Like a bicycle, the Vancouver Canucks were too tired.
In fact, they were nearly as tired as that joke.
On Wednesday night, the Canucks played an emotional, hard-fought game against their friend and former captain, Bo Horvat, and his New York Islanders. That game started with a late puck drop that was already going to push the end of the game late into the night even before it went to overtime.
Quinn Hughes played over 29 minutes against the Islanders, while Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Filip Hronek all played over 23 minutes.
Then the Canucks had to get on a plane and fly to Calgary to play again on Thursday night.
Playing on back-to-back nights is tough enough, especially after the physical, mental, and emotional toll of a game like the one against the Islanders. Adding in the late-night flight to Calgary on top of that just seems cruel, never mind that they were just coming off an eastern road trip before their lone home game on Wednesday.
It’s no wonder the Canucks seemed exhausted against the Flames, particularly Quinn Hughes, who made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes all night. He made a lot of poor decisions and repeatedly mishandled and turned over the puck. Even his skating wasn’t as crisp and clean as it usually is, at one point getting burned by Andrew Mangiapane for a breakaway when he got turned inside out.
Head coach Rick Tocchet didn’t want to use fatigue as an excuse, however, as it’s not something unique to the Canucks.
“All teams go through it, it’s part of the schedule,” said Tocchet. “The time zones and stuff, it caught up [to us] but we could have hung around there when it was 2-1 and waited it out but you make a couple of big mistakes and it’s in your net.”
In other words, in classic Tocchet fashion, it’s time for a learning lesson.
“You’ve gotta learn how to play tired,” said Tocchet. “You’ve got to manage the puck a little more. Sometimes, you’ve got to play tired — better angles, protect the middle, live for other shifts. You can’t hit a home run every shift and I think that was our downfall tonight.”
It feels like the adage “live for other shifts” can be expanded for Canucks fans into “live for other games.” This was a tough loss when a win could have propelled the Canucks to the top of the NHL standings, tied with the Vegas Golden Knights in points for first place in the league. But the schedule, fatigue, and the Canucks’ need to learn a lesson about playing tired had other ideas.
So live for another game. This one wasn’t a home run or even a bunt single, but that’s okay. The Canucks have given fans enough reason to believe this season that a loss like this can be pretty easily dismissed.
I hope the Canucks got some rest after I watched this game.
- With Andrei Kuzmenko staying behind in Vancouver after taking a puck to the face on Wednesday night, Linus Karlsson was called up from the Abbotsford Canucks and made his NHL debut on his 24th birthday. He looked great, especially in battles along the boards, and he had four shots on goal, not including a last-second deflection he sent off the post. A goal would have been a nice birthday present but at least he got a little Swedish love tap to the shins from Jacob Markstrom.
- “It’s a dream come true but the result was not what we wanted,” said Karlsson about playing his first NHL game. “Ryan [Johnson] called me after the game yesterday and I right away called my girlfriend and my mom and dad…It was a nice 24 hours, much to take in.”
- Karlsson said the transition to the NHL was eased by the similar systems played in Abbotsford. “It’s almost exactly the same gameplan there as over here,” he said. “I’m so comfortable with how to play the game, so it’s so much easier for me to come here and know what to do.”
- The Canucks were at least somewhat alert in the first period, as the power play caught Jacob Markstrom napping with the nicest puck movement this side of the stage directions for A Midsummer Nights’ Dream. Hughes gave J.T. Miller the puck in a place where he would normally skate downhill and fire a shot. Instead, he swung the puck cross-seam and Elias Pettersson one-timed it into the net before Markstrom even reacted to the pass.
- With Hughes, Miller, and Pettersson all contributing on the goal, they remain in lockstep at the top of the NHL scoring race, each with 27 points. They are now best friends, I have decided. Now they need to get matching outfits and start calling themselves “The Squad.”
- The Canucks couldn’t hold the lead for long. Mark Friedman got caught on a bad pinch, then didn’t pick up the trailing Mackenzie Weegar on the Flames’ counterattack. Weegar whipped the puck past Casey DeSmith in one smooth motion to tie the game.
- If the Canucks were tired, the referees were outright asleep. That’s the only explanation I can muster for why Martin Pospisil didn’t get an interference penalty for launching J.T. Miller into the Canucks’ net away from the puck. That’s an incredibly dangerous play and Miller is lucky he didn’t collide with the posts, crossbar, or Casey DeSmith.
- DeSmith has been good this season for the Canucks but he had some issues in this game. A puck leaked through him into the crease for Dillon Dube to finish to give the Flames a 2-1 lead and he got caught cheating towards a potential wraparound on the 3-1 goal. With how sleepy the Canucks were in front of him, this loss definitely isn’t DeSmith’s fault and he still came up with some big saves, but this was one where the Canucks only win if the goaltender steals the game.
- Tyler Myers has been getting a lot of credit from Tocchet for his improved play after some shaky games earlier in the season and it’s deserved. Myers has been making better use of his reach of late, such as this great pokecheck on the speedy Andrew Mangiapane, followed up by a big hit. It would be great to see Myers using his size advantage like this more often.
- Filip Hronek has been very good to start the season but one of the few flaws in his game is how he plays along the boards in the defensive zone. He has a tendency to lose board battles down low and doesn’t do a great job protecting the puck. On the 4-1 goal, he needed to be stronger on his stick to clear the puck or eat it against the boards to prevent a turnover. Instead, he gave the puck away and Jonathan Huberdeau roofed it over DeSmith a moment later.
- It’s been masked by all the success the Canucks have had to start the season, but Anthony Beauvillier has been essentially invisible this season. It feels like the most you can say about his game this year is that he has, in fact, been on the ice. His only two goals were the ninth and tenth goals in the Canucks’ 10-1 blowout of the San Jose Sharks. It’s not like he’s costing the Canucks anything beyond his $4.15 million cap hit but it also feels like he’s not contributing much of anything either.
- The Canucks still had a chance midway through the third period, as Nils Höglander tipped in a Myers point shot to lessen the lead to two goals. It was a great play by Myers, as it wasn’t intended to be a shot on goal; it was a slap pass aimed directly at Höglander for the tip, as if Myers was a taller, more amply be-necked Sedin twin.
- Conor Garland has quietly been driving the success of the bottom-six this season and got a chance to play in the top-six with Kuzmenko out. It didn’t go very well, particularly on a third period power play that could have gotten the Canucks within one. Garland tipped one chance on net but then immediately took a tripping penalty to take the Canucks off the power play, essentially ending their chance at a comeback.
- The Flames ended the game in a manner befitting how the rest of the game went, scoring off an uncharacteristic Quinn Hughes turnover. With the net empty behind him, Hughes tried to force a cross-ice pass to Pettersson and it was picked off by Huberdeau, who chipped it ahead for Elias Lindholm to fire into the unguarded cage.
- You can’t win ‘em all. You can only win ‘em some.