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I Watched This Game: Lindholm scores twice in Canucks debut to defeat Hurricanes

It looks like Elias Lindholm will fit in just fine with his new team.
Elias Lindholm's Vancouver Canucks debut could not have gone much better.

Elias Lindholm, welcome to the Vancouver Canucks.

A week after he was traded from the Calgary Flames, Lindholm made his debut for the Canucks on Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. It couldn’t have gone much better.

The story on Tuesday could have been how Andrei Kuzmenko, who went to the Flames as part of the deal to get Lindholm, scored on his very first shot on goal with his new team. There could have been all sorts of fretting that Kuzmenko would find his game again in Calgary and that the Canucks made a big mistake trading him away — not that a single game would be enough time to judge any trade.

But Lindholm immediately changed the narrative when he also scored on his first shot on goal, albeit a tip rather than an actual shot.  

It’s probably the first time two players traded for each other scored their first goals with their new teams on their first shots for their new teams in their first period with their new teams. That’s pretty wild.

Then Lindholm scored another goal, again with a tip on the power play, scoring as many goals on tips in one game as Kuzmenko has scored all season.

For Lindholm, however, it wasn’t just the two goals that made his Canucks debut such a success. Instead, it was how he immediately had the trust of the coaching staff and contributed in every facet of the game.

Lindholm played over 21 minutes against the Hurricanes, leading all Canucks forwards in ice time. He was on the first power play unit, yes, but he was also first over the boards on the penalty kill with Teddy Blueger. 

Defending a one-goal lead, Lindholm played 2:36 of the final five minutes, including the final shift of the game.

“Putting the goals aside…just at the end, that blocked shot, knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “When you go through the tape tomorrow, you see hockey IQ plays. [Lindholm] was great tonight for us.”

Most importantly, Lindholm played in a match-up role with Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev against the Hurricanes’ top line and shut them down. That’s not something that line could have done with Kuzmenko on the wing.

“He’s a massive add,” said Quinn Hughes. “He’s not going to have two goals every game but just, in the end taking faceoffs, competing, his defensive game, his O-zone game, creating — he’s an excellent, excellent player and he’s going to have a lot of success here.”

I saw the start of that success when I watched this game.

