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I Watched This Game: Canucks were the same sad team against the Red Wings

"We’re going to have to keep stripping this down until we get it right," said Rick Tocchet.
The Vancouver Canucks lost again to the Detroit Red Wings in the second half of a home-and-home series. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

There’s a Saturday Night Live sketch from a few years ago called Romano Tours, where Adam Sandler, playing a travel agent named Joe Romano, explains that an idyllic vacation to Italy won’t fundamentally change who you are. 

“If you are sad where you are and then you get on a plane to Italy, the you in Italy will be the same sad you from before, just in a new place,” says Sandler. “Does that make sense?”

It feels like a solid metaphor for the Vancouver Canucks right now. The team under Rick Tocchet is the same sad team from before, just with a new coach.

If any Canucks fans were afraid that a coaching change would lead to a new coach bump that would drive the Canucks up the standings and worsen their draft position, the last few weeks have done wonders to disabuse them of that notion.

This home-and-home with the Detroit Red Wings, a team that isn’t particularly good, was painful to watch but incredibly valuable for getting lower in the standings. First, they got crushed 5-2 in Detroit. Then, instead of coming out strong to exact some revenge for the lopsided loss, they got crushed again, even worse, on home ice, losing 6-1 on Monday night.

That’s a combined 11-3 score in two games against the 22nd-ranked team in the NHL. 

Meanwhile, the Canucks got some help from the out-of-town scoreboard. The Montreal Canadiens have strung a couple of wins together to pass the Canucks in the standings, so that's appreciated. One of those wins even came against the New York Islanders to keep them out of a playoff position, which is extra appreciated because the Canucks have the Islanders' first-round pick.

The San Jose Sharks are currently just one point behind the Canucks in the standings. In their last four games, the Sharks have upset the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals. The Canucks could easily slip below the Sharks and get into the bottom five in the NHL.

The Arizona Coyotes are next. They’ve beaten the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators in recent games to climb to just two points behind the Canucks.

Dare the Canucks dream that they can pass both the Sharks and the Coyotes by the end of the season to get the fourth-best odds in the draft lottery? Do they dare dream even bigger? The Anaheim Ducks are six points back of the Canucks — is that too much ground to make up?

If the Canucks can pull off some more devastating losses like they did to the Red Wings, maybe they have a chance.

Then again, with Thatcher Demko likely to return soon, those dreams are a lot like trying to fix your broken relationship with an Italian vacation: hopeless.

The same sad me watched this game. 

