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I Watched This Game: Garland scores a goal and infuriates Red Wings in Canucks loss

The Canucks out-shot the Red Wings 41-to-21 but could only put one puck past Thomas Greiss.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings in a chippy game full of post-whistle scrums.

Sometimes, in hockey and in life, all the bounces go your way. Other times, it seems like none of them do.

On Friday night, the Vancouver Canucks took advantage of some fortunate bounces in a win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Three of the Canucks’ four goals had a hefty element of luck involved, taking weird caroms off the boards and skates to go into the net. They had some bounces go against them too and it’s not that they didn’t deserve to win — they did, they just had a little help along the way. 

On Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings, those fortunate bounces were nowhere to be found. The Canucks fired 41 shots on goal. Just one went in the net. 

Thomas Greiss was bestial in net, making 40 saves, but the Canucks also got unlucky. A quick whistle took away what could have been a goal for Elias Pettersson. A questionable offside call took away a clear-cut scoring chance for Conor Garland. Justin Dowling hit the post on a golden opportunity and what would have been Jack Rathbone’s first goal of the season was called back because Nils Höglander made contact with Greiss at the top of his crease.

In other words, this one-goal game with an empty-net topper could have very easily gone the Canucks way. 

“We had 40-something shots. They had 20. Probably win this game 8 out of 10 times,” said head coach Travis Green.

That’s a fair assessment. The Canucks were pretty clearly the better team over the course of 60 minutes and were especially dominant in the third period, out-shooting the Red Wings 23-to-6. The line of Garland, Bo Horvat, and Tanner Pearson was particularly good, combining for ten shots and the Canucks’ lone goal.

“I thought the majority of the play was in the offensive zone and I thought we made stuff happen,” said Horvat, who agreed this was his line’s best game so far. “Unfortunately, we didn't get the win but it's a good step in the right direction for my line.”

Honestly, the Canucks deserved to win this one, which is a nice feeling to have after a season where most of their losses were well-deserved. If the Canucks can regularly play like this — and polish up their power play — they’ll win more often than not this season.

“An unfortunate goalie interference, Dowls hits the post, I had a couple of chances in the slot, Petey had a couple. I mean, if those go in, it's a different hockey game,” said Horvat. “Sometimes, you don't get those bounces but we’ve just got to recover from this and move on and try to get the next win.”

When they do, I’ll be there to watch them do it, just like I watched this game.

