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I Watched This Game: Canucks put out the Flames in Zadorov's first game

Nikita Zadorov didn't get the game-winning goal against his former team but it kind of looked like he did, which is almost as good.
The Vancouver Canucks got goals from Quinn Hughes, Sam Lafferty, Ilya Mikheyev, and Elias Pettersson to beat the Flames on Saturday night.

Nikita Zadorov didn’t have to board a plane when he was traded from the Calgary Flames to the Vancouver Canucks. His very first game as a Canuck came against his former team, so he just stayed in the city that had been home for the past two-and-a-half years and met up with the team in Calgary.

“It’s going to be weird for me because I’m playing for my former team right away, so I just change dressing rooms, pretty much,” said Zadorov. “They were your friends last night; now they’re your enemies.”

It’s exactly what Zadorov wanted: he requested a trade from the Flames and was thrilled to join the Canucks, where he’s already close friends with Ilya Mikheyev and also trains with Andrei Kuzmenko in the offseason. 

More than that, the Canucks were Zadorov’s favourite team when he was younger, as one of his favourite players was Markus Näslund and he loved the Sedins. In fact, he says he used to watch Canucks highlights from the 2011 playoff run as a pump-up video before he would play games.

Zadorov nearly got the storybook ending to his first game with the Canucks. He sent a puck the length of the ice into an empty net to give the Canucks a two-goal lead late in the third period, a goal that was very necessary as the Flames scored less than a minute later. That made his goal, his first as a Canuck, the game-winner to beat his former team. 

But the big defenceman didn’t seem to want the storybook ending. Right away when the puck went in, he instead pointed to Elias Pettersson, insisting the forward touched the puck on its way down the ice. Pettersson was first to the bench to celebrate the goal, which is typically reserved for the goalscorer.

“Petey touched it,” said Zadorov to Hockey Night in Canada’s Scott Oake after the game. “They’re going to change it. He clearly touched it.”

I’m not sure whether “clearly” is the right word or not — even slowed down, it wasn’t entirely clear whether Pettersson touched the puck on the replay — but Zadorov was right that they changed the goal. Instead of getting the game-winning goal against his former team, he got the game-winning assist, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Not that it matters to Zadorov.

“We got the job done, we got a W, that’s all that matters, right?” he said and if that “W” meant a little bit more because it was against the Flames, maybe he’ll just keep that to himself.

What I won’t be keeping to myself — in fact, I’m about to tell all of you in great detail — is that I watched this game.

