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I Watched This Game: Kuzmenko tallies hat trick for Canucks in win over Ducks

Call it Van-Kuz-er — Andrei Kuzmenko won over the crowd with three goals in an 8-5 win for the Vancouver Canucks.
Andrei Kuzmenko's three goals and Elias Pettersson's five points led the Vancouver Canucks to an 8-5 win over the Anaheim Ducks. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

My favourite Kevin Bieksa memory is maybe an unusual one. It wasn’t the “stanchion” goal that sent the Vancouver Canucks to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. It wasn’t any of his goals. It wasn’t the Superman punch or any of his hilarious on-ice or off-ice moments, like impersonating Ryan Kesler.  

No, my favourite Bieksa memory was a random moment in a random regular season game in the 2000’s.

I can’t even remember who the Canucks were playing but in the first period one of their forwards came steaming in on Bieksa one-on-one. Bieksa made a critical mistake, one that you never want to make as a defenceman: he watched the puck. 

Bieksa locked eyes on the puck and went fishing, swinging his stick trying to knock the puck away, and he got dangled. The forward toe-dragged past Bieksa for a great scoring chance as the defenceman stumbled backwards, completely off-balance.

But later in the same period, the same forward came barreling in on Bieksa one-on-one again. And this time, Bieksa did exactly what a defenceman should do: he locked eyes on the forwards chest, kept a perfect gap, and as the forward went to dangle past him, Bieksa drove right threw him with his forearms, blowing him to kingdom come.

That was Bieksa in a nutshell. He made mistakes but he worked like hell to make up for those mistakes, whether on the same shift or later in the game. He learned from his mistakes, came back better and stronger, and rarely made the same mistake again. You might beat him once — you would never beat him twice.

The Canucks seemed to take inspiration from Bieksa, who signed a one-day contract to officially retire as a Canuck and even took part in the pre-game skate. Like Bieksa, the Canucks made mistakes — a lot of mistakes — but they bounced back from every one. And, like Bieksa in the 2011-12 season, the Canucks scored eight goals.

Okay, maybe that’s stretching the comparison a little far. 

There’s also one clear dissimilarity. When Bieksa gave a speech to the room earlier in the day, he talked about facing adversity with the Canucks — missing the playoffs two whole times. That sure puts things into perspective.

It was a treat to see Kevin Bieksa in a Canucks jersey again before I watched this game.

