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I Watched This Game: Panthers prove they're the real deal versus Boudreau-coached Canucks

The Canucks faced their first regulation loss under head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Pass it to Bulis - IWTG. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Florida Panthers are a very, very good hockey team. 

How do we know that’s true?

It’s not their 24-7-5 record or their +36 goal differential. It’s not their exceptional underlying statistics, such as their NHL-leading 56.23% corsi percentage. It’s not that they boast a top-five scorer in Jonathan Huberdeau, a top-ten scoring defenceman in Aaron Ekblad, one of the best two-way forwards in the league in Aleksander Barkov, and have outstanding depth supporting those stars.

No, the reason we know the Panthers are a great team is because they managed to beat the Bruce Boudreau-coached Vancouver Canucks. 

As we’ve seen since he was hired, that’s a nearly impossible task, previously only accomplished by one team and it took the shootout and required the Canucks to be on the second half of games on back-to-back nights. Beating the Canucks early in the season seemed like an inevitability; now it feels like an accomplishment.

Really, the Panthers seemed in complete control of this game. They made like Kodak Black and scored early and often. Any time it seemed like the Canucks were pushing back and might mount a comeback, the Panthers were there to take the wind right out of their sails.

There’s no shame in this loss, though. The Canucks played well despite the lopsided score. Considering they hadn’t played for ten days, they should be commended for racking up 44 shots on goal on the top team in the league. If Thatcher Demko had been a little less rusty in the Canucks net and Sergei Bobrovsky a little bit shakier, this could have been a very different result.

Boudreau, however, didn’t just want to look at the positives. 

“It’s not all bad when you lose, so there’s things you can take out but there’s a lot of things that we can take out that we didn’t do well,” said Boudreau. “That’s something that hopefully we can correct at practice tomorrow and video…This was bringing us down to earth a little bit.”

Boudreau later added that just because he’s a positive person by nature doesn’t mean he can’t see the negatives.

“We made a ton of mistakes today that are correctable mistakes,” he said, “and hopefully they’ll understand that they’re correctable mistakes — mistakes that we hadn’t made [before]. So, we’ll watch it and go over it again, and get back at it tomorrow and hopefully have a different result on Wednesday.”

Like Boudreau, I am also a positive person by nature, who saw a lot of mistakes when I watched this game.

