The Vancouver Canucks’ third game of the preseason was hard to watch.
That’s true in two senses. In the literal sense, this game was challenging to watch because it did not air on Sportsnet. The Canucks themselves told at least one reporter that the game would be streamed online but then found they were unable to do so.
In order to watch the game, Canucks fans had to turn to streaming websites of questionable legality, risking a panoply of malware and intrusive pop-up ads to do so — all for a stream of somewhat less than high-definition in quality.
In the slightly-less-literal sense, this game wasn’t easy to watch because the Canucks were bad.
The Canucks looked remarkably slow compared to the speedy, relentless Seattle Kraken, which is a bit concerning because team speed was not one of the areas the Canucks sought to improve this offseason. The Canucks were constantly second to the puck and when they did get the puck, the Kraken closed on them so quickly that they had no time and space to create anything.
“Seattle looked really fast,” said head coach Rick Tocchet, who also didn’t like how his team competed for pucks. “We’ve gotta be grittier along the walls to win those battles. Guys like [Brandon] Tanev, he’s not a big guy, but he wins a lot of battles. We need a little bit more effort and compete.”
Shots on goal were 28-to-17 for the Kraken and even that is overly kind to the Canucks. The Kraken clearly took their foot off the pedal late in the game — it’s only the preseason, after all — and six of the Canucks’ 17 shots came in the final three minutes of the game when the Canucks pulled Thatcher Demko for the extra attacker.
It was a thoroughly lopsided game and, combined with the other two losses thus far in the preseason, it raises the question of just how prepared the Canucks actually were heading into training camp in spite of the vast majority of the team showing up weeks ahead of time to train together.
“A couple guys, I think — I don’t want to say they’re out of shape but the pace of it maybe was a little too fast,” said Tocchet. “It’s a learning lesson, I’ll tell you that.”
Look, it’s still just three games into the preseason and the Canucks have yet to dress their complete top-six forward group or top-four defencemen together in one lineup. There’s not really any reason to be overly concerned just yet. Sure, it would be nice if the Canucks performed in a more watchable manner but the watchability of the games isn’t really the point of the preseason.
Still, with an immense amount of effort, I watched this game.
- Looking just at 5-on-5, shots on goal were 22-to-11 for the Kraken and unblocked shot attempts were 39-to-18. Using that as a proxy for puck possession, we can estimate that the Kraken spent about twice as much time in the offensive zone as the Canucks and, yeah, that tracks. The Canucks were more on their heels than Bryce Dallas Howard in Jurassic World.
- The biggest positive for the Canucks is that Thatcher Demko was on top of his game, looking cool, calm, and comfortable. The biggest negative is that Demko still gave up three goals on just 22 shots because the Canucks gave up ludicrously dangerous chances that Demko had not chance of stopping.
- Another big positive was the play of Ian Cole and Filip Hronek, who look like they’ve quickly developed some chemistry in preparation to be the Canucks’ shutdown second pairing. When Cole and Hronek were on the ice, the Canucks looked like they were on even footing with the Kraken; when they weren’t on the ice is when everything went all to hell.
- “They stop cycles, they make a simple play, and then you get puck possession,” said Tocchet of Cole and Hronek. “It was a good pair for us.”
- The other four defencemen — Christian Wolanin, Noah Juulsen, Guillaume Brisebois, and Matt Irwin — all of whom are trying to make the roster on the bottom pairing or as the seventh or eighth defencemen, didn’t put their best foot forward or even their second or third-best foot forward. The pairing of Brisebois and Irwin, in particular, seemed to never leave the defensive zone, probably because they never put any of their feet forward.
- It was another decent showing for Dakota Joshua, who continued to play a physical game. It wasn’t just that he threw a couple of hits — he was one of the few Canucks actually winning battles along the boards. You can call him Rob Lowe, because he was The Grinder in this game.
- “I thought Dakota was trying to play a heavy game,” said Tocchet. “I thought he won some battles down low…I saw him moving his feet a little bit. He didn’t come in the greatest shape — he’s just okay. So, he’s got to get himself in shape because he could be a big part of our team. We need some big guys that can play.”
- Phil Di Giuseppe looked like the best player on his line in this game, which is both good and bad, because he was on a line with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. Of course, unlike his linemates, Di Giuseppe’s spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed. For guys like Miller and Boeser, the preseason is about ramping up for the regular season without getting injured. Guys like Di Giuseppe are playing a completely different game.
- “I thought Di Giuseppe worked his ass off,” said Tocchet, bringing him up unprompted. “He was good forechecking, he’s trying to win a job. I love guys like that.”
- The Kraken opened the scoring midway through the first period. Part of it was just a nice play by Shane Wright, who got a quality scoring chance that Demko stopped, then neatly passed the rebound out front to an open Jacob Melanson, but part of it was that Wright and Melanson were so open because Max Sasson and Vasily Podkolzin went fishing for the puck and came up empty.
- It’s been a tough preseason for Podkolzin, who seems to be in his head. He constantly looks like he’s trying to do the right thing but is unsure what the right thing is in any given situation. Considering he’s one of the few players on the roster who is exempt from waivers, it’s beginning to look like he’ll be in the AHL to start the season.
- The line of Anthony Beauvillier, Pius Suter, and Conor Garland got absolutely crushed in puck possession in this game but they did come through with the lone Canucks goal. Beauvillier created a turnover with an aggressive play at the Kraken blue line, then Suter fed Garland on the 2-on-1 that ensued. Garland picked his head up then picked his spot in the back of the net.
- This was a rough game for Christian Wolanin, who repeatedly turned the puck over in the defensive zone. His most costly turnover came on a third-period penalty kill when he had a chance to clear the puck and flubbed it, putting it right on the stick of Eeli “J.R.R.” Tolvanen up the middle. Tolvanen waited as Sheldon Dries slid past like Legolas, then ripped the puck top shelf.
- Garland completely missed his assignment on the Kraken’s third goal. As he fixated on the puck, Oliver Bjorkstrand snuck into the offensive zone on the left side and was wide open for a pass. That created a quick 2-on-1 and Bjorkstrand gifted Tolvanen his second goal of the game. I’ve got a simple message for Garland: I want you to use your peripherals.
- The Canucks managed to get a couple of decent chances after that — a shot in transition from Boeser and a shot out of a scrum for Podkolzin — but it was too little, too late. Let’s just leave this game behind and move on, shall we?