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I Watched This Game: Orca eat squid, don’t they? Canucks spoil Kraken’s inaugural home opener

The Canucks might have kickstarted a potential rivalry with the Kraken with their 4-2 win.
The Vancouver Canucks came from behind in the third period to win the first ever NHL game in Seattle over the Kraken.

There’s an over eagerness for the Vancouver Canucks to ignite a rivalry with the newest team in the NHL, the Seattle Kraken.

It’s obvious why. Rivalries are fun and they can lead to some of the best moments in sports. Alex Burrows’ overtime winner in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 would have been a big goal no matter what but the moment was even bigger because he slayed the dragon — a hated rival that had knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs in the previous two seasons.

But rivalries can’t just be declared. They need to happen organically. Sure, the Canucks and Kraken are just a few hours apart, so it seems natural for there to be a rivalry, but there isn’t one yet and the NHL needs to stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

There’s only one tried and true way to make a rivalry happen: one team has to give the other team a reason to hate them.

Beating a team in a hotly-contested playoff series or two will do it. A dirty hit tends to help. The fans of an opposing team showing up in your arena in large numbers for home games tends to push rivalries along too.

Another way to make a team hate you is to ruin a special night —  say, the first-ever home opener for a new NHL franchise — by coming back to win in the third period.

The Seattle crowd, so raucous all game, fell to silence after the Canucks scored their final empty-net goal to make it 4-2. They still cheered and clapped when the game was over but it was nothing compared to the roar after their goals, when it seemed like the Kraken were clearly going to win. You could see the crowd starting to really dislike the Canucks, which is exactly what you want.

Yeah, the Canucks and Kraken are well on their way to a true rivalry. Just let it happen naturally.

After all, there’s no need to rush it. The Canucks and Kraken will hopefully be in the league together for decades to come. There’s plenty of time. Someday, maybe the Canucks can be the dragon the Kraken need to slay in the playoffs.

For now, I only saw the seeds of a future rivalry planted when I watched this game.

  • Thatcher Demko’s teammates owe him a drink or twelve. He was like Robin Hood, stealing the game and distributing it to the poor, in this case, his teammates. Demko made 29 saves on 31 shots but that undersells the difficulty of some of the saves he made and how he kept the team in the game long enough for them to mount a comeback. It would have been very easy for this game to get completely out of control — Demko didn’t let that happen.
  • Demko was called upon immediately, as Yanni “Laurel” Gourde was sent in on a breakaway in the opening minute. Demko squashed Gourde’s attempt with a quick blocker so that the game wasn’t over before it began. Some were suggesting that Gourde was offside or that he knocked the puck down with a high stick — both things that can be challenged — but he was definitely onside on a second look and his stick looked just below his shoulder. It likely would have held up if Gourde had scored. 
  • The Canucks played a great first period but it all went sideways after Juho Lammikko took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone with three minutes left. The Kraken pinned the Canucks in the defensive zone after the penalty expired and opened the scoring with 4.6 seconds left. If the Canucks had more centres, he might be the sacrificial Lammikko and come out of the lineup for the home opener after that penalty.
  • The Kraken wrapped up the second period like it was a whaling ship off the coast of Norway. The Canucks didn’t even get a shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of the second period. The only reason the Kraken didn’t extend their lead is because Demko was brilliant, especially on this wraparound attempt by Alex Wennberg.
  • When the Canucks finally got a shot in the second period, they scored on it. Conor Garland extended his point streak to six games by picking off a Mark Giordano breakout pass and immediately hooking it to Bo Horvat in the middle. Horvat stepped up like he’d just been challenged to a dance battle and ripped the puck past an ice-cold Philipp Grubauer, who hadn't faced a shot in nearly an hour, real time.
  • “Garland picked it off and I screamed right away,” said Horvat, “and he didn’t even have to look, he knew where I was...I just tried to get it off as quick as possible to try to catch [Grubauer] off guard and luckily it worked.” 
  • Demko made sure the score stayed tied going into the second intermission with another big stop on a breakaway. Mason Appleton’s shot slipped through Demko, but he bent himself backwards like Neo to reach back and sweep the puck away with his glove before it crossed the line.
  • The Kraken got the 2-1 goal eventually in the third period, taking advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone. Mark Giordano, with his veteran savvy, recognized the situation and jumped up to create an odd-man counter-attack. Jared McCann fed him the puck and Giordano’s shot took a slight deflection off Kyle Burrough’s stick to beat Demko.
  • It makes a certain amount of sense that Alex Chiasson was on the first power play unit. He’s got experience as a net-front guy on a top unit after playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with the Edmonton Oilers. But if you’re not going to keep your stick on the ice for tap-in goals from your team’s stars, what are you even there for?
  • Brock Boeser replaced Chiasson on the top unit after the first period and the power play came through with the game-tying goal. Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller played some quick catch to set up a Hughes one-timer that Grubauer kicked out onto Horvat’s stick, which then propelled the puck into the net with a little help from Horvat.
  • “That’s what leaders do,” said Garland. “That's such a big goal for us...He’s someone I hated playing against — how hard he is defensively, how well he moves up and down the ice and drives our line. He’s been really good to play with and that was a big-time performance by him tonight.”
  • Garland said he felt some responsibility for the Kraken’s second goal — he took a passing sweep at the puck in the neutral zone instead of getting stuck in and winning the puck with a harder play — so that gave him some added motivation to make up for it. Scoring the winning goal ought to do it.
  • ​​“I just want to win hockey games,” said Garland. “Whatever I play — chess, checkers, whatever it is — I like to win and I get to play in the National Hockey League and that's something I don't take lightly.”
  • Off a missed pass by the Kraken at the Canucks’ blue line, Garland took off to create a partial breakaway. He faked the slap shot to freeze Grubauer, then sent a surprise shot through the five-hole. Garland’s fake shot was the sneakiest move since Sis won Connect Four diagonally.  
  • Elias Pettersson’s death stare has nothing on Conor Garland’s. After he scored, Garland came back to the bench and stared down a Kraken fan in the stands that had been giving him a hard time a moment earlier. It was only slightly intimidating.
  • “He was giving me the finger and yelling at me about two minutes earlier as I was taping my stick,” said Garland. “I just happened to score the next shift.”
  • Is it time to worry about Pettersson? The Canucks’ star player hasn’t been playing a star-calibre game lately. He’s had some good setups that haven’t been finished — I’m looking at you, Chiasson — but he also hasn’t quite looked like himself. Take the below clips from one of his third period shifts where Pettersson picked up the puck in the defensive zone and immediately turned it over.
  • There are two things to note here. One is that it’s good to see him still working defensively, keeping an active stick and making good reads. The other is the complete lack of conviction and confidence with the puck, which has been a hallmark of his game since he entered the league. Pettersson should be fine, and he hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as some of his detractors in the Canucks fanbase have suggested, but he’s clearly not firing on all cylinders just yet.
  • “It's hard, you've got to talk to him, yet we've still got to try to win hockey games too,” said Green about keeping Pettersson from getting frustrated with his start. “He understands when he's playing well and when he's not. I've had a couple meetings with him so far. But he'll get going.”
  • Ultimately, finishing their opening road trip 3-2-1 is a decent result. The Canucks get to head into the home opener on a two-game winning streak and, more importantly, get a three-day break between games, giving them time to rest up and get a couple of practices in to fine-tune their game before playing in front of a potentially full Rogers Arena for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Hopefully, their home opener will end better than the Kraken’s.