It’s pretty unusual for a goaltender to give up four goals and still steal a game for his team but that’s what Spencer Martin managed to do on Tuesday night in Ottawa.
The Vancouver Canucks were under siege by the Ottawa Senators for the first two periods of the game, out-shot by a greater-than 2-to-1 margin: 35-to-16. Even that seems kind to the Canucks, who were soundly out-played in every facet of the game. At one point in the second period, the shot clock read 31-to-10 for the Senators but the score was only 2-1.
That’s because the Canucks were outplayed in every facet except goaltending.
Martin was phenomenal, repeatedly bailing out his teammates after turnovers and defensive breakdowns. He was flashing leather like a photographer for a saddle catalogue. It was still a one-goal game after 31 Ottawa shots because of Martin and that 31st save — a brilliant toe save off Brady Tkachuk on a Senators odd-man rush — seemed to finally jolt the Canucks out of their slumber.
After that save, the Canucks out-shot the Senators 18-to-10, dominating them as thoroughly as they were dominated before. For once, they didn't have a third-period letdown because they never let up, repeatedly attacking on the forecheck and crashing the crease to score some greasy goals.
Sure, the penalty kill was still atrocious, giving up two third-period goals that made Martin’s night look a lot worse than it really was, but the Canucks still held on for the win.
Ironically, it was exactly the type of game that Jim Rutherford derided on Monday: overly reliant on goaltending, with a loose defensive structure — whether because of systems or personnel — and entirely unsustainable over a long period of time.
But it was sustainable enough to get the win in Ottawa on Tuesday when I watched this game.
- With the win, Martin has now earned at least one point in ten-straight starts for the Canucks. Appropriately for Vancouver, he’s 6-0-4 as a Canuck.
- Ryan Reynolds, the famed son of Vancouver, was at the game, though seemingly not to support the Canucks. He confirmed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that, with a little help from a consortium of partners with deeper pockets, he is interested in buying the Senators. Betrayal!
- "I love Ottawa. I grew up in Vancouver, which has my heart always, but I also grew up in Ottawa and I spent a long time in Vanier, which is a little town right inside Ottawa," said Reynolds. All I hear is, “I don’t love you anymore, Vancouver.” Heartbreaking.
- The Senators jumped out to a quick lead in the opening minute when Oliver Ekman-Larsson couldn’t beat out Alex DeBrincat for an icing call and Martin didn’t come out to play the puck. Ekman-Larsson lazily looped behind the net instead of stopping up in front to defend, then DeBrincat’s centering pass got through to Drake Batherson for a wide-open net as Martin had to assume the shot was coming from Derick Brassard in front.
- A morsel of blame can go to Andrei Kuzmenko as well, who didn’t stick with Batherson as the play broke down in the Canucks’ zone. But if Kuzmenko gets one half-portion of the blame, Ekman-Larsson gets 60 portions like he was selling BB-8 to Unkar Plutt.
- Jack Rathbone was back in the lineup and he was paired with Ethan Bear, leading to some potentially amazing pairing nicknames: BoneBear, WrathBear, BearBones, Napoleon Bone-a-Bear — okay, maybe not that last one.
- No bones about it — the BearBones pairing probably wasn’t as good as they looked. At times, they moved the puck well and, since the bar for puck-moving defencemen for the Canucks is somewhere beneath the Canadian Shield, they looked pretty impressive. At other times, they repeatedly turned the puck over, like on one shift where both of them coughed up the puck leading to two grade-A scoring chances for Alex DeBrincat, a two-time 41-goal scorer, and only Martin’s heroics kept the puck out. High-danger chances were 7-to-1 for the Senators when Rathbone and Bear were on the ice at 5-on-5.
- On the other hand, both Rathbone and Bear got assists on the Canucks’ first goal. Rathbone kept the puck in at the blueline, went D-to-D to Bear on the opposite side, and Bear threw a puck towards the net. The puck was going wide but it hit Bo Horvat, who backhanded it in while Cam Talbot was still looking over his shoulder for the puck like a dog whose owner just pretended to throw a ball (which you shouldn’t do).
- The positive vibes for tying the game against the flow of play quickly disappeared when the Senators struck back 16 seconds later. Dakota Joshua couldn’t get the puck out in a battle along the boards and the puck came to former Canuck Travis Hamonic, who blasted a slap shot past Martin. As good as Martin was, this goal, like Alan in Perfect Alan mode, was a stinker.
- Martin was at his best in the second period, however, making 19 saves, including the toe save on Tkachuk that was the PITB Transformative Moment of the Game™ (not to be confused, particularly in a legal sense, with TSN Turning Point).
- Martin’s brilliance allowed the Canucks to scratch their way back into the game, with Ilya “Mix Master” Mikheyev spinning his way into the offensive zone off a stretch pass by Quinn Hughes, then cut faster to the net than his check, Hamonic, could handle, getting in alone for a quick move to the forehand to tie the game against the flow of play.
- Horvat gave the Canucks the lead early in the third with his 12th goal of the season in just 13 games. Conor Garland won a battle with Hamonic behind the net and centred for Horvat, who was somehow completely unmarked in front despite three Senators players being in his general vicinity — General Vicinity, *salutes*.
- Folks, Bo Horvat is on pace for 76 goals this season, which would smash the franchise record and tie him for fifth all-time in the NHL behind Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, and two seasons from Wayne Gretzky. And yet, even with 12 goals in 13 games, he’s still second in the NHL in goalscoring behind Connor McDavid, who has 14 goals in 14 games, the tryhard.
- Brock Boeser was back in the lineup after needing some further recovery from his hand surgery and it momentarily looked like he got his first goal of the season. Just after a power play ended, Boeser darted to the net as Ekman-Larsson took a point shot and he appeared to tip the puck. Instead, it was actually tipped in by, you guessed it, Travis Hamonic — he scored one goal for the Senators and was at least partially responsible for three goals for the Canucks.
- The Senators got one back on the power play when Tim Stützle skated right up the middle to take a return pass on the give-and-go and move in alone on Martin. Bear left Stützle to chase after the puck-carrier, thinking he had help coming behind him, but it was a massively over-aggressive play for the penalty kill. Bear needs to take a page from his cousin, Smokey Bear, and play it safe.
- The Canucks got a vital insurance goal from an unlikely source. Jack Studnicka got in on the forecheck and stole the puck from Thomas Chabot, only to immediately turn it over to Erik Brannstrom. Fortunately, Brannstrom gave the puck right back to Studnicka with an absolutely awful pass, and Studnicka made the most of his second opportunity, snapping the puck off Talbot’s glove and in.
- Studnicka’s goal was crucial because the Canucks cannot close out games without drama. Vasily Podkolzin hoisted the puck over the glass in the defensive zone, giving the Senators another power play on the delay of game penalty. Claude Giroux’s shot hit Nils Åman’s stick as it came off of Giroux’s blade, turning the fastball into an off-speed sinker that dove underneath Martin’s blocker to make it 5-4.
- That’s all the Senators would get, however, even though a Tyler Myers turnover up the middle in the final minute caused some hairy moments. J.T. Miller got his stick on the subsequent shot, snagged the loose puck, and fed Elias Pettersson for the empty net goal to seal the game away for good.
- With that, the Canucks are 4-1-1 in their last six games, which sounds pretty good as long as you don’t look too closely at how some of those games were won or lost. The Senators are arguably the only team that is a bigger mess than the Canucks right now, but a win is a win. It’ll be a while before Canucks fans feel comfortable with any sort of lead, but, as my man Zed Necrodopolis says, “baby steps is still movement.”