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I Watched This Game: Demko and the Canucks shutout the Stars

Thatcher Demko made 27 saves for the shutout, while Pius Suter and Elias Pettersson got the goals for the Canucks.
The Vancouver Canucks took on one of the best teams in the Western Conference in the Dallas Stars and shut them out.

The tank is dead; long live the tank!

For the last several seasons, the Vancouver Canucks have been a tank (derogatory). Or, at least, some fans have wanted them to tank and plummet to the bottom of the standings for a better chance at a high draft pick.

But now, the Canucks are a tank (non-derogatory). They’re like a heavily armoured vehicle with a cannon, smashing through the other teams like they were enemy lines. They look unstoppable right now.

Sure, the Canucks are good enough to drop ten goals on the hapless San Jose Sharks but it turns out that scoring ten goals on the Sharks is not that hard to do. It was far more impressive for the Canucks to face the hapful Dallas Stars, who sit at the top of the Central Division, and to full-on out play them.

Sidenote: I was definitely surprised to find out that “hapful” is a real word. I was just trying to make a joke that the Stars are the opposite of “hapless.” Who knew?

It’s tough to erase the cynicism that has come from missing the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. Believing in the Canucks is a risky proposition because recent history has taught fans that the rug will be pulled out from under them at a moment’s notice. Giving your heart to the team comes with a chance that your heart will be broken.

But that’s what being a fan of a team is all about. Of course, they’ll break your heart. But you risk that heartbreak because with that risk comes exhilaration when the team succeeds, even in small ways. It’s a thrill that you can’t experience without putting something on the line, even if that thing is your belief.

In other words, it’s time to embrace the tank.

The good kind of tank. The smashing-through-the-opposition kind of tank. The we’re-third-in-the-NHL kind of tank. The seemingly-unstoppable, can’t-crack-our-armour kind of tank.

I embraced the tank when I watched this game.