  • The big story of the game was Andrei Kuzmenko getting his first career NHL hat trick. I just wanted to lead with that in the bullet points because a ton of other stuff happened in this game and I don’t want it to get lost. Kuzmenko — hat trick. 
  • The brief pre-game ceremony for Bieksa was great. Not too much, not too little. I liked that Bieksa came out in a “vintage” jersey rather than suiting up in one of the modern jerseys. Only one thing was missing — why wasn’t Bieksa added to the Ring of Honour at the same time as his retirement?
  • The Canucks giving Bieksa a piece of the stanchion that led to the most famous goal of his career is quite possibly the greatest thing the Canucks have ever done.
  • It was the battle of the basement dwellers as Bieksa’s two previous teams, the Canucks and Ducks, fought it out. It turns out that when you take two of the worst defensive teams in the NHL with the two worst penalty kills in the league, you get a lot of goals. Who knew?
  • It was a bizarre game: the first half was incredibly dull — the NHL’s highlight package jumps to 16 minutes into the game right off the hop — but the second half was utter madness. With 13 goals, there’s no time to waste: let’s jump in.
  • The Ducks opened the scoring after a bad penalty by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the penalty kill gave up an astonishingly easy goal. They gave up the blue line to John Klingberg without a fight, then he fed Troy Terry who didn’t so much as drive to the net as casually cruise to the net, completely unimpeded by either Tyler Myers or Riley Stillman. He may as well have been smoking indo, sippin’ on gin and juice, laid back, as he cut to his forehand to make it 1-0. 
  • The Canucks’ power play responded in kind with 20 seconds left in the first period. Quinn Hughes drilled a slap shot towards the net and Bo Horvat, like e’rybody in the club, got tipsy. He deflected the puck past Gibson for his ninth goal of the year.
  • “I don’t want to say anything, because it might stop,” quipped Bruce Boudreau about Horvat’s goal-scoring run to start the season. “Let’s keep it going, Bo.”
  • Elias Pettersson and his line with Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev was outstanding in this game, creating a steady flow of chances in the first two periods that turned out to just be the trickle of water through a broken dam before it burst in the third period. Pettersson had a game-high eight shots on goal but he was everywhere on the ice, making plays defensively and setting up chances offensively. Outstanding game for him in particular, even as Kuzmenko got the hat trick. 
  • “Almost every time [Pettersson] was on the ice, there was an opportunity, that he made a play or was the recipient of a play in an offensive situation,” said Bruce Boudreau. “I told him he was really good tonight.”
  • Still, Pettersson’s line couldn’t finish any of the chances he created in the first half of the game, so he finished one himself. Mikheyev created a turnover on the forecheck and Kuzmenko pounced on the puck then returned it to Mikheyev, who found Pettersson in front. The pass was in his skates, but he kicked the puck up to his stick as he fought off a check and snuck the puck just inside the post.
  • “That was all body position,” said Boudreau. “And with the great hands because there wasn’t that much room to make that play and there wasn’t that much room to put the puck in the net but he seems to have that innate ability to find those small areas.”
  • Horvat nearly made it 3-1 a minute later but was robbed by John Gibson diving across the net. But Gibson couldn’t do anything a few minutes later when Horvat fished a blocked shot out of skates and sent a brilliant pass backdoor to J.T. Miller for a wide open net, which he filled like he had cast it on the right side of the boat.  
  • Spencer Martin kept his streak of getting a point in every single start with the Canucks but he didn’t have the best game. His puck-tracking on the Ducks’s second goal was a mess and he never got square to the puck as Ryan Strome beat him past the glove. At the very least, that will quiet the voices calling for him to get a string of starts ahead of Thatcher Demko. 
  • “Pretty much as easy a win as I could ever imagine,” said Spencer Martin after the game as he delivered the championship belt to Andrey Kuzmenko. Martin was well aware that five goals against doesn’t normally keep a point streak going.
  • The third period was bonkers with eight goals and the first wasn’t even scored until 5:30 into the period. That’s when the fourth line got griddy — sorry, that’s "got gritty." Dakota Joshua went in on the forecheck with a hard hit to steal the puck and centred for Nils Åman, who was stopped, but then Jack Studnicka jammed at the puck, freeing up the rebound for Joshua to shovel in.
  • The goal was challenged for goaltender interference and, honestly, Ducks coach Dallas Eakins had a strong case. Studnicka pretty clearly ran into Gibson’s blocker and pushed him away from the loose puck but the NHL ruled that Studnicka was making a play on the puck, which somehow made it okay to run into Gibson. They said “incidental contact” was okay, but Studnicka fully twisted Gibson around — the contact seemed pretty cidental. 
