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I Watched This Game: Canucks' rookie Silovs gets rude welcome to NHL from Rangers

"You don’t want to throw him to the wolves but I think he battled and our team battled."
Arturs Silovs made his first NHL start for the Vancouver Canucks and fell 6-4 to the streaking New York Rangers.

A call-up to the NHL could have just been a financial bonus for Arturs Silovs, a nice little payday for the 21-year-old goaltender as a thank you for holding the fort in the AHL as the starter for the Abbotsford Canucks.

After all, every day Silovs spends on the NHL roster gets paid out based on his $750,000 salary in the NHL compared to his $70,000 salary in the AHL. That comes out to roughly $4,000 for every day Silovs is in the NHL. Assuming he stays up until Friday and gets sent back down to the AHL for their Saturday game, that’s approximately $16,000 for Silovs to tuck into his bank account.

Instead of just practicing, sitting on the bench, and collecting a paycheque, however, Silovs got the first start of his NHL career.

For most NHL teams, this wouldn’t be that big a deal. It’s not that surprising that a team getting sub-.890 goaltending might turn to their top goaltending prospect to see if he can do better. Only, the Vancouver Canucks are not most teams.

First of all, the defensive environment in Vancouver isn’t exactly a welcoming one for a young goaltender in his first NHL game. It’s a big reason why all of the Canucks goaltenders have a save percentage under .890 this season, as it hasn’t really mattered who has been in net.

Then there was the opponent, the high-flying New York Rangers, who have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations and just traded for Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues. The Rangers have a top-ten offence, averaging 3.37 goals per game, led by the twin threats of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, and came into town on a five-game winning streak.

It had some invoking the name of Michael DiPietro, who was thrown to the then-powerhouse San Jose Sharks as a 19-year-old back in 2019 and got eaten alive in a 7-2 loss.  

But this isn’t the same situation and Silovs is not DiPietro, thrown into a game before he’s ready because the Canucks had literally no other options. Silovs is a professional, who has played in 35 games in the AHL this season, and was intentionally called up and chosen to make his NHL debut.

Silovs may only have a .906 save percentage in the AHL this season, which isn’t great, but he’s made steady improvements as the season has progressed, all while carrying the starter’s load, playing in more than twice as many games as Abbotsford’s other goaltenders. Over his past five AHL appearances, Silovs has a .965 save percentage, including one shutout.

In other words, Silovs earned his call-up and it was well worth seeing what he could do in the NHL.

“​​Tough spot but he battled. That’s what you want from young goalies,” said Rick Tocchet. “You don’t want to throw him to the wolves but I think he battled and our team battled.”

Tocchet added that even getting him into just one game in the NHL should help Silovs development.

“When minor league guys come up, you give them a little taste, it makes a difference,” said Tocchet. “They go back down there and the game’s slower for them down there and they can read the pucks more. I think it’s always good to give guys a little taste of the NHL.”

“For sure, it’s different. Different skill, different speed. It was fun to play, getting that experience — that’s good for me,” said Silovs. “I think it’s going to help me a lot long term because at least I know what it is, so I know what I can do better at. I can push myself even more.”

Silovs said that he wasn’t even nervous, just “excited to play.” That fits with Silovs’ laidback personality — he never seems to get rattled. Now he’ll head back to Abbotsford with a new appreciation for where he needs to get to in order to make the NHL. 

“I think it’s still small things because I think I have enough speed to be on the play all the time,” said Silovs, when asked if there are big changes he needs to make. “It’s just small things, you know? Like being more patient, knowing the guys who can pass and who can shoot. It’s all about learning the guys who play here.”

I saw all the small things (true care, truth brings) when I watched this game. 

