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I Watched This Game: Canucks' Swedes erase the Red Wings

Elias Lindholm had two goals in his first home game as a Canuck.
The Vancouver Canucks had no trouble dismantling the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

The best revenge is a life well lived.

Or, perhaps, a game well played.

Much of the talk going into Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings was about whether or not the Vancouver Canucks would seek payback on Jake Walman. After all, Walman had the audacity to celebrate his overtime penalty shot game-winner by doing the Griddy — somehow seen as a grave insult in a league that fondly remembers Tiger Williams riding his stick down the ice like a hobby horse.

The Canucks, however, didn’t seem all that bothered by it, or at least seemed to see it as silly and frivolous rather than insulting. The business-like Canucks have no time for such frivolities.

Sure, Walman did get beaten up and mocked but it truly seemed incidental to the whole affair rather than an actual goal the Canucks set out to accomplish. 

Elias Pettersson high-sticked Walman in the face, but it was a follow-through on a shot. Nils Höglander whacked Walman in the back of the head with his stick, but it came in the midst of a net-front battle rather than with any malice aforethought.

And when Nikita Zadorov hit a vague approximation of the Griddy, it felt more dismissive than vindictive.

“I'm just not as good as the guys in red at that,” said Zadorov with a rakish expression. 

The real revenge for the Canucks was that they completely outclassed the Red Wings in every facet of the game. They didn’t need to try to fight Walman; they just made him look foolish screening his own goaltender on two of their goals and caught him up-ice on a counter-attack on another, en route to a 4-1 Canucks win.

There was no need for anything else.

Of course, the real fireworks were avoided because Dakota Joshua missed the game with an injury. Joshua was more likely to try to drop the gloves with Moritz Seider than Walman, as Seider ground his elbow into Joshua’s face while on top of him in a scrum near the end of the Canucks’ last game in Detroit

When Joshua got up from that encounter, he told Seider to “be ready” and it seems entirely likely that Joshua would have made good on that veiled threat in this game.

But I never saw that happen because Joshua didn’t take to the ice when I watched this game.

  • With Joshua out, Sam Lafferty got back into the lineup on the fourth line and Ilya Mikheyev skated with the two remaining Good Job Boys, Conor Garland and Teddy Blueger. That turned them into the Mediocre Job Boys, as Mikheyev just didn’t have the same juice as Joshua, which was especially noticeable in puck battles along the boards. The Good Job Boys thrive on winning battles and Mikheyev repeatedly lost them.

  • The Red Wings nearly popped in an early goal after a power play when J.T. Compher got the puck down low after a fanned shot. Compher shot the puck behind Thatcher Demko and somehow hit the far post and rebound back behind Demko without hitting him and bouncing into the net. That would have given the game, like avoiding oily foods, a very different complexion. 
  • Instead, J.T. Miller opened the scoring on an atrocious turnover by Jeff Petry. Perhaps the rest of the NHL is paying back Miller for the various turnovers he’s given them in recent years because opposing teams keep handing him the puck. Petry lazily banked the puck off the boards for Miller to pick off and that let him skate downhill — significantly easier than skating uphill — and rip a shot past Alex Lyon as Brock Boeser cut in front for a screen.

  • “The farther [Petry] goes back with the puck, the more I can be a little bit aggressive,” said Miller. “I don’t think he can really hurt me if he got it past me at that point. It's probably a play he wants back more than I made a good read.”

  • The Swedeness line of Nils Höglander, Elias Lindholm, and Elias Pettersson was spinning free against the Red Wings, utterly dominating them in the puck possession game. Shot attempts were 15-to-5 for the Canucks when all three Swedes were on the ice together at 5-on-5 and shots on goal were 8-to-2. That’s a line that, like Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales, could stick together for a while.

  • “I think Höggy, early this season, was playing fancy,” said Tocchet. “If you watch him [tonight], he was outstanding in the corners. His corner-work in the last month — he was playing a little nasty tonight too, I love that about him…If he can stay with that and not get too fancy, he can really climb the ladder.”

