The players were clearly frustrated after the Vancouver Canucks fell 1-0 to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. You could hear it in their tone, see it in their body language, and perceive it when they repeatedly used the word "frustrated."
Their head coach, on the other hand, struck a more positive tone.
I liked a lot of our game — pretty well liked all our game,” said Travis Green, adding, “I'm not disappointed in how we played. Probably take that game every night, probably win it eight or nine times out of ten.”
It’s understandable why. From a process standpoint, the Canucks played quite well.
The Canucks out-shot the Blackhawks 40-to-24, which doesn’t even include some of their best scoring chances where they rung pucks off the post. The Canucks were credited with three posts, which is definitely too low: Elias Pettersson hit the post on one shot and didn’t get credited, while another post was credited as a save as it first hit the stick of Blackhawks’ goaltender Marc-André Fleury.
So, the Canucks outplayed the Blackhawks, for what that’s worth. Unfortunately, it’s not worth much — the Blackhawks have been one of the worst teams in the NHL this season. They’re dead last in corsi percentage and expected goals percentage, and have been outscored 43-to-22 at 5-on-5.
To top it off, the Blackhawks were on the second half of a back-to-back after playing in Edmonton the previous night and lost one of their defencemen midway through the first period, so were playing with just five defencemen for most of the game.
It’s not enough to play well against a team in that situation. You have to win. There’s no room for moral victories.
Instead, the Canucks got shut out by the 28th-place Blackhawks on home ice at a time when they desperately need to string together some wins. Well, they’re now the 27th-place Blackhawks and the Canucks are 28th. Details, details.
Still, it’s understandable that Green wouldn’t want to pile on his team when they did do so many things right. The players are already feeling bad enough as it is, judging from their dour postgame interviews.
“I'm not gonna sit here and rip our team apart if that's what you're looking for,” said Green at one point. “I'd like us to have found a way to score a couple goals or not hit the post four or five times…I'm not happy we lost but if you're asking me to put down our team because we lost one-nothing, I'm not gonna sit here and do that.”
Fair enough. I guess that task is left up to me after I watched this game.
- One player that doesn’t deserve excoriating is Conor Garland, who was easily the Canucks’ best player. He was flying right from puck drop, drawing the game’s first penalty with an aggressive counter-attack off a neutral zone turnover. Shots on goal were 12-to-5 for the Canucks when Garland was on the ice at 5-on-5 and Garland had a game-high six shots on goal himself.
- My favourite Garland moment came on the power play in the second period. J.T. Miller missed the net and the puck rung around the boards, sure to exit the zone. Instead, Garland went full Superman, laying out with his stick fully outstretched to stop the puck, then sprung to his feet, slipped the puck behind himself and spun off his check. Magnificent.
- The Canucks’ best shift of the game came late in the second period when Garland was briefly lined up with Elias Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin. The trio cycled the puck expertly around the zone, setting up a glorious scoring chance for Podkolzin that went off Fleury’s stick and then the post and another chance for Pettersson, where he deked out Fleury and nearly tucked the puck in only for Fleury to reach back with his glove to stop him.
- It was such a good shift that it was surprising those three didn’t play together for the rest of the game. “I wrote it down,” said Green about liking that line. “Went back to them at the end of the second period on the last shift as well. It's a line you could see again, but I did notice it.” He added as an aside to me away from the microphone, “I watch the games too,” showing that he's familiar with my oeuvre.
- It was nice to see Pettersson ripping the puck again, too. He had nine shot attempts, five of them on goal, and let loose with his one-timer on a power play in the final minutes. Fleury stopped two of them and another was blocked by Seth Jones. The bar is unfortunately very low that we’re praising the team’s franchise forward for attempting to score, but that’s where we are right now.
- Brock Boeser rang a post after some strong offensive zone pressure. Oliver Ekman-Larsson did the same after Bo Horvat took a pass through his legs to gain the zone. Pettersson hit one on a rush down the right wing. Tanner Pearson hit the crossbar with a laser from distance. And Podkolzin hit the post off a setup by Garland. The Canucks were ringing metal like a jeweler during wedding season.
- It’s hard to say whether all the posts the Canucks hit should make the Canucks feel optimistic — they came close to scoring! — or make them even more frustrated that they got so close and failed to put the puck in the net, especially in a one-goal loss.
- “It's a little mixed bag because you're doing so many good things,” said Miller. “You're spending so much time in their end, you do all the work, and you're half an inch here or there from being rewarded. I think that motivates us to know that, hey, we're at points in time outplaying them and you've just got to — it's super cliche — you’ve just got to stay the course and be tough mentally to make sure we stay with it.”
- The truth is, any positives you can find in the Canucks' performance are mitigated by the quality of competition they were facing and the fact they couldn't find the back of the net. For every strong shift, there was a shift where the Canucks struggled to break the puck out of the zone and only didn't pay for it because the Blackhawks are just as hapless as the Canucks.
- This was a super-rough game for Travis Hamonic. Shots on goal were 7-2 for the Blackhawks with Hamonic on the ice at 5-on-5 and a big reason why is that he couldn’t get the puck out of the defensive zone to save his life. Hamonic was only credited with two giveaways, which is charitable, to put it mildly. At one point he lost the puck twice in the space of 15 seconds.
- The worst part is Hamonic’s struggles had a detrimental effect on Quinn Hughes, who spent a lot of extra time in the defensive zone because Hamonic couldn’t break the puck out. It was hard to watch.
- Hamonic won’t be on the Canucks’ road trip to start but will join them part way through, according to Green. At that point — presumably two weeks out from his second shot — he’ll be considered fully vaccinated.
- Then there's a moment like this from Tucker Poolman that kills a promising offensive zone possession because he can't hold the line. The Canucks' forwards have been criticized for their lack of production but it's underreported how much a bad defence corps can hinder the efforts of the forwards.
- The Blackhawks got the only goal of the game five minutes into the third period when Brandon Hagel tipped in a point shot from Erik Gustafsson. Tyler Myers tried to tie up Hagel’s stick in front, but Hagel, knowing that it is “solely by risking life that freedom is obtained,” risked Myers’ wrath to shake off his check and got his stick on the puck.
- Another Hegel quote appropriate for the Canucks right now: “What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”
- Despite being down by a goal, the Canucks went nearly ten minutes without a shot on goal in the third period, though they did have Pearson’s post. That simply isn’t good enough.
- One decision that will cause a stir amongst Canucks fans: when the Canucks went on the power play with two minutes remaining, Alex Chiasson came on the ice as the net front presence with the unit of Garland, Horvat, Miller, and Hughes. When Demko was pulled for the extra attacker, Boeser jumped on the ice. Pettersson remained on the bench.
- Pettersson did come on for the final 1:18 of the game and Chiasson sat, but it was still an odd choice, especially since Pettersson was having a strong game, relative to his overall performance this season.
- The Canucks didn’t score on that final power play and went 0-for-3 on the night. Green didn’t seem dissatisfied, however: “I think our power play created six Grade-A chances tonight. Puck didn't go in. Couple of our guys will get off the mark and they'll score and then they'll probably score in bunches, you hope.”
- Garland provided one last spark of joy at the end of this otherwise joyless game. As the Canucks tried to tie the game in the final minute, Garland darted around at the back post in a bizarre crouch, choking up on his stick like a baseball batter preparing to bunt. Leave it to the shortest guy on the ice to make himself even shorter so he can see the puck through all the taller players.