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I Watched This Game: J.T. Miller's two goals can't propel Canucks past Golden Knights

"Three or four guys didn’t play to our identity,” said Rick Tocchet. “You can’t poison the water — it’s not everybody.”
The Vancouver Canucks were left playing catch-up all game behind the Vegas Golden Knights.

After the Vancouver Canucks’ morning skate on Tuesday, head coach Rick Tocchet was asked about Jack Studnicka and whether he is a better fit at centre or on the wing.

“I honestly don’t know,” admitted Tocchet. “I haven’t been here long enough to know if he’s a centre or a winger.”

Or, perhaps Tocchet doesn’t know if he’s a centre or a winger because he’s actually neither. When the Canucks took the ice for warm-ups ahead of their game against the Vegas Golden Knights, Studnicka was skating as the right-side defenceman on the third pairing. That’s right: Jack Studnicka is the right-side defenceman the Canucks have been searching for.

Okay, not so much. Studnicka was just filling in for warm-ups while Kyle Burroughs scrambled to get ready to play.

Burroughs, like Studnicka, was expecting he would be a healthy scratch. At the morning skate, he was on the extra defence pair with new Canuck Filip Hronek, who has not yet been cleared for contact. 

When a player is not expecting to be in the lineup, their gameday routine is quite a bit different. They often stay on the ice longer at the end of practice because they don’t need to conserve as much energy, they might skip their afternoon nap, and they don’t have to be at the rink as early for the game.

That meant that when Noah Juulsen suffered a lower-body injury during his “activation” — a portion of the team’s warm-up that takes place off the ice — his replacement was still at home. 

“I guess I missed a call when I was in my elevator on the way down to my car,” said Burroughs. “I just got it when I was in my car on the way and I was like, ‘Oh God.’ It’s not a phone call that you love to hear.”

By that point, on-ice warmups were already starting, with Studnicka skating as an ersatz Burroughs. The real McCoy hustled to the rink and didn’t even park his car.

“I think I got here around 6:38-6:40 and CMac parked my car, which was nice of him,” said Burroughs, referring to Communications Director Craig MacEwen. He then joked, “I hope he didn’t scratch it.”

Burroughs’ typical pregame routine was thrown out the window. All that was on his mind was getting as ready as he could be in the shortest time possible so he could take the ice for the opening puck drop.

“I’m just glad I could get in the game,” said Burroughs. “It was a little stressful. I’m not the fastest person at getting dressed but I made it work.”

I personally went down to the parking lot and scratched Burroughs car after I watched this game.

  • “I think we’ve gotten that smell out of our game,” said Tocchet after morning skate, a colourful turn of phrase regarding the team’s defensive miscues that were so common when he took over. That smell resurfaced in the first period like someone opened up a tupperware with months-old leftovers from the back of the fridge. The Canucks’ puck management had a distinct odor.
  • “Three or four guys didn’t play to our identity,” said Tocchet, insisting it wasn’t a team-wide issue. “You can’t poison the water — it’s not everybody.”
  • The Canucks’ malodorousness started with an Ethan Bear turnover four minutes into the game. Like Corduroy in his overalls, Bear was far too casual. He didn’t spot Phil Kessel sneaking up behind him like Jason Momoa behind Henry Cavill and Kessel picked off his backhand pass. Kessel cut to the net and had more patience than a family doctor in B.C., outwaiting Thatcher Demko to open the scoring.
  • Considering the circumstances that saw him inserted into the lineup, Burroughs deserves some grace for his sloppy play that led to the Golden Knights’ second goal, as he skated himself into trouble on the breakout. Christian Wolanin, who flubbed Burroughs’ pass, and Brock Boeser, who subsequently turned over the puck on a reverse behind the net, have no such excuse. That led to William Karlsson setting up Reilly Smith for the top-shelf finish.
  • The first period was awful for the Canucks and could have been a lot worse if Demko wasn’t in net. Without Demko between the pipes, all 14 of the Golden Knights shots would have gone in instead of just two of them unless the Canucks somehow had someone else in net instead of just leaving it empty.
  • Vitaly Kravtsov and Vasily Podkolzin had a strong second period, even if they couldn’t find the scoresheet. Kravtsov created a chance early on with a nifty stick lift on the forecheck. Later, Podkolzin sent Kravtsov in for a chance with a slick pass just inside the Vegas blue line, but Kravtsov couldn’t lift the puck over Jonathan Quick. Podkolzin nearly had a last-second goal too, nearly jamming the puck in with four seconds left in the period after Kravtsov out-battled two Golden Knights behind the net. 
  • J.T. Miller actually got the Canucks on the board, taking advantage of a Jack Eichel turnover on the power play to break away shorthanded. Thanks to a hack from Shea Theodore, that turned into a penalty shot. Miller’s slow-motion sidewinder turned Jonathan Quick into a puddle of goo on the ice before he authoritatively sent the puck top corner. 
  • The Golden Knights restored the two-goal lead on a bad-angle shot that snuck through Demko. Like an unlicked adhesive on the top flap of an envelope, the post was unsealed and Teddy Blueger’s shot found the opening.
  • A quick trio of penalties gave the Canucks a 4-on-3 power play and Miller scored his second of the game with a ridiculously good wrist shot. Brock Boeser used his notoriously-opaque body to block Quick’s view but Miller’s shot was so good that it might not have mattered if Quick had been able to see it. The puck rocketed into the top shelf so fast that it was going in no matter what.
  • A beautiful tip by Pavel Dorofeyev put the Golden Knights back up by two before the end of the second. Christian Wolanin lost track of Dorofeyev as he got caught puck-watching, leaving him open to angle Alex Pietrangelo’s point shot over Demko’s shoulder. Dorofeyev got a little lucky too — instead of hitting his blade, the puck hit the shaft of his stick, giving Demko a less-predictable carom to try to save.
  • The Canucks kept clawing their way back from two goals down. Phil Di Giuseppe reduced the lead to 4-3 in the third period when Quick gave up a rebound while sliding right out of the net. The unorthodox goaltending tactic of leaving the goal entirely untended gave Di Giuseppe the easiest goal he’ll ever score.
  • That was as close as the Canucks would come. Intriguingly, Di Giuseppe was used as the extra attacker late in the game when Demko was pulled, while Andrei Kuzmenko, who has scored so many last-minute goals, sat on the bench. Kuzmenko didn’t have a single shift in the final 12 minutes of the game and finished with just 11:34 in ice time.
  • Tocchet and the Canucks were happy with their effort in the second and third periods but it's tough to say whether they played all that much better or if the Golden Knights relaxed with a two-goal lead and weren't as aggressive with their forecheck. When Vegas was pouring on the pressure in the first period, the Canucks seemed to have no response, but the Golden Knights seemed to take their collective foot off the gas after the first period. If they keep the pedal to the metal in the playoffs, the Golden Knights are going to be dangerous.
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