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I Watched This Game: Hapless Canucks helpless against the hellacious Devils

"A lot of it is the results of our own mistakes," said Quinn Hughes.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 5-2 to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Mackenzie Blackwood probably wishes he could play against the Vancouver Canucks every single game for the rest of his career.

Heading into Tuesday’s game between the Canucks and the New Jersey Devils, Blackwood’s career save percentage against the Canucks was .972, with a 4-0-0 record. 

After allowing just two goals on Tuesday night for his fifth-straight win against the Canucks, his career save percentage against the Canucks actually got worse, dropping to .962. That’s because the Canucks only managed to get 23 shots on goal against Blackwood.

Still, .962 is pretty dang good. Like Tommy Tutone and Jenny, Blackwood has the Canucks’ number.

This wouldn’t be so bad for the Canucks if Blackwood was an elite NHL goaltender but he’s not. He has a career .907 save percentage. Heading into this game, Blackwood had an .871 save percentage this season. He was coming off a game where he gave up five goals on just 18 shots. 

Of course, the goaltending was only a small part of why the Canucks lost to the Devils on Tuesday night. 

The Canucks had no answer for the Devils’ speed and they struggled to break the puck up ice, repeatedly turning the puck over to the Devils’ forecheck and neutral zone pressure. As a result, the ice was heavily tilted against the Canucks, as the Devils out-shot them 37-to-23.

“We made them look fast,” said Bo Horvat. “We were turning pucks over, we weren’t making tape-to-tape passes.”

“If we transition pucks quick and our D get it up to our forwards and we establish a forecheck and hem them in their own end, that kills their speed,” added Horvat, before admitting the obvious. “We did not do that enough tonight.”

Indeed, it was a night full of errors for the Canucks. 

“They have good speed and Jack [Hughes] and [Jesper] Bratt, those guys snapping it around,” said Quinn Hughes, who returned after missing nearly two weeks. “But I think a lot of it is the results of our own mistakes.

“First goal — missed assignments on the penalty kill. Second goal — I don’t box out. Third goal — turnover at the blue line. Fourth goal — 2-on-1. I mean, that’s all us.”

Hughes essentially wrote my article for me after I watched this game.

  • Okay, maybe you want a more in-depth breakdown than Hughes provided. I guess I’ll write the rest of my article.
  • The Canucks didn’t win a single game in their Reverse Retro jerseys in the 2020-21 season, going 0-3-1 in the so-called Sprite jerseys. They were in their second edition of the Reverse Retro jerseys, a Johnny Canuck jersey that missed the mark, in my opinion. Whether you like the jersey or not, they’re not off to a great start in these special event jerseys.
  • Once again, the line of Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Ilya Mikheyev was easily the Canucks’ best. They looked dangerous all game and created some great chances but couldn’t hit the back of the net. What they need to do is get ahold of Calvin and Hobbes’ Transmogrifier to transform some of those chances into goals. 
  • Bo Horvat had a strong game. He scored two goals on the power play but got robbed by Blackwood on two chances at even strength and hit the post on another chance. He could have easily had a hat trick or made someone $1 million richer with the Save-On Score-and-Win.
  • “If I would’ve scored four, you know, tie game,” said Horvat ruefully, wanting a better result far more than the two goals. He’s currently on pace for 66 goals this season but he’d surely trade them all for a better record.
  • The Devils opened the scoring on the power play after a dumb offensive zone penalty by Tanner Pearson. Horvat and J.T. Miller got caught too high on the penalty kill, with Miller abandoning a passing lane to fruitlessly try to knock down a puck. Meanwhile, Tyler Myers lost Nico Hischier behind him and he was gifted a tap-in goal.
  • Hughes blamed himself for the 2-0 goal and it’s hard to disagree. He was engaged with Michael McLeod in the slot, but then disengaged to try to front a shot from the sideboards. Hughes couldn’t block the shot and Demko kicked out a rebound to McLeod, left all alone at the backdoor.
  • Things went haywire in the second period. Luke Schenn threw a couple of big hits and was challenged to a fight by Miles Wood. Before Schenn could drop the gloves, Wood started swinging and Schenn took exception — he threw Wood to the ice, then started chopping Wood, hammering him with punches while he lay prone.
  • Schenn's ground-and-pound tactics are against “the code” in hockey and he got a game misconduct. Wood got a game misconduct too for instigating. Weirdly, Dakota Joshua also got a game misconduct for being the third man in, but he wasn’t — he was the fourth man in after the Devils’ Nathan Bastian tried to grab Schenn but Bastian didn’t get a penalty. But expecting NHL officiating to make sense is like expecting your kids to ration their Halloween candy on their own — it’s not going to happen.
  • The Canucks got a power play out of the tussle thanks to Wood’s instigator penalty and it could have been a turning point in the game. It kind of was, only for the Devils. Vasily Podkolzin turned the puck over at the blue line and the Devils broke the other way for a shorthanded 2-on-1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson went to the ice at the wrong time to take away the cross-ice pass, as Yegor Sharangovich simply out-waited the slide before feeding Dawson Mercer for the 3-0 goal.
  • Ekman-Larsson was flat-out bad in this game and he was partly to blame for the 4-0 goal, as he was way too far over on the left as the Devils broke out, allowing Jesper Boqvist to zip up the middle of the ice, creating a 2-on-1. Tyler Myers didn’t take away the cross-ice pass at all and Boqvist fed it across for the finish by Sharangovich.
  • Thatcher Demko wasn’t in the dressing room post-game to talk to reporters despite being requested but it seems pretty easy to figure out why. There’s no way that Demko could have talked without throwing his defence under the bus like Regina George.  
  • The Canucks at least got a couple goals in response. Pearson managed to draw a penalty instead of taking one and some quick passing from Hughes and J.T. Miller set up Horvat for a one-timer in the slot for the Canucks’ first goal, eight seconds into the power play. It was the first time the Canucks had looked quick all game.
  • The third period was another struggle for the Canucks, who managed just four shots on goal despite trailing by three goals for most of the period. Bruce Boudreau suggested it was partly because the Devils blocked a lot of shots and they did block nine shots in the third period, but that’s not really an excuse. If someone had hidden a bomb under Rogers Arena that would go off if the Canucks had five shots on goal in the third, that would be an excuse for only getting four shots on goal.
  • The Canucks got a late power play and Boudreau aggressively pulled Demko for the extra attacker to go 6-on-4. It paid off, as Miller once again set up Horvat for a one-timer in the slot to make it 4-2.
  • “I wasn’t planning on pulling [Demko],” said Boudreau. “I didn’t think we earned the right [to pull Demko], that we weren’t going to get three. But when they got a penalty, I said okay, now’s our chance. We did get one and then we’re in the game — we get a little life, you get the crowd behind you.”
  • It was too little, too late. The Devils added an empty netter after Miller coughed up the puck by trying to force a pass through skates to Horvat. Jack Hughes hit the empty net from inside his own blue line and the game was even more over than it was before.
  • On the plus side, Ethan Bear looked pretty good in his Canucks debut despite not playing a game for months. He even had some ice time with Quinn Hughes thanks to Schenn’s game misconduct, giving us a glimpse of a potential Huggy-Bear defence pairing. It’s the little things that give you hope when everything else is bleak.