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I Watched This Game: Canucks mount third period comeback but Oilers prevail in the shootout

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the first Canucks goal of the season.
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The Vancouver Canucks fell 3-2 to the Edmonton Oilers in the shootout in their season opener.

Before the start of an NHL season, there are endless possibilities. 

One season could go infinite different ways. For instance, most pundits predict that Connor McDavid will tally the most points this coming season, winning the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy in the process. But maybe he’ll get injured at some point and miss the season. Or, less likely, maybe every single time that he attempts a shot that likely would have resulted in a goal, he breaks his stick, causing him to finish the season with zero goals.

Before the Vancouver Canucks played their first game on Wednesday night against McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, there were 3,486 distinct possibilities for their final record — from a perfect 82-0-0 record to a putrid 0-82-0 record. 

Right from the first puck drop, however, those infinite possibilities begin to coalesce into one, solitary timeline. And, when the game ended in a shootout loss, a host of potential outcomes were lost as well. Any of those 3,486 win-loss records that didn’t include at least one overtime loss will never happen.

At least, that’s one theory.

Another theory, one increasingly embraced by physicists, is that there is a multiverse — a new universe created not just when one person makes a different choice but when a singular molecule bounces a different way.

If this is true, then there theoretically exists a universe where the Canucks have won the Stanley Cup. Theoretically, there’s a universe where they’ve won every Stanley Cup since they entered the NHL. Also, theoretically, there’s a universe where the Canucks acquired Wayne Gretzky in 1988, causing the destruction of the NHL.   

It also means that there is theoretically a universe where the Canucks didn’t lose their season opener to the Oilers on Wednesday. One molecule jumped one way and another molecule jumped another and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shot missed the net instead of going into the top corner.

In that universe, the Canucks are off to a smashing 1-0-0 start, full of confidence after mounting a stunning third-period comeback to win. They launch into an all-important season on exactly the right foot, leaving open that wild possibility of an 82-0-0 season. 

That universe sounds pretty neat. Unfortunately, I was not able to watch that game in that universe. I’m not The Watcher and I can’t see all possibilities of the multiverse. I could only stay in this universe and watch this game.

  • Honestly, this game was pretty great. I’m okay with staying in this universe if it means more games like that one. It was a fast-paced affair, with plenty of scoring chances and a strong push by the Canucks in the third period to tie the game and force overtime. I was entertained.
     
  • “It was a good hockey game tonight,” said head coach Travis Green. “To come in on the road, battle back and get a point — I’m pretty happy with our effort tonight.”
     
  • Nils Höglander looked like the best Canuck on the ice, assisting on both Canucks goals and firing four shots on goal himself. He was so good that it was easy to forget that he was on the third line and not in the top-six where he belongs.
     
  • “He’s strong on the puck and it pays off when he plays that way,” said Oliver Ekman-Larsson of Höglander. “I thought he deserved to score one as well tonight. I like his game, he’s always giving 100% out there and he’s not taking any shifts off.”
     
  • Höglander was buzzing all game and arguably should’ve drawn two or three penalties with his shifty changes in direction and speed. The referees did not agree with this argument, not even when he was can-opener’d on one spin move in the second period.
  • “He had a strong game,” said Green of Höglander. “He's a guy that I kind of used tonight in a couple different looks. I thought early in the game, that line was playing really well. They could have scored a couple of times.”
     
  • One of those times was a superb Höglander setup to an unexpected player: Kyle Burroughs. The defenceman wasn’t a player that anyone thought would be in the lineup on opening night but a strong camp landed him on the right side with Jack Rathbone. Evidently, the Oilers didn’t see him in the Canucks’ lineup either, because he snuck in the backdoor while Höglander dipsy-doodled through the defence, only for his quick shot to be stymied by Mike Smith.
  • “[Burroughs] quietly had a poised game,” said Green. “He made some subtle nice plays. Kind of what you'd want to see out of a young D. Didn't make any glaring mistakes and sometimes when you don't notice a guy a whole lot in the game, that's not a bad thing. That's a good thing for a young defenceman.”
     
