across both power plays.
  • That seemed to be the difference in the game, as the Leafs took over from there. Noah Gregor made it 3-2 with a top-corner snipe in transition past a moving Demko to finish off a frustrating second period for the Canucks.
  • An uncharacteristic error by Quinn Hughes led to the 4-2 goal. Hughes came down behind his own net to pick up a loose puck, a situation that he typically turns into a zone exit nine times out of ten, even under pressure. This time, his attempted pass to Filip Hronek was picked off and kicked out front, where Robertson beat a too-deep Demko, who has really got to stop reading all that philosophy.  
  • “I thought our breakouts, we were a little sloppy,” said Tocchet, then referenced the 4-2 goal, saying, “We weren’t moving really quick with the puck. On that one goal, if we move it quickly, move it by the forecheck, there’s no goal.”
  • As a true sign the bounces weren’t going the Canucks’ way, Hughes created a great scoring chance with a cut to the middle of the ice, only to see his shot ring off the post. That would have made it a one-goal game but, instead, the Leafs went the other way and scored. Demko was again too deep in his net and didn’t get his pad up against the post, allowing Kampf to tip the puck between the gap, sealing the game for the Leafs the way Demko didn’t seal the post.
  • Demko has been incredible for the Canucks this season; he’s allowed to have an off game. It would’ve been nice if his off game came in one of the games where the Canucks scored 8 or 10 goals, but c’est la vie.