  • The Red Wings’ top line centred by Dylan Larkin didn’t need any help to dominate the game early on, but they got help anyway when Ekman-Larsson turned the puck over with an ill-placed pass in the offensive zone. Neither Elias Pettersson nor Luke Schenn could catch Larkin’s breakaway speed and he opened up Collin Delia’s five-hole with a deke to the backhand and tucked the puck home to make it 1-0.
  • “It starts from the first goal. Throwing a puck away and we give their best player a breakaway to start,” said Tocchet, emphasizing the word “start” with a tone of frustration. “The ball starts right there and some guys get frustrated, smashing sticks — no more smashing sticks and stuff. You can’t be entitled in this game. It’s a hard game to play and we’ve got to stick together. That’s just the way it is; that’s what teams do.”
  • Like Howard Scott Hershaw, the creator of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari, the pairing of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Luke Schenn produced an awful game. It’s a pairing that should be buried in a landfill immediately if the Canucks want to keep Schenn’s trade value as high as possible. With that pairing on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks were out-attempted 21-to-9, out-shot 12-to-4, and out-scored 3-to-0. 
  • You may as well call Ekman-Larsson “Buster Bluth” at this point for how he looks out there. The Red Wings were constantly getting behind him because his mobility is completely shot.
  • Ekman-Larsson and Schenn getting out-scored 3-to-0 doesn’t even include the one power play goal they were on the ice for. Larkin skated right around Ekman-Larsson for a dangerous chance, then J.T. Miller got the puck behind the net and was too slow to move it, losing it to Tyler Bertuzzi. Both defencemen were below the goal line, so it was all too easy for Robby Fabbri to find Larkin open for a backdoor tap-in.
  • “We had the puck on our stick, we didn’t get it out,” said Tocchet. “That’s not system on that play. It’s gritty get it out. And then you leave a guy backdoor.”
  • The Canucks got a little hope with an early goal in the second period to make it 2-1. Ethan Bear sent a long pass to Andrei Kuzmenko to tip into the Red Wings zone, where Conor Garland snagged the puck and whipped it across to Sheldon Dries as he charged to the net, taking the puck off his skate and poking it over the goal line with one hand on the stick. We ought to call him Jet Dries, because he provided the finish on that dish. 
  • Bear made a nice pass on the Dries goal but he cost the Canucks with a soft clear up the boards a few minutes later. The puck got easily intercepted and Bear never got back in position, as he spun in place looking for who he was supposed to check. Michael Rasmussen, the man he should’ve had, shot the puck past Bear and Delia couldn’t handle the rebound as it dropped in the crease where Fabbri finished it off.
  • “We just weren’t gritty enough. Our wall work — the value of the little things. We’re going to have to keep stripping this down until we get it right,” said Tocchet. “We’re going to practice tomorrow and we’re going to have to go back to grade school on how to defend, how to stop and start, because too many guys are spinning.”
  • The Canucks had their chances to pull the game back but couldn’t find their finish. Quinn Hughes had a glorious chance set up by J.T. Miller, but Ville Husso squeezed his arm tight to his body to stop the backhand. Then Miller set up Boeser for an open net off the rush on the power play but the puck went off the toe of Boeser’s stick and wide. Before excoriating Boeser too much, he in turn set up Miller with a wide-open net two minutes later and the puck careened off Miller’s skate and away from the net entirely. To top it off, Anthony Beauvillier hit the crossbar on another power play.
  • You might be tempted to call all of that bad luck for the Canucks, but they have one of the highest shooting percentages in the NHL this season. You can just call it regression to the mean. 
  • Rebound control continued to be a problem for Delia, as he couldn’t cover up the puck on an early third-period chance for Andrew Copp. He stretched across to jam the subsequent wraparound attempt for Michael Rasmussen, but nobody boxed out Rasmussen or Gustav Lindstrom and the latter poked the puck in.
  • The 5-1 goal was infuriating. Quinn Hughes chipped the puck out to centre ice, then went for a line change — ill-timed as the puck never got deep. That might’ve been okay except Andrei Kuzmenko also went for a line change, leaving no winger on the left side to prevent a counter-attack, and so did Tyler Myers, leaving no defencemen back to defend said counter-attack. Oskar Sundqvist had all day and all of the night to pass the puck to Pius Suter for a breakaway and he shot quickly before Delia could get set. 
  • Let’s be blunt: that was a godawful line change by all three players. The worst offender, though, was Myers, who was the last man back and could see all of this happening in front of him. He’s a veteran player who absolutely should know better than to leave the ice with two Red Wings players completely open at his own blue line as their teammates regroup in the neutral zone. That’s appalling and Myers deserves every bit of excoriation he’s going to get for that play.
  • “That’s the one thing [line changes] I thought we were good at the last six games,” said Tocchet. “We were getting better at shift lengths and body language, but that was obviously not good. Not sure what people were thinking on that play. I don’t have an answer for you on that one.”
  • The Red Wings made it 6-1 on a delayed penalty. It seemed like they were toying with the Canucks, who looked utterly defeated. At this point, is it even worth analyzing what went wrong? Kuzmenko and Pettersson shouldn’t have chased the puck to the point, leaving their teammates even more outnumbered behind them. There. Analysis accomplished. 
  • The only interesting thing that happened for the rest of the game is that a weird rule was invoked. Weird rules are always fun. With a minute left, Husso bizarrely pulled his own net down on top of himself after giving the puck away behind the net. That’s a delay-of-game penalty, but instead of the Canucks getting a power play, they got a penalty shot instead. Huh?
  • The weird rule covers exactly this very specific series of events. It’s Rule 63.6: “If by reason of insufficient time in the regular playing time or by reason of penalties already imposed, the minor penalty assessed to a player for deliberately displacing his own goal post cannot be served in its entirety within the regular playing time of the game or at any time in overtime, a penalty shot shall be awarded against the offending team.”
  • It was the second penalty shot in as many games against the Detroit Red Wings and it was just as successful as the last one. The shot had to be taken by someone on the ice, so Phil di Giuseppe, who has played well recently, got the nod. His quick snap shot was a decent one, but Husso got just enough of his blocker on the puck to send it off the crossbar. Alas.
  • “I thought the fourth line bought in. I thought they were good tonight,” was the first thing Tocchet said in his post-game media availability, which is never a good sign. “Obviously, we had a bunch of guys that had tough nights. We had no stop-and-start in our game. Our defensive zone, there was just no stop-and-start. We gave in.”