  • This game would have turned out very, very differently if not for Thatcher Demko making a brilliant, save-of-the-year candidate stop on Wyatt Johnston five-and-a-half minutes into the first period. The Canucks were chasing the play, spinning out of control in the defensive zone, and it looked like it was going to be a sure goal until Demko made a miraculous save.
  • During a wild scramble around the crease, Carson Soucy knocked down Johnston, which seemed to cause him to disappear from notice like a Milford man: he was neither seen nor heard by the Canucks. Demko tracked the puck to Tyler Seguin, then had to stop short as Seguin passed to a suddenly upright Johnston in the slot. The net looked wide open, but Demko lunged back in Luongonian fashion to snag the puck with his glove. 
  • “Oh man, that was crazy,” said J.T. Miller about the save. “I was part of the reason why the guy had a free look there, I was kind of in no man’s land. For him to make that save — I thought it was in the net. That was an all-world save.”
  • Miller came up with a fantastic defensive play in the opening minute of the game. He threw a hit on the forecheck, then immediately got on his horse on the backcheck as he spotted a 3-on-2 developing, putting himself in perfect position to pick off a pass. Then he immediately turned it into an offensive chance, springing Brock Boeser on a breakaway.
  • Even better than all that, Miller immediately came out and talked to the media after the game. Good thing or I would have had to be very cross with him. ;)
  • At one point, Craig Smith argued a penalty call so vociferously that the linesman felt the need to rush over and separate him from the referee, as if violence was about to break out. Somehow, Smith didn’t get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for that but Miller did in the Canucks’ last home game. Maybe Miller was justified in feeling a little put out. 
  • The Canucks’ penalty kill was superb on Saturday, though it helps that the Stars, despite their strong start, have one of the worst power plays in the NHL. I thought this moment was interesting: it’s not super clear in the clip, but Miller and Ian Cole had practically a full conversation in the midst of the kill, making sure that each knew their responsibilities in the scheme. Like the best song by The Brothers Martin, it’s all about communication.
  • “[Communication] is huge,” said Cole. “It’s communication on the ice, for sure, but it’s communication off the ice and knowing what the reads are before we get out there, and then, when we’re out there, we can communicate and cement those reads in terms of what we’re seeing.”
  • The Canucks’ pressure on the penalty kill was relentless and was breaking up the Stars’ possession in all three zones. Here are a few examples: Miller with a good stick in the neutral zone to steal the puck, Tyler Myers closing out the boards in the defensive zone on a zone entry, and Pius Suter jumping up in the offensive zone on a Stars mistake, leading to Dakota Joshua throwing his weight around.
  • Joshua was throwing his weight around all game and, considering he weighs 206 lbs, that weight had an impact. He was credited with a game-high seven hits and he wasn’t getting his hits by chasing them and getting out of position. He was a puck possession force with his linemates Conor Garland and Pius Suter, with the Canucks out-attempting the Stars 10-to-5 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
  • Joshua also picked up the primary assist on the game’s opening goal. Jake Oettinger looked unbeatable early and it took a broken play to get one past him: Joshua’s attempted pass to Garland was tipped Miro Heiskanen and skittered into the slot, where Suter pounced on it like a cat on a ping pong ball, then fired it glove side on Oettinger.
  • The Canucks power play couldn’t get on the board but it looked incredibly dangerous in this game. The only trouble was Oettinger, who repeatedly robbed the Canucks on the open looks that they were creating with their player and puck movement. The Canucks were hoping he would be just Oetting tonight but instead, they got him at his Oettingest.
  • The Canucks’ second goal looked like a power play goal, though. A missed assignment gave Filip Hronek spacious acreage at the point, so Hronek stepped up into the high slot, looking like he was going to shoot. Johnston jumped up to challenge Hronek, but that meant leaving Pettersson open and Hronek happily fed the NHL’s leading scorer for a wide-open net.
  • Yeah, I said leading scorer. With 20 points in 11 games, Pettersson is now tied with Jack Hughes for first in the NHL and, with one more goal than Hughes, Pettersson has the tie-breaker. 
  • “I’m just trying to get away from the play,” said Pettersson. “I saw him look at me and if he passes right away, I think there was a guy in between. But he held it, kind of sucked guys into him, and then made a great play.”
  • The capstone on a dominant second period for the Canucks was a massive hit by Ian Cole on Matt Duchene. The Stars centre did what you should never do in hockey: he skated up ice without looking up ice. Cole drilled him right through the chest, flattening him like he was Judge Doom.
  • An underrated part of the hit: Cole led with his stick and poked the puck away first. He wasn’t just chasing a big hit.
  • “I wasn’t even thinking about it at first,” said Cole. “I was just coming to lean down, to try to shrink the offensive zone when the puck squirted right to him. He just didn’t see me. Originally, I was going to play the puck and I was like, ‘Oh, all right, the body’s here too, I guess I’ll just take it.’”
  • As is often the case with a big hit — even a clean one — Cole was immediately challenged to a fight. Mason Marchment dropped the gloves with Cole, getting an extra minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the process. Marchment gave Cole a couple of stiff uppercuts but Cole was unfazed and gave a couple of high fives to fans on his way down the tunnel as the second period was nearly over.
  • “You pick your head up and see who’s coming right away,” said Cole. “If no one comes, great, whatever, keep playing. I’ve had a couple where I’ve tried to get back in the play and been surprised by somebody from the blindside and that never goes well. You usually eat the first three punches before you can even get your bearings. Better to be a little more prepared.”
  • The regrettable part of the hit is that Duchene left the game and didn’t return. As much as the hit was a legal, full-body hit, there’s no denying that there was head contact. Hopefully, Duchene will be okay; he’s had a serious concussion before.  
  • The best thing about the third period is how uneventful it was. There’s a reason why the NHL’s nine-minute highlight pack for this game spent less than a minute on the third period; Demko and the Canucks closed out the shutout in a business-like manner, giving the Stars no hope of a comeback.
  • “I’m just proud of the group,” said Demko in his typically self-effacing fashion. “At the end of the game, they pull the goalie with, like, four minutes left and we’re pretty much killing a penalty for four minutes and I think they maybe got one shot. It’s just commitment to defence, commitment to blocking shots, and making fantastic reads off each other. Full kudos to the team for locking it down like that.”