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I Watched This Game: Martin and the Canucks couldn't stop Ovechkin and the Capitals

Alex Ovechkin broke an esoteric Wayne Gretzky record on Tuesday night against the Canucks.
The Vancouver Canucks fell 5-1 to the Washington Capitals, as Alex Ovechkin's two-goal night moved him past Wayne Gretzky for first all-time in goals on the road. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The weather outside was frightful but the hockey game was not delightful.

The Vancouver Canucks returned from a successful three-game road trip to dangerous weather in the city and a dangerous Washington Capitals team inside Rogers Arena. 

Well, a moderately-dangerous Capitals team. Like the Canucks, the Capitals are below .500 this season, with a 9-11-3 record heading into Tuesday’s game and sitting in 12th in the Eastern Conference. They’re probably better than their record would indicate but they’re definitely not a powerhouse team by any stretch of the imagination.

But the Canucks, like the city of Vancouver when there’s anything more than an inch of snow, were not prepared. Right from the first shift, the Capitals swarmed the offensive zone, canceling Canucks breakouts like flights out of YVR.  

The Canucks tried to weather the storm with Spencer Martin in net but Alex Ovechkin, looking to pass Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, could not be contained.

Is it any wonder that Ovechkin scored two goals to pass Gretzky for the record? Gretzky himself set several records against the Canucks. 

The most famous one was when Grezky scored his 802nd career regular-season NHL goal to pass Gordie Howe for the most all-time. They actually stopped the game right then and there in the middle of the second period for a ceremony, with Gary Bettman stepping onto the ice to present some mementos and to pass off the microphone to Gretzky for a full-fledged speech.

Gretzky’s goal tied the game 2-2 but the Canucks, perhaps peeved to have to sit around for a 10-minute ceremony in the middle of a game, went on to win that game 6-3.

Gretzky’s 500th career goal, which set a record for the fastest and youngest to 500 goals, was scored against the Canucks, the capstone to a hat trick that night. Speaking of hat tricks, Gretzky also had the 50th and final hat trick of his career against the Canucks, an NHL record by a wide margin. 

When Gretzky tied Gordie Howe’s combined NHL and WHA goalscoring record in his final NHL season, it was, of course, against the Canucks. At least he broke that record against the New York Islanders.

So, it was only fitting that Ovechkin broke one of Gretzky’s records in Vancouver against Grezky’s favourite team to play against, the team against which he scored more points than any other team in his career. 

I saw a little piece of NHL history when I watched this game.

  • But seriously, does anyone actually care about the road goals record? Is that a thing? 
  • This was a really bad game for an unexpected player: Elias Pettersson. The Canucks’ top centre has been thriving of late, racking up points while stepping into a tougher match-up role, but he and his linemates got destroyed by the Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Dylan Strome, and Conor Sheary in this game. Actually, it didn’t seem to matter who they were up against, the Pettersson line got crushed like a car at the bottom of an icy Vancouver hill in tonight’s snowstorm.  
  • Shot attempts were 13-to-2 for the Capitals when Pettersson was on the ice and shots on goal were 7-to-1. Most importantly, actual goals were 5-0 — Pettersson made like early-season J.T. Miller and was on the ice for every single goal against the Canucks.
  • “That’s when you know something’s not right in tonight’s game,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “When was the last time you saw Petey minus-five? That doesn’t happen.”
  • In case you were wondering, it has never happened before. Pettersson has never even been minus-four in a game. And without Pettersson on top of his game, the Canucks were in trouble.
  • It wasn’t just Pettersson struggling, of course. The opening goal was scored on a giveaway by Quinn Hughes, who didn’t see Alex Ovechkin sneaking up on him like Jason Momoa on Henry Cavill. Ovechkin purloined the puck and put it past Spencer Martin before the goaltender could fully react to the turnover.
  • Ovechkin made it 2-0 with a one-timer blast in transition, blowing the puck right through Martin from his favourite spot at the top of the left faceoff circle. It’s one that Martin probably should have had but it’s awfully hard to fault a goaltender for not stopping an Ovechkin one-timer.
  • Really, Martin was very good in this game, particularly in the first period where he made some big-time saves to keep things at least somewhat close. By the end of the game, Martin had made just 23 saves on 27 shots but it wasn’t the quantity of the shots but the quality. According to Natural Stat Trick, high-danger chances were 13-to-4 at 5-on-5 in favour of the Capitals.
  • “It could’ve been 6-to-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances they had,” said Boudreau. “Ovie’s going to score. It looks like, on his second goal, that maybe he should’ve had it but I’ve seen him score a hundred goals like that. He’s got that shot that finds its way in.”
  • Nils Höglander was one of the better Canucks in this game and he got a goal back for the Canucks in the first period, neatly tucking the puck around Darcy Kuemper after J.T. Miller won the puck on the forecheck. Kuemper could have disrupted the chance with a pokecheck but it didn’t even seem to occur to him to try. J.C. Petit would have been very disappointed in him.  
  • Pettersson likes to use the reverse hit to protect the puck but he didn’t time it right against Lars Eller behind his own net and got steamrolled. From there, the Canucks’ defensive coverage dissolved like Peter Parker. Tyler Myers and Kyle Burroughs both went to Eller and that meant nobody was on Anthony “Spider-” Mantha in front and he made it 3-1 before the end of the first.
  • John Carlson made it 4-1 in the second period on a complete defensive breakdown as the Capitals started rotating around the Canucks’ zone like a Tilt-a-Whirl. Pettersson, Höglander, and Brock Boeser ended up stacked in the middle, with wide open Capitals on the outside, but it was Carlson in the slot that put the puck past Martin when Ethan Bear went fishing for the puck instead of tying up Carlson’s stick and taking the body.
  • That was basically the game. The Capitals clamped down in the third period, neutering the Canucks’ offence like it was one of Bob Barker’s dogs. Martin has gotten plenty of goal support this season from the skaters in front of him but he didn’t get it against the Capitals.
  • Ovechkin had multiple opportunities for the hat trick in the third period. He hit the crossbar on one chance after undressing Andrei Kuzmenko, just missed the empty net after Boudreau aggressively pulled Martin for the extra attacker with nearly seven minutes remaining, and had one more point-blank chance with a minute left off a Burroughs turnover. If you’re really searching for a moral victory, preventing Ovechkin from getting a hat trick was the best the Canucks could offer.
  • The Capitals did get an empty-net goal to make it 5-1 but it was Martin Fehervary from his own zone and it didn’t break any of Wayne Gretzky’s records. It was just his first goal of the season.
  • “We’re coming together right now as a team and we’re doing a lot of good things to get back to .500,” said J.T. Miller. “It’s disappointing when you come out and don’t execute and don’t really compete — get outcompeted pretty much period-by-period. It’s frustrating because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level. They didn’t out-skill us, they didn’t out-system us, they literally just outbattled us.”