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I Watched This Game: Canucks paint the Mona Lisa of Moral Victories

Guest IWTG by Jackson McDonald.
newiwtg-via
The Vancouver Canucks tried their best but didn't succeed against the Columbus Blue Jackets, as they're stuck in reverse.

Daniel Wagner is away tonight celebrating his son’s birthday. Since birthdays are supposed to be festive occasions, it seems only natural that the Wagners would find a more suitable activity to engage in than watching a Canucks game tonight. Childhood is short, and sweet, and should be spent doing something more fun, like taking an algebra test or getting a root canal.

If tonight’s game were a child’s birthday party, it’s obvious who would be playing which roles. Elvis Merzlikins would be the birthday boy, hopped up on caffeine and sugar and dancing around like a madman. The Canucks forwards would obviously be the doting grandparents, planting dozens of smooches (shots) on their beloved grandchild. And the Blue Jackets, of course, would be the cool, absent divorced dad who shows up for five minutes, plops a bunch of expensive gifts (goals) on the table and then takes off with all the credit. 

When my cable box glitched out about 10 minutes before the game started, I was prepared for that to be the highest-stakes moment of the night. With the way the Canucks had been playing, I was expecting a dull, tiresome, tedious performance, like Sam Worthington in any of his movies. Instead, we got an uneven, chaotic, bewildering, but occasionally compelling performance, like Nicolas Cage in any of his movies. 

It is often said that great teams always find new ways to win. The Canucks, on the other hand, keep finding new ways to lose, and tonight, they elevated losing to an art form. Tonight, they painted their masterpiece: The Mona Lisa of Moral Victories. 

The Canucks gave us an unprecedented display of guts, gumption, sticktoitiveness, and a bunch of other superlatives that might have mattered to somebody if we were ten games into the season. Instead, they sit at the quarter-mark of their season needing to go on a seven-game winning streak just to get them back to .500. 

I considered becoming an art history major when I watched this game.

  • The highlight of the game for me came just 9 seconds in, when a Blue Jackets fan caught an errant puck, drawing huge cheers from the crowd. When even the fans are making beautiful glove saves, you know it’s not going to be the Canucks’ night.
     
  • One of the major talking points of the Canucks’ season so far has been how often they’ve given up the first goal of the game. It looked as though that was going to be the case yet again tonight when Igor Chinakov slipped the puck through Demko’s pads just 56 seconds into the first period, but the call was overturned on a coach’s challenge by Travis Green when the play was ruled offside. 
     
  • Chinakov’s non-goal must have been exactly the wake-up call the Canucks needed, because they controlled the bulk of play from that moment on, out-shooting the Blue Jackets 13-4 in the first period. The best chances early in the game came from Nils Hoglander and Conor Garland, who have been arguably the team’s most consistent forwards through the team’s first 21 games. They also happen to be the team’s two shortest players, which got me thinking: maybe that’s the key for the Canucks to find their way out of this slump. They just need to acquire more short players.
     
  • Think about it. They’ve had very little success chasing leviathans like Tyler Myers, Nikita Tryamkin, and Erik Gudbranson, while the little guys have been putting the team on their backs since early October. The Aquilinis have been reluctant to spend money since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, so this would really be a win-win for them, because they’d also save money on jersey fabric. Something to think about. 
     
  • With the Canucks dominating play through most of the first, it looked as though they might finally flip the script and open the scoring when they received their first power play of the game. Unfortunately, Tanner Pearson turned the puck over to Gustav Nyquist, who scored on a partial breakaway. That now brings them up to a league-leading 16 of 21 games where they’ve given up the first goal. They’re also, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to do so twice in the same game.
     
  • The Canucks’ PK struggles have been discussed ad nauseam, but the power play hasn’t been much better as of late. Nyquist’s goal added insult to injury for a PP unit that’s scored just 5 times in its last 45 attempts. The PK may get most of the attention, but both special teams are struggling right now.
     
  • Come to think of it, the Canucks haven’t been great at even-strength for most of the season, either. To paraphrase Harry Neale, I think their biggest failing has been that they haven’t found another game state to play in. 
     
  • It looked as though the Canucks would find themselves trailing after one yet again when Vasily Podkolzin sniped one past Elvis Merzlikins off a Blue Jackets turnover created by Justin Dowling with just 29 seconds left in the opening frame. Podkolzin had another strong game tonight, leading the team in corsi-for percentage while being one of just three Canucks forwards to finish the game with a positive even-strength goal differential. 
     
  • The Canucks would continue to pile on the shots throughout the second period, but it was Columbus that got the go-ahead goal when Adam Boqvist batted home a Cole Sillinger rebound to make it 2-1. It felt like a flashback to the early days of the pandemic, as the Canucks practiced excellent social distancing by leaving the requisite 6 feet of space between Boqvist and the nearest Canucks defender.
     
  • The Canucks once again racked up shots for the rest of the period but didn’t manage to squeak one past Merzlikins until nearly the last minute of the second, when Tyler Motte tipped in a Quinn Hughes wrister. Motte was largely to blame for Boqvist’s goal, so it qualifies as a mini-redemption story for him. He was probably hoping we would all just forget about his mistake earlier in the game, but the good-Motte, bad-Motte routine is the oldest trick in the book.
     
  • I’m really sorry about that pun. I never went to journalism school, so I’ve learned all my tricks by imitating other sportswriters. Blame Thomas Drance.
     
  • The Canucks once again continued to win the shot battle in the third, but couldn’t really muster much in the way of quality chances. Jack Roslovic would get the winner on just the 14th shot of the game for the Blue Jackets, and Max Domi would pot an empty-netter, sealing an easy victory for Columbus.
     
  • Elias Pettersson looks completely dead inside. He stopped skating on Domi’s goal, making minimal effort to impede the Blue Jackets forward on his way to the empty net. I have no idea what’s going on with him but he looks nothing like the player we’ve seen over the first three seasons of his career. It’s the worst career transformation I’ve seen since Garth Brooks decided to grow his hair out and make an alt-rock record. 
     
  • Alex Chiasson somehow managed a 40% corsi in a game where his team outshot their opponent by a two-to-one margin. How does that even happen?