  • The fourth line got the Canucks on the board first by getting greasier than Groundskeeper Willie. Quinn Hughes put the puck on net and Nils Åman and Curtis Lazar dug away for the rebound until Dakota Joshua, after taking a big hit from Jacob Trouba earlier in the shift, jumped on the puck and fired it in off Lazar’s leg just as Lazar took a high stick to the face from Trouba. NHL goals don’t get much greasier than that.
  • You don’t have to face players like Mika Zibanejad in the AHL and it showed on the Rangers’ first goal. Zibanejad took advantage of Oliver Ekman-Larsson running into Chris Kreider at the blue line and in off the right wing. He pump-faked a shot, causing Silovs to double-clutch going into his butterfly. That moment of hesitation gave Zibanejad the room to fire the puck five-hole. 
  • The first goal can be pinned on Silovs, but the second definitely can’t. Ethan Bear got caught puck-watching, coming all the way across to the left faceoff circle while Artemi Panarin, the Rangers’ leading goalscorer, was wide open behind him. Just call him The Unaware Bear. Or don’t, because that’s mean. It didn’t help that Vasily Podkolzin never got goal-side on his own man, Jimmy Vesey, or that Anthony Beauvillier stopped skating and made no attempt to get back on Panarin himself. Vesey had an easy passing lane to Panarin for the easy goal. 
  • You’ve got to admit, the Canucks’ commitment to terrible defence is impressive, with even guys like Podkolzin and Beauvillier, who have spent the bulk of the season with other teams, fitting right in. Who says the Canucks don’t have an identity?
  • The Canucks tied the game on the power play with a little good fortune. Igor Shesterkin’s stick got stuck in Trouba’s skate blade, simultaneously hobbling a key penalty killer and unbalancing the Rangers’ goaltender. Meanwhile, Elias Pettersson rotated to the top of the zone to quarterback the play like Patrick Mahomes and threw a perfect pass to J.T. Miller for the first down for a one-timer off the top of Shesterkin’s pad and in.
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson left the game in the first period with what appeared to be an injury to his left leg. It wasn’t entirely clear what happened but he hobbled to the bench, went straight to the locker room, and didn’t return. Tocchet had no update after the game.
  • With Ekman-Larsson out, the remaining two left-side defencemen, Quinn Hughes and Riley Stillman, played some big minutes. Hughes finished with 27:28 in ice time, playing nearly half the game, while Stillman had a season-high 22:31. Hughes handled the heightened minutes smoothly, as is his nature, while Stillman struggled, with the Canucks getting out-shot 11-to-4 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
  • On the Rangers’ third goal, like a kid on the Cannonball Loop at New Jersey’s Action Park, Luke Schenn had a rough ride. First, Vincent Trocheck dangled right through him for a great chance, as Schenn got caught staring at the puck instead of adding to his league-leading hit total. A moment later, Panarin’s tip went off Schenn’s leg and through Silovs’ five-hole to make it 3-2.
  • Less than a minute into the second period, it was 4-2. Tyler Myers’ shot was blocked and the Rangers countered 3-on-2. Stillman played the odd-man rush terribly, aggressively attacking the puck carrier, Tarasenko, to give up a 2-on-1 behind him, with Myers caught in no man’s land, unable to take away the passing lane. Zibanejad fed Chris Kreider at the backdoor for the easiest finish since Steven Bradbury.  
  • The one upside for Canucks fans on the Kreider goal is that it was the 251st goal of his career with the Rangers, passing none other than Mark Messier for seventh all-time in Rangers history. Any time the Canucks can stick it to Messier, even by proxy, is a good time.
  • Andrei Kuzmenko nearly scored one of the best goals of the year midway through the second period. As a Canucks power play expired, Kuzmenko shimmied his way backward towards the goal line, protecting the puck from a fishing Adam Fox. Then, like Sleater-Kinney’s duck, Kuzmenko said “Goodbye, little Fox” and suddenly cut to the net before pulling the puck into his skates and hoisting it up off the crossbar. For a moment, it looked like the glorious move was wasted, but Conor Garland backhanded the rebound into the open cage to redeem it as an assist.
  • That move was so good that it deserves some super slow motion.
  • Kuzmenko got more ice time in this game and a promotion to Pettersson’s wing, either because he’s fixed the things Rick Tocchet doesn’t like in his game or because it was impossible to ignore how well he was playing. 
  • After the game, Tocchet talked about the Canucks needing to play a “north-south style” right now, particularly their best players, in order to avoid turnovers and not get into “shootouts.” Kuzmenko is pretty fundamentally an east-west player, so there’s always going to be a bit of push-and-pull there, but Kuzmenko is committed to working on his game and doing what Tocchet wants. We’ll see how that turns out but it’s encouraging to see him getting a longer leash after his harsher treatment in recent games.
  • K’Andre Miller restored the two-goal lead with a shot from the high slot that deflected up off Joshua’s stick as the Canucks forward turned away from the puck instead of laying out for a proper shot block. Even without the minute change in direction, Silovs didn’t pick up the shot past Joshua’s unintentional screen, so it might have beat him anyway. Maybe the Canucks need to call up Ryan Johnson out of the Abbotsford Canucks’ front office to give some shot-blocking lessons.  
  • Curtis Lazar left the game in the middle of the second period after taking an awkward hit. He came back for one more shift to test things out but then left for good. Tocchet seemed to think it wasn’t too serious. 
  • Silovs’ save percentage didn’t look pretty after the game but at least he prevented Panarin from getting a hat trick. The Rangers’ leading scorer had a glorious chance for his third goal when he burst past Stillman for a breakaway but Silovs stayed with his backhand move to make like a capitalist and rob Panarin of the surplus value of his labour.
  • Kuzmenko’s reunion with Pettersson paid off. Pettersson gained the blue line and pulled the Rangers into his gravity well, then dropped the puck for Kuzmenko, giving him enough room to load up a wicked wrist shot that zipped under Shesterkin’s glove. That shot had some serious velocity, as opposed to goofy velocity, which is the speed at which Goofy plummets to earth from a great height while yelling, “Yaaah-hoo-hoo-hoo-hooey!”  
  • Kuzmenko’s efforts were just enough to make the loss look close. The Rangers added an empty netter for the 6-4 win. The Canucks have now given up at least five goals in 26 of their 55 games this season and their average of 4.05 goals against per game is the fifth-highest in franchise history. Going to Canucks games these days is a lot like going to Canucks games in the eighties, with about the same chance of seeing them win.