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I Watched This Game: Canucks lose to the Jets (and refs?)

"It felt like we were battling two teams tonight."
The Vancouver Canucks lost the special teams battle against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.

“It felt like we were battling two teams tonight,” said Tyler Myers.

And with that, the narrative of the Vancouver Canucks’ game against the Winnipeg Jets (and possibly another opponent) was set: the officiating.

Let’s be clear: the officiating was a mess. The reffing duo of Eric Furlatt and Brian Pochmara made phantom calls and missed some blatant penalties, to the point that it was never clear what was going to be called and what wasn’t. Heck, partway through the third period, it seemed like the referees had given up trying to figure out what was a penalty too, as they let everything go.

It was the worst thing an officiating crew can be: inconsistent. 

“If I was on TNT right now, I’d give you what I thought about the refs,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet, formerly on the TNT hockey panel. “But I’m not, I’m a head coach. I think the refs do a great job. It’s a hard job and these guys do a hell of a job. It’s tough every night, especially these types of games — there’s a lot of action. They’re human too.”

The real trouble is that the Canucks seemed to let the officiating get to them. They appeared to get frustrated and lose their cool and, as a result, lost the game.

It was the polar opposite of how they dealt with a similar issue against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, with Furlatt the common denominator on the officiating crew. Tocchet praised his team after that game for staying calm and said, “​​I was getting more mad than the players.” 

Also, the penalty kill was perfect against the Red Wings and wasn’t against the Jets. Instead, the Canucks’ penalty kill gave up two goals to the Jets’ power play, which was 0-for-21 in their previous eight games. 

Meanwhile, the Canucks’ power play was given plenty of opportunities to make a difference and went 0-for-4. The Jets scored two goals on four power plays, the Canucks didn’t, and the Jets won by two goals. There’s your real story of the game.

That’s the thing: there are going to be games when it feels like the Canucks are battling against an extra team in black and white on the ice (whether it’s true or not) and the Canucks can’t let that shake them. 

“You’re going to have these games,” said Tocchet. “Whether you think you got screwed or not, it doesn’t really matter.” 

When the referees call a penalty on your team that you feel is bogus, you grit your teeth and you kill that penalty. When the referees miss a blatant penalty that should have put your team on the power play, you put your head down and you get to work.

And, when the penalties even out, as they inevitably do, you take advantage.