  • Lindholm extended the lead in the first period with a long shot that fooled Alex Lyon. Pettersson chipped the puck up to him in the neutral zone and Lindholm did the rest, cutting across the blue line and ripping the shot right past Walman’s skate, which didn’t let Lyon pick the puck up off the stick. Lyon still should have been able to make the save, but he didn’t.  

  • Thatcher Demko on the other hand, made a whole bunch of saves, stopping 27 of 28 shots in the win. His best save of the night came midway through the second period when Daniel Sprong shook loose of Pius Suter for a shot at the backdoor. Sprong may have whiffed on his shot but Demko still had to make a marvelous toe save. Then he casually caught the puck in his blocker hand for style points.
  • Nikita Zadorov scored his first goal as a Canuck to make it 3-0 in the second period. Lindholm, Höglander, and Pettersson battled down low to keep the play alive, then a missed wraparound attempt by Pettersson came to Zadorov at the point. He flicked the puck toward the net hoping for just a tip but instead got the whole thing, as Lyon couldn’t see past Walman battling Lindholm in front.

  • “It’s been a long time,” said Zadorov ruefully. “For sure, relief. I think I can contribute more offensively on this team. It took me some time to adjust, I think I’m feeling more comfortable every game.”

  • The Red Wings got on the board after a baffling non-call by the officials. Christian Fischer launched Quinn Hughes with a crosscheck away from the puck but this was deemed perfectly acceptable. In the ensuing chaos, Demko lost track of the puck and Compher flung it in before he could spot it.

  • The Canucks got into some penalty trouble in this game, with the Red Wings getting five power plays, some of which were even on actual penalties. Fortunately, the Canucks’ penalty kill was perfect, led by Noah Juulsen and Thatcher Demko, who came up with big blocks and saves to keep the Red Wing’s power play off the board.

  • “I know some of the penalties, some guys were — and I think some were legit, I guess — but I was getting more mad than the players,” said Tocchet.

  • The most absurd call of the night was a phantom slashing penalty on Hughes, which was all the more galling because of how he didn’t draw an interference penalty on the Red Wings’ lone goal. Lucas Raymond swung his stick at the puck on the forecheck and Hughes gave it the lightest of taps to send it clattering to the ice. If that’s a slash, then I’m the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses.
  • Lindholm added another goal in the third period to make it 4-1. Pettersson and Höglander moved in on a 2-on-1, but Pettersson whiffed on his attempted pass to his umlauted linemate, but corrected his mistake faster than Apple Music erasing Alicia Keys’ flubbed note at the Super Bowl and set up the trailing Lindholm instead for the quick finish.

  • The hat trick evaded Lindholm, however, as he hit the post on an empty net when the Red Wings pulled Lyon for the extra attacker on a late power play. Then Pettersson tried to set up Lindholm again on the rush with the empty net but it was broken up by a backchecking Wing. Everyone in Rogers Arena got to keep their hats this time.

  • Lindholm wasn’t the only Canuck firing for the empty net. Pius Suter and Conor Garland both missed the empty net but the shot that everyone wanted to go in came from Thatcher Demko, who launched an attempt from his crease that regrettably was blocked by Shayne Gostisbehere, who fearlessly threw his body in front of the puck. It was on target too: it would have gone in if Gostisbehere was actually as intangible as a ghost bear. 
  • “I was yelling at Demmer to shoot it louder than the fans,” quipped J.T. Miller as the media walked into the locker room.

  • “I’m not really the guy to try it,” said Demko. “But I figured, up three, that was going to be my best effort. Might be my first and last try but I thought it was a decent try.”

  • “I was cellying, I was celebrating,” said Zadorov. “I saw him go for it and lifted my arms already. I was hoping but then their guy late changed and he was at the top of the hashmarks there and I was like, ‘Ah.’ I respect that. I mean, guys are making dance moves in overtime, so might as well go for the empty net as the goalie.”

  • Finally, Brock Boeser scored into the empty net, only to have the goal called back because J.T. Miller was blatantly offside — not the first time that Miller has unintentionally cancelled out a Boeser goal.
  • “Man, I was giving him the evil eye,” joked Miller. “I asked what the hell he was doing, he took forever to shoot it. No, he’s getting pretty used to me getting his goals taken away by now. I feel pretty bad, actually, that’s the fourth one this year, just for him.”