  • It was a major turning point, as the Ducks got a penalty for the failed challenge and, like my phone after I type a proper noun, the Canucks quickly capitalized. Pettersson sent a perfect backdoor pass to Kuzmenko, who was so down low that he was practically hiding behind the net. Evidently, it worked — no one saw him hiding there and he was wide open for the tap-in goal.
  • If Joshua’s goal had been disallowed, it would have still been a 3-2 game. Instead, twenty seconds later, it was a 5-2 game. We call that the PITB Transformative Moment of the game, which is legally distinct from “TSN Turning Point” in every possible way, so you can't sue me.
  • The Ducks kept pushing and took advantage of a bad pinch by Stillman and a bad bounce off the boards, which gave Max Comtois a breakaway from his own blue line. Quinn Hughes tried to catch him, but Comtois shook him off like Taylor Swift shakes off haters as he deked to the backhand around Martin.
  • The penalty kill gave up its second goal of the game a few minutes later, as Trevor Zegras’s shot somehow bounced through traffic to beat Martin. The Canucks now have a 57.6% penalty kill on the season, which is truly dreadful. The average shootout attempt is successful around 33% of the time, so NHL teams would be better off getting a power play against the Canucks at this point than a shootout attempt.
  • “I knew there was some negatives coming,” quipped Boudreau when I asked about the penalty kill. “We’re frustrated. It’s like the first four games of the season when the confidence wasn’t there when we went into the third period. I think the confidence is not there in the penalty killing. I mean, they seem to be getting easy goals, that’s the thing that bothers me.”
  • “Mike Yeo, I’ve never seen anybody work harder at trying to get this thing straightened around,” added Boudreau about the penalty kill. “What’s gonna have to happen is we’re gonna have to find a few kills one night and once a few kills go, it’ll be like winning — you’ll get the confidence and it’ll go the other way. And that’s what happened last year. The penalty killing wasn’t very good and then we had a string of maybe killing 10 out of 11 and then all of a sudden it turned the corner.”
  • “It’s easy to say it’s not letting goals,” said Pettersson when asked what needs to change about the penalty kill. “I don’t know if it’s structure, if it’s being more aggressive, if it’s to have them more on the outside, I don’t know…We’ve just got to be better.”
  • The penalty kill struggles didn’t matter in this game, at least. Kuzmenko restored the two-goal lead with his second goal of the game after Pettersson won the puck back and fed Myers at the point. His shot was neatly tipped five-hole by Kuzmenko, who then celebrated with an incredible high kick that would have made Sally O’Malley proud.  
  • “He’s the celebration king, that guy,” said Luke Schenn. “He gets pretty fired up and the thing I like about it too, it’s not like a pre-planned thing — it’s just pure emotion and spur of the moment.”
  • Kuzmenko completed the hat trick two minutes later, blowing the roof of Rogers Arena, who quickly developed a case of Kuzmenko fever. Pettersson wheeled around his own net, burst up the left wing, drew three Ducks to himself like he was covered in birdseed, then fed Kuzmenko, who snapped the puck glove side on Gibson.
  • That was Pettersson’s fifth point of the game, vaulting him up to 15 points in 11 games on the season. That’s a 112-point pace over 82 games, which is about as shabby as Harrison Ford being a quarter Jewish.
  • The Ducks added one more — a puck banking in off Max Jones in the crease after he was knocked down by Schenn — but the Canucks sealed the game with an empty net goal from Horvat. That’s his tenth goal of the year, tied for second in the NHL behind Connor McDavid, putting him on pace for 75 goals this season. I say he does it.
  • A couple of interesting notes from the post-game scrum with Bruce Boudreau. When asked what he hoped the team took away from Bieksa in the morning, he said, “He’s a competitor. To win, you have to compete. You don’t have to be the best friends. In practice, you’ve got to make things happen. I remember him in Anaheim — he would go at guys and that’s how you get better is when you compete harder like that.”
  • More of Boudreau on Bieksa: “He would jump in for every player…whether he got along with him or not, if that guy was in trouble, he was a teammate and I think that thought of teammates being together is what makes it.”
  • “The minute we understand that everything is about the team and everything is about winning and nothing is about individual stuff, then we’ll be a really good team,” said Boudreau after agreeing that the team needed to understand that it doesn’t matter if you’re friends, it matters how hard you work together. 
  • One other interesting thing that Boudreau said at one point is that Pettersson's linemates need to have great vision, "Because Petey doesn't talk a lot." I asked Boudreau about Pettersson being quiet on the ice and he said, "I don't hear him. I don't know if he does or if he doesn't. But he's a quiet guy off the ice, I just assume he's a quiet guy on the ice."