  • While Höglander excelled from his spot on the third line, Alex Chiasson struggled on the top line. While fingers could be pointed in multiple directions on the Oilers’ first goal, the biggest issue was Chiasson getting lost defensively. As his eyes locked onto McDavid and the puck, his man, Darnell Nurse, walked in from the point for a shot that Thatcher Demko couldn’t control, allowing Jesse Puljujarvi to bang in the rebound.
  • After Chiasson’s mistake, it was a comedy of errors — J.T. Miller dropped his stick, Elias Pettersson left Puljujarvi alone in front, Tyler Myers didn’t rotate to cover Puljujarvi — but it all stems from Chiasson leaving Nurse alone. In literature, we would call this the inciting incident, like the shipwreck in, well, The Comedy of Errors
     
  • The play of the game — or, at least, the most satisfying play for long-time Canucks fans — was Tyler Myers steamrolling Duncan Keith in the second period. It was an enormous hit, the type of hit that Keith has been able to avoid his entire career with his mobility, and there is no clearer sign that Keith has lost a step or seven. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
  • It was the Oilers, however, that took a 2-0 lead not long after the hit, capitalizing on a power play caused by a too many men on the ice call — Canucks hockey, baby! The Oilers power play was deadly, zipping the puck around the Canucks’ penalty killers with impunity to create a tap-in goal for Zach Hyman.
     
  • Green pointed out that the too many men call was caused by a combination of a rookie mistake and veteran savvy: “You get too many men on the ice for different reasons. A big part of our pre-scout tonight was keeping pucks away from Smith. [Podkolzin], it’s probably a youthful mistake...our D were trying to get off the ice and you’d like to see that puck either soft-chipped or hard-rimmed so our D can get off the ice. Give Smith credit, he gets it right up, knowing that our D are trying to get off.”
     
  • It was a quiet start to Podkolzin’s NHL career. He was limited to 7:34 in ice time in his debut but did get some shifts on the top line with Pettersson and Miller when Green was looking for an offensive spark. That, in itself, is a good sign.
     
  • The Canucks will need Demko to be on top of his game all season and Wednesday’s season opener was a strong indication that he’s right where he needs to be. Demko made 32 saves on 34 shots, keeping his team in the game long enough for them to earn a point. His stop on a Kailer Yamamoto breakaway in the second period was one of his more notable saves, in that I literally noted it in my notebook with superlatives like, "Wow." My notes are very useful.
  • The Canucks power play was a little sloppy but they did come through with the team’s first goal of the season. Surprisingly, it was the second unit, with Ekman-Larsson flinging a shot from the point after some nifty passing between him, Höglander, and Conor Garland. Ekman-Larsson’s shot took a fortunate deflection off the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as one hyphenated last name helped out another.
     
  • Höglander took some shifts with Pettersson and Miller in the second and third as the Canucks continued to press for the comeback and the line juggling paid off. Miller gained the zone and dropped the puck for Höglander, who found Hughes jumping up in the play with a lovely cross-ice pass. Like a private detective hired by a femme fatale, Hughes caught Smith cheating and beat him on the short side to tie the game. 
     
  • “Hogs, he can kind of create stuff on his own a lot of times,” said Green when asked about bumping him to play with Pettersson and Miller. “I'd like to keep Hog between 15 to 18 minutes 14 to 18 minutes and kind of shuffle him around because I think he can kickstart a lot of lines.”
     
  • Pettersson had some very strong moments, springing Bo Horvat on a breakaway and setting up Chiasson with two fantastic passes on the power play that he was unfortunately not able to do anything with. In overtime, Pettersson nearly ended the game all by himself, dancing in on net with a ridiculous move back between his own legs but the puck hit Tyson Barrie’s skate as the Oilers defenceman shoved Pettersson into the net and he was only able to put the puck in after the net was knocked off.
  • With no one able to score in overtime, the game went to a shootout, where only Horvat was able to score of the Canucks’ five shooters. Horvat is such a  powerful player that it’s easy to forget how much finesse he has in his game. Horvat’s stick was a blur as he faked and deked to the forehand to beat Smith. Alas, the Oilers scored twice and Horvat is but one man.