  • The game didn’t start that great for Lindholm, who had multiple scoring chances where he couldn’t even direct the puck on net. Three times he was set up for chances on the top of the crease and couldn’t get a shot on goal and he whiffed on a rebound chance off a Mikheyev shot. Of course, the upside is that he was in the right spot for all of those almost chances, which speaks well to the process of how he was playing, even if he wasn’t getting the results. “Trust the process,” as the Philadelphia 76ers said.  
  • The power play got off to a terrible start too. Jordan Martinook chased down a puck in the Canucks’ zone while penalty killing and Sam Lafferty gave him a bump in the corner, then absent-mindedly left Martinook all alone. Martinook took advantage of the lack of supervision and ate all the candy in the house, then also went to the net, took a pass from Teuvo Teravainen, and snuck a backhand past Thatcher Demko to open the scoring.
  • Nikita Zadorov absolutely clobbered Jalen Chatfield with an open-ice hit with five minutes to go in the first period. That’s some future-ex-Canuck on current-ex-Canuck violence.
  • The funniest moment of the first period was when J.T. Miller tried to call a puck-over-glass penalty on the Hurricanes, loudly declaring, “That’s a penalty!” before correcting himself and saying, “No it’s not,” a moment later, much to the amusement of John Shorthouse. Can’t blame a guy for trying.
  • The Good Job Boys — Conor Garland, Dakota Joshua, and Teddy Blueger — were fantastic in this game and had several momentum-moving shifts where they pinned the Hurricanes into their own zone and created dangerous chances, with Garland putting their best chance off the underside of the crossbar. The trio didn’t put up any points on the actual scoreboard but they put up lots of points on the metaphorical scoreboard inside my heart and isn’t that what really matters?
  • The Canucks tied the game on the power play by keeping things simple. With the Hurricanes’ penalty kill pressuring their shooters on the walls and in the bumper, Lindholm was left alone in front and Hughes took advantage, sliding to the middle of the ice and flinging a shot intentionally wide. Lindholm, like e’rybody in the club, got tipsy and deftly deflected the puck inside the post.  
  • “If I throw it to him in here,” said Hughes of his shot placement as he gestured toward the middle of his body, “it’s hard for him to tip. I’ve got to trust that he’s going to be able to tip that, so part of it is me trying to get it down there to him and the rest is him doing what he does.”
  • Lindholm did it again in the second period. Miller and Lindholm rotated net-front duties and the Hurricanes’ penalty kill again left him alone in front. He posted up in front of goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov as Hughes jumped down the boards. This time, Hughes sent a puck towards the far post and, as Kochetkov cheated to his left to take the shot in his crest, Lindholm tipped the puck back against the grain to make it 2-1.
  • “When they’re playing us high like they did today with Petey and Millsy and whatnot, we’re going to have to throw pucks down there and be able to create that way too,” said Hughes. “If you watch the Rangers, they can beat you with Panarin and Fox up top and Zibanejad, but they have a ton of success with Kreider tip-ins.”
  • The Canucks were all over the Hurricanes through the first half of the game, out-shooting the Hurricanes 15-to-7 and controlling puck possession 5-on-5, which isn’t easy to do against the Hurricanes, who are the strongest puck-possession team in the NHL. After the halfway mark, however, the Hurricanes out-shot the Canucks 17-to-4 — it’s just that the Canucks scored two goals on those four shots. PDO is still the Canucks’ best friend.
  • Ilya Mikheyev looked refreshed and renewed coming out of the All-Star break and it’s hard not to speculate that he’s still feeling the effects of the ACL tear that required surgery last year. Even though Mikheyev can clearly play, those types of injuries can take a long time to fully recover and the break to rest his knee appears to have done him a lot of good.
  • Zadorov probably got a very stern talking-to from Tocchet when he caused a too many men penalty at the end of the second period. He came on for Pius Suter at the same time that Nils Höglander also came on for Suter and, since Suter and Höglander are forwards and Zadorov is not, he’s probably the one that wasn’t supposed to go on. I did enjoy Zadorov’s innocent, “Who me?” gesture as the penalty was called, as if he wasn’t the third defenceman on the ice. Tocchet probably enjoyed it less.
  • The Hurricanes immediately tied the game on the power play. Sebastian Aho ripped the puck directly into the top corner of the net and it was the type of shot where you kind of just have to shrug your shoulders and say, “Yeah, elite players will do that sometimes.” Maybe Noah Juulsen should have positioned himself slightly better to take away the far side of the net and force Aho to shoot short side, but that’s nit-picking on a goalscorer’s goal.
  • The Canucks got a bounce to go their way on the game-winning goal in the third period, which sounds crazy, I know. This year’s Canucks getting a bounce? The PDO Kings of the Western Conference? Those Canucks? That doesn’t sound like them at all.
  • Tyler Myers picked off a clearance in the neutral zone and dumped the puck in as Miller and Suter tagged up, with Brock Boeser patiently waiting to enter the zone to prevent an offside. The puck took an odd deflection off a stanchion and ricocheted to the side of the net, where an alert Boeser jumped to it. He was checked as he shot, sending the puck sliding to the front of the net to Miller for an open net. It helped that Kotchetkov was more casual than Chewbacca piloting a stolen Imperial shuttle.
  • Thatcher Demko shut the door from there, stopping all nine shots he faced after Miller’s goal to finish with 22 saves on 24 shots. Demko was solid, but it’s worth noting that 24 shots is the third-fewest shots for the Hurricanes all season, tying the last time the Canucks played the Hurricanes back in December. The Canucks limiting the shot-happy Hurricanes like this is a very good sign.
  • The Canucks got some big shot blocks to close out the game too, which played a role in the limited shots. Joshua slid across to block a Brady Skjei one-timer off a faceoff play, then Lindholm got in the way of a Dmitry Orlov one-timer to close out the game in the final seconds. In total, the Canucks blocked twenty shots, with Lindholm leading the way with three blocks. The Canucks were blocking more than the average person trying to salvage their experience on Twitter these days.
  • I also enjoyed Elias Pettersson recognizing the game was in its final seconds and laying out his entire body to take away the passing lane. Pettersson knew that Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s sauce wasn’t strong enough to get the puck over his body. It was weak sauce.  
  • The Canucks ought to be careful. They’re becoming entirely too likeable.