  • Nikita “Great Big Zee” Zadorov got the treatment you would expect for a player who requested a trade: he was booed every time he touched the puck. Or, at least, he was at first. The Calgary crowd seemed to tire pretty quickly of booing him for every touch, which was actually kind of sad. What kind of hockey fan are you if you can’t sustain a good hate for a full 60 minutes? No wonder Calgary hasn’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs in eight seasons.
  • “I was surprised by the boos,” said Quinn Hughes with a smile, “but he said that was going to be a possibility.”
  • “I love getting booed,” said his new head coach, Rick Tocchet. “It’s the best. It means you’re doing something right…He kind of laughed about it, no big deal.”
  • The Canucks quickly put the Flames fans on their heels with the opening goal two minutes in. Brock Boeser rotated to the left point, freeing up Quinn Hughes to roam up the left wing. Boeser’s unexpected rotation put the Flames in a kuddelmuddel and gave Hughes all kinds of room and he similarly found all kinds of room past Jacob Markstrom’s glove with a lovely shot.
  • The absolute last thing the Canucks can afford this season is an injury to Thatcher Demko, so fans likely had their collective heart in their throat when Demko looked shaken up midway through the first period, possibly because of a collision with Blake Coleman. He looked a little out of sorts all game, though his 19 saves on 22 shots were enough for the win.
  • Sam Lafferty, bumped up to play with Pettersson and Mikheyev, extended the lead to 2-0 midway through the first. He chased down a deflected Pettersson shot to keep the play alive, then made like a halibut with a death wish and darted to the front of the net. That happened to be the right place to be to chip in a Filip Hronek rebound.
  • “Those guys are really easy to play with,” said Lafferty of his top-line teammates. “My job’s pretty simple out there, just hunt pucks and go to the net.”
  • I don’t see how the Canucks can keep putting Noah Juulsen in the lineup, particularly with the addition of Zadorov. I understand that he’s a team-first guy who throws his body in front of pucks and plays a physical game but the errors are glaring. In the first period, he chased an open-ice hit in the neutral zone, missed his check, and it turned into an odd-man rush behind him, made worse when J.T. Miller also chased a hit on the boards, but Miller isn’t a stay-at-home defenceman, so he gets a bit more leeway.
  • Then there was this flub at the Flames' blue line at the end of the first. Mishandling a puck isn’t the problem — that happens even to great puckhandlers — but the issue is that he then lunged forward at the puck instead of cutting his losses and backing out into the neutral zone. That led to a Flames 2-on-1 that only didn’t turn into a great scoring chance because Andrew Mangiapane horribly misplayed the odd-man rush. Juulsen was fortunate in this game but those are the kinds of mistakes that can cost you games.
  • A Lafferty gaffe on the penalty kill preceded the Flames’ first goal. Trying to pressure Connor Zary at the blue line, he made the mistake of applying that pressure with shoves when it wasn’t shoving time, instead of working to get his stick on the puck to move it the one foot necessary to get it out of the zone. Zary was able to move the puck to Mackenzie Weegar and, two passes later, Mikael Backlund had a tap-in goal at the backdoor.
  • Heading into this game, Nils Höglander was tied for the Canucks’ lead in 5-on-5 goals with seven. Despite that, he can’t seem to convince the coaching staff to give him any power play time. On Saturday night, the called-up Linus Karlsson — who has just 2 power play points in 17 AHL games this season, both of them assists — was on the second power play unit ahead of Höglander. At some point, it kind of feels insulting.
  • The Canucks continue to run with two defenceman on the first unit — both Filip Hronek and Quinn Hughes — except when they got an extended 5-on-3, where Hronek was replaced by Andrei Kuzmenko. That seems all kinds of backwards because a 5-on-3 is when you want to use the open space to set up a guy with a cannon of a shot like Hronek. After all, it worked against the Islanders a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Canucks got just one shot on goal in their minute-long 5-on-3 against the Flames.
  • To be fair, that one shot on the 5-on-3 came off the stick of Kuzmenko, so maybe it’s a good thing he was there. Also, Elias Pettersson drilled the post on a one-timer and the 5-on-3 overall looked pretty good even if the Canucks couldn’t hit the net. 
  • The Canucks couldn’t get a power play goal in this game but their third goal may as well have been. After a great zone entry by Pettersson, Hronek took a shot just as the penalized player was skating back into the play. Hronek’s stick broke on the shot, which ended up working out: the off-speed shot pinballed off the traffic in front and popped out to the side where both Pettersson and Mikheyev combined to swipe at the puck and send it top shelf just before Markstrom could say, “No swiping!”  
  • The Flames got one back in the third period after Hronek picked off a centring pass but then lost a battle behind the net. As he got back into the play, he and Hughes got their wires crossed worse than MacGruber, leaving Elias Lindholm open at the side of the net. Demko came across hard on the slap-pass to Lindholm — too hard, as he was unable to recover when Lindholm didn’t shoot right away and got turned completely sideways by the time Lindholm finally shot the puck. 
  • With the score 3-2, it was interesting to see Linus Karlsson out on the ice late to defend the one-goal lead. He did a decent job too, putting pressure on the Flames up ice with Dakota Joshua to spend some crucial time in the offensive zone, a long way from the Canucks’ net. You could practically hear Tocchet saying, “And that’ll get you even more power play time.”
  • Then Karlsson iced the puck, which was less good, though it was arguably just a terrible icing call. Weegar had an easy play on the puck but, instead of just reaching out his stick to touch it, he tried to make a sliding kick save, likely thinking there would be less chance of the puck deflecting into the empty net behind him. Typically, when a player has a play on the puck and chooses not to play it, icing is waved off. Rick Tocchet let the officials know what he thought of the call, which had something to do with fornication.
  • After Pettersson deflected Zadorov’s clearance into the empty net for the 4-2 goal, Juulsen accidentally cleared the puck over the glass to give the Flames a power play for the final minute, which was largely just bad luck but also maybe Juulsen shouldn’t be on the ice with one minute remaining in the game. Just a thought. 
  • With their net empty, the Flames quickly scored at 6-on-4 to give themselves some hope for a miraculous comeback. A Rasmus Andersson shot went wide but the puck came off the boards to Lindholm at the side of the net and he banked it in off Demko, who didn’t even have a chance to make the save, as Tyler Myers stumbled into the crease and got in his way. After, Myers probably said, “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?” 
  • It all worked out. Honestly, the Canucks probably should have won by more. Even though they had just 22 shots on goal, the Canucks forced some marvelous saves out of Jacob Markstrom, which is also what they did when Markstrom played for the Canucks, albeit for entirely different reasons.