  • Conor “Angry Little Elf” Garland was everywhere in this game. He scored a goal and was slippery like an eel with the puck, but he also showed all the “G” words: grit, guts, and gumption. He was quick to jump in to defend Oliver Ekman-Larsson when the Red Wings took issue with a hit by the defenceman and riled up the Red Wings with a hit of his own on Filip Zadina in the third period.
  • Let’s start with the hit on Zadina, because it’s one of the major moments of the game. Neither referee had an arm in the air after the hit but it was suddenly deemed a five-minute major after the post-whistle scrum died down. Upon video review, it was reduced to a two-minute minor, but it shouldn’t have been a penalty at all. Garland had his stick on the puck and braced himself for contact, only for Zadina to run his face directly into the number 8 on the back of Garland’s jersey.
  • “I’m wondering if Zadina brought this on himself,” said Red Wings colour commentator Mickey Redmond, pointing out how Zadina was reaching for the puck. “He hit his head right into his back,” he concluded.
  • “I kind of hit the brakes, trying to create space,” said a clearly frustrated Garland. “I know there’s a guy behind me. That’s it, he skated into my back.”
  • Zadina didn’t see it that way, calling Garland a “midget,” which is considered a “derogatory slur” according to the Little People of America organization. “I don’t think he’s strong enough to battle me in the corner 1-on-1,” he said. “Just did that stupid hit.”
  • “I just see it as a bit of a reverse hit. It happens a lot in hockey,” said Green. “It happened on Podkolzin, I think two and a half minutes into the game — Staal did the same thing or tried to do the same thing.”
  • The Red Wings targeted Garland the rest of the game and some context is useful here. In their previous game, Dylan Larkin was taken dangerously into the boards from behind by Mathieu Joseph of the Tampa Bay Lightning with no call. Larkin was steamed and took matters into his own hands, sucker-punching Joseph in the face. Larkin was not only injured on the play and had to see a specialist, he also got a one-game suspension; Joseph got nothing.
  • With that in mind, it’s understandable why the Red Wings might feel they had to take matters into their own hands. If the NHL’s Orwellian-named Department of Player Safety won’t keep their players safe, they’ll do it themselves, even if that means going after a guy for a clean hit. It’s a problem but it’s a systemic one. Fix the Department of Player Safety and make players confident they’ll be protected and they won’t feel the need to try to police the game themselves.
  • Still, this slash on Garland by Robby Fabbri, which the cameras barely caught, was, pardon my language, chicken feces. 
  • “I thought there were probably things afterwards that probably should have been called,” said Green. “They went and slashed Garland and I think someone high-stuck him off a faceoff. I don’t know how that’s not a penalty.”
  • I don’t know either.
  • Garland, for his part, doesn't see himself as an agitator even though he draws a lot of penalties. "I don't think it's penalties from being a pest or anything. It's penalties from having the puck on your stick and being hard to defend. When I'm playing well and I'm using my edges and my speed and you beat somebody, they've gotta sometimes haul you down."
  • For the third time in a row, the Canucks failed to open the scoring. They should have, though. Greiss tried to cover a puck as he slid out of his net on a Pettersson chance but it squeaked through his legs and was loose behind the net. Before Pettersson could tuck the puck in on the wraparound, a quick whistle stopped play. Pettersson’s face says it all.
  • Instead, the Red Wings struck first. Like he was an estranged family member, Kyle Burroughs lost touch with Fabbri in front and the winger reunited the puck with its long-lost net, tipping in a pass by Marc Staal.
  • Just before the goal, we got a marvellous pratfall by Alex Chiasson coming over the boards because this game needed some slapstick comedy. Since ice is just frozen water, this was an example of a Chiasson water fall. He should stick to the rivers and the lakes that he's used to.
  • Garland responded in the third period with his only actual headshot of the game. From a bad angle, Garland snapped a shot off the side of Greiss’s head and in for his first goal as a Canuck. I call it a snap shot because it literally undid one of the snaps on Greiss’s mask.
  • Zadina re-took the lead for the Red Wings on the power play. Matthew Highmore lost his stick, leaving him powerless to take away passing lanes, and Moritz Seider put the puck in Zadina’s wheelhouse and he blasted the puck past Ekman-Larsson, who couldn’t get into the shooting lane in time, and beat Jaroslav Halak on the short side.
  • It wasn’t a terrible game for Halak overall, despite the 2 goals against on 20 shots. More concerning was his puckhandling, which repeatedly got him into trouble in this game. He was passing the puck as if he was using a stick that was designed for stopping a puck rather than one for handling the puck. It doesn’t help that he’s still unfamiliar with his teammates, of course, so hopefully, this improves.
  • Garland had a chance to tie the game in the third period but there was a late whistle on an offside call as he was in alone on Greiss. He put the puck in the net, drawing early ire from the Red Wings — this was before his hit on Zadina. To be fair to Garland, he definitely wasn't offside, because players no longer need to have their skates on the ice behind the blue line to be considered onside.
  • Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers had a strong game as a pair after a shakier outing against the Flyers. Shot attempts were 13-to-4 for the Canucks when they were on the ice at 5-on-5, which is a very positive sign, and Ekman-Larsson had a team-high 11 shot attempts himself, with 6 of them on net. 
  • Jack Rathbone had a strong effort in this game, drawing two penalties with his shifty skating. He was decent defensively too. I liked this moment in the second period, where he refused to get out-muscled by the much larger Adam Erne and kept his stick in to prevent a power move to the net. He then won the puck and quickly got it out of the zone.
  • Rathbone should have had his first career goal, as he blasted a slap shot from the point just inside the near post. It was immediately waved off, however, as Nils Höglander made contact with Greiss at the top of the crease. Greiss was pretty far out as he challenged the shot but his skates were still in the crease.
  • “Sewey [video coach Darryl Seward] was pretty, pretty confident that it wasn't going to be overruled,” said Green, explaining why they didn’t challenge the call.
  • The Canucks pushed hard with Halak pulled for the extra attacker and had some good chances but it was instead a former Canuck that put the puck in the net: Sam Gagner. Pettersson tried to gain the zone by himself but his pocket was picked from behind and Gagner hit the empty net from his own blue line.
  • Something to keep an eye on: Pettersson has played well so far this season but his faceoff numbers have to be a concern. He didn't win a single faceoff against the Flyers and went 2-for-7 against the Red Wings, bringing him to 5-for-20 on the season.
  • "That's something that definitely needs to develop over time and he needs to get better at them if he's going to take them," said Green. "But he knows that, he understands that. We'll see how it goes. When he's playing with Millsy, Millsy's an option as well. If we play Millsy at center, then [Pettersson's] going to have to take them all."