The Jets took advantage of their opportunities and the Canucks didn’t. That’s what I saw when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks’ stars were a no-show against the Boston Bruins nine days ago and were held off the scoreboard again by the Jets. The team’s best players have shown up against tough opponents most of the season, but these recent games definitely suggest the Canucks need to sort out something in their top-six. The Jets got multi-point games from Mark Scheifele, Gabriel Vilardi, and Kyle Connor; the Canucks’ stars didn’t respond in kind.
  • To be fair, the line of J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Pius Suter heavily tilted the ice — shot attempts were 19-to-5 with Miller on the ice at 5-on-5 — but just couldn’t find that finishing touch around the net. Elias Pettersson’s line was a bigger issue: the Canucks had just two shots on goal with Pettersson on the ice at 5-on-5, and as any bachelorette party will tell you, two shots isn’t enough for a fun night.
  • The standard was seemingly set for the officiating in this game in the first period, when Tyler Myers got an elbowing penalty on a hit where his elbow initially made contact with Alex Iafallo’s shoulder. If my lip-reading is correct, Myers asked the referees, “Are you frying kippers with me?” to which the answer was presumably no, unless they had a George Foreman Grill in the penalty box.
  • “It’s tough when you’re battling and the first hit of the game is not a penalty and he calls it a penalty because I’m a bigger guy,” said Myers. “It felt like we were battling two teams tonight.”
  • The Canucks managed to kill off that penalty, if only just barely. Thatcher Demko made a near-miraculous save as he was pushed and ended up in the back of the net but he somehow managed to keep the puck clinging to the edge of the goal line. Sure, the referees called it a no goal because Demko was pushed in but you have to give him credit for still managing to keep the puck out.
  • After a quiet first period, things got hectic in the second, starting with a goal from the most unexpected player on the ice — Noah “Run the Juuls” Juulsen — from the most unexpected part of the ice — a foot inside the crease. Sorry if I just triggered a bunch of Buffalo Sabres fans with the phrase “foot inside the crease.”
  • It was a marvelous play by Juulsen for his first goal as a Canuck and first NHL goal since November 5, 2018. Ilya Mikheyev swung the puck to Conor Garland on the breakout and Juulsen jumped up to join the rush as the trailer. Garland centred for a net-crashing Teddy Blueger but the pass hit a skate and deflected into the crease. Juulsen beat everyone else to the loose puck and roofed it like he’s scored 100 goals in his NHL career and not three. 
  • The Jets were embellishing more than a Gothic architect in this game. Neal Pionk provided the best example, snapping his head back when Nils Höglander hit him in the chest with an elbow as he battled to get to the front of the net. If Pionk had snapped his head back any harder, PEZ would have come out of his neck. 
  • Eric Furlatt called the penalty on Höglander, perhaps aggrieved that he missed his high stick on Jake Walman in the game against the Red Wings that earned Höglander a $2,864.58 fine. He probably thought he wasn’t letting Höglander get away with one this time but all he did was allow Pionk to get away with embellishment.
  • The Jets got on the board on that power play, as Gabriel Vilardi caught Thatcher Demko off-guard with a surprise backhand. Like a letter writer who hates the taste of envelope glue, Demko didn’t seal the post. 
  • Moving right along from that last joke…
  • What’s particularly galling is that the referees called the phantom elbowing penalties on Myers and Höglander and then missed a blatant charging penalty when Adam Lowry launched himself at Nils Åman for a high hit. Like when I try to make hollandaise sauce, the consistency was terrible.
  • “When Myers got the penalty right away, I thought, ‘Okay, so anybody that gets hit,’” said Tocchet, implying that he felt strongly that the referees were setting the standard with that call. “I thought the Lowry [hit] — listen, we can sit here all night and pick and choose,” continued Tocchet, carefully attempting to avoid a fine.
  • Phil Di Giuseppe jumped in to defend his teammate and Lowry dropped the gloves first for the ensuing fight, but Di Giuseppe still got an instigator penalty. It felt like the referees compounded their mistake, missing the initial penalty and then giving the Jets a power play to top it off. And, of course, the Jets scored, with Sean Monahan scoring a Bo Horvat-like goal from the bumper to make it 2-1.
  • Another unexpected goalscorer tied up the game 2-2, as Tyler Myers scored a gorgeous goal. Myers read the play perfectly and picked off a cross-ice pass from Vilardi at the blue line. Then Myers stunned both the Jets and the crowd with a toe-drag past Pionk, then finished it off with a backhand past Connor Hellebuyck. The chaos giraffe was loping like a graceful gazelle on that goal.
  • Miller’s lack of discipline nearly got the Canucks in a lot of trouble at the end of the second period. Already on the penalty kill, Miller popped his shoulder into Mark Scheifele away from the puck and caught him in the chin. Miller was fortunate that Scheifele spun around so dramatically and immediately looked for the referee, as that earned him an embellishment penalty to go with Miller’s interference penalty, which was absolutely the correct call. If Scheifele had been less dramatic, the Canucks would have started the third period killing a 5-on-3.
  • Juulsen wasn’t able to revel in his first goal as a Canuck after the game because of two crucial errors in the third period. The first was when he chased a hit — and, to his credit, it was a huge hit — on Scheifele, failing to read that the Jets had numbers coming up the ice. Because of the hit, the back-checking Garland got caught in no man’s land, leading to a 3-on-1 against Myers and a backdoor tap-in for Vilardi.
  • Then, on the 4-2 goal, Juulsen took a swing at a puck in the neutral zone instead of backing up into safety, leading to a 2-on-1 against Nikita Zadorov, with Kyle Connor sneaking a pass through to Scheifele for the finish. 
  • “I mean, the goal doesn’t matter at all,” said Juulsen. “The third one, I went for the hit and it ended up in the back of our net and then the fourth one is on me as well. That game’s a loss because of me.”
  • There were other issues beyond Juulsen on both goals: Ilya Mikheyev’s shot selection on the 3-2 goal wasn’t ideal, causing the puck to ricochet around the boards and out of the zone. Elias Lindholm and Elias Pettersson collided in the neutral zone on the 4-2 goal, preventing them from providing any back pressure. Myers and Zadorov could have defended the odd-man rushes differently. In other words, Juulsen shouldn’t beat himself up, especially because he probably punches really hard and would badly hurt himself.
  • The real issue, of course, is that the Canucks’ only two goals in a 4-2 loss were scored by Noah Juulsen and Tyler Myers. When you get goals from those two, they ought to be ornamentation overtop of the production from the team’s stars, not the foundation of the building. As much as Juulsen made a couple of key mistakes, this loss is a lot more on the 0-for-4 power play and blank box scores for the team’s stars.
  • The biggest issue for the power play is that they seemed to be constantly trying to pass the puck through Jets penalty killers instead of finding the passing lanes. Far too often, the Canucks’ passes were going directly into Jets skates and sticks, making it all too easy for the penalty kill to clear the puck. They need to be like a great artist and see the negative space where the penalty killers aren’t. 
  • “You’ve gotta move your feet,” said Tocchet. “If a couple of guys move their feet, they will pass pucks…That’s why I get frustrated because we talk about it but you’ve gotta work it out in practice. You cannot stare down your option and have your feet planted. You’ve gotta move your feet and we’ve got to work on that because it’s going to get harder and harder as the season goes on.
  • “I’ve always felt that you can learn from the best: [Nikita] Kucherov or [Connor] McDavid, they move their feet all the time so the angles change. We can learn from great players too.”