  • Seriously, putting up 44 shots on goal — many of them solid scoring chances — is pretty dang good, even if the Canucks were playing catch-up for most of the game. It’s good to hear that Boudreau wants to treat this game like a wake-up call for a team that maybe thought they’d never lose again, but the team didn’t play that poorly.
  • Boudreau keyed in on something that has been an issue for the Canucks all season long but hadn’t been as much of an issue recently — puck management. The Panthers’ forecheck and pressure made it difficult for the Canucks to cleanly break the puck out and move through the neutral zone with possession. Boudreau suggested the days between games played a role.
  • “I think the biggest problem we had was, quite frankly, making bad decisions in the neutral zone and not putting pucks on tape,” said Boudreau, then added later, “Any good forechecking team is going to make you make mistakes. Some errant passes in our zone definitely didn’t help us but that was because of pressure…I think the inactivity might have been one of the reasons that we made as many mistakes behind our blue line as we did tonight because we haven't been making them in the last nine games.”
  • The Panthers had a defenceman in the lineup that the Canucks traded away far too soon. They also had Olli Juolevi.
  • Seriously, Gustav Forsling led the Panthers in ice time in this game. The Canucks have desperately needed to draft a top-four defenceman outside the first round but it turns out they did so seven years ago. They just traded him before he made it to the NHL for 17 games of Adam Clendening, and now Forsling is playing big minutes for one of the best teams in the league.
  • The Panthers had a clear game plan for dealing with Thatcher Demko: take away his eyes. Not literally — that would be a little violent even for hockey — but they focussed on getting traffic in front of Demko and making it very difficult for him to see the puck. That was the story on the opening goal, as Demko had no chance to see Aaron Ekblad’s point shot past Maxim Mamin and the puck snuck just inside the post.
  • I thought Maxim and Mamin were the names of those two positive and negative electric-type Pokemon. I guess not?
  • In what was a theme of this game, the Panthers quickly struck again. It was another point shot with traffic in front —  the excellently-named Radko Gudas threw the puck towards the net and  Sam Reinhart tipped it like how you’re supposed to cut meat: against the grain.
  • Bizarrely, Gudas didn’t get a chance to celebrate the goal — instead, he accepted an invitation to fight from J.T. Miller. The two threw down and, in the melee, Gudas ripped off Miller’s helmet, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty that put the Canucks on the power play. But, I don’t know, isn’t challenging a guy to a fight who just assisted on a goal pretty unsporting? 
  • It was suggested that Miller challenged Gudas because of a hit on an earlier play but Gudas didn’t really hit anyone particularly hard at any point. His teammate, the also excellently-named Eetu Luostarinen, did hammer Tyler Motte in the neutral zone, so maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. In any case, Miller would probably have been better off trying to block the shot instead of looking for a fight. 
  • The Canucks were fortunate to only down 2-0 after ten minutes. Just over a minute into the game, Sam Bennett had Demko at his mercy after a gorgeous pass from Jonathan Huberdeau but he missed the net. After the two goals, Forsling rung the post with a hard shot and the puck rebounded off Demko’s back and looked like it was going in until it took an odd hop and skidded wide.
  • Not long after, Jason Dickinson reduced the Panthers’ lead to one with his first goal on a goaltender since October 21. Conor Garland did what he does best: spin. He sent a fantastic spinning pass to Dickinson, who took inspiration from being in Florida by getting low like Flo Rida and fooled Bobrovsky with a shot along the ice that slid under his pad.
  • You could tell this just wasn’t going to be the Canucks’ night when they started breaking out the physical comedy. Dickinson wiping out Luke Schenn on the penalty kill is an absolutely marvellous pratfall. 
  • The official scorer called this a shot on goal by Huberdeau, which means that Demko apparently made a save with that flailing desperation move after Schenn’s backwards somersault. Unfortunately, the Panthers scored just a moment later so we never got a replay to properly appreciate it.
  • The Panthers’ power play passed with impunity around the hapless penalty kill before Huberdeau sniped the puck past a screened Demko. Reinhart provided the screen and took a step towards the near post as Huberdeau shot, perfectly lining himself up with Demko’s eyes and apparently also getting his hip on the puck as he ended up getting credited with the goal.
  • 26 seconds later, Mamin made it 4-1 for Florida. The Panthers dominated along the boards — Frank Vatrano outbattled Nils Höglander and Tucker Poolman for the puck, then sent the puck down low for Anton Lundell. With Brad Hunt bearing down on him, Lundell passed the puck between his legs to Mamin, who put a ludicrous backhand shot inside the far post.
  • That was a rough play for Höglander, who lost the initial battle, then didn’t take Mamin going to the net. That’s uncharacteristic for Höglander, who has been one of the most consistent Canucks when it comes to effort at both ends of the ice, but Tuesday in Florida, he ended up on the ice for three goals against. 
  • Quinn Hughes remains remarkable. He nearly got a goal back with this solo effort, making a little move to create enough space for a shot through traffic, only to have the puck hit the post. 
  • This wasn’t Demko’s night — 5 goals against on 26 shots is less than ideal — but he still made some great saves, such as this glove-hand robbery on Barkov. Even if the Panthers didn’t have that many shots, a high percentage of those shots were dangerous scoring chances. Natural Stat Trick had the scoring chance totals at 40-to-37 for the Panthers, so even though they got out-shot, they were creating a lot of quality looks.
  • It doesn’t get much higher quality than a breakaway and Barkov had his revenge on Demko for the earlier save before the end of the second period. It was a shorthanded goal — Oliver Ekman-Larsson couldn’t keep the puck in at the point and Barkov blasted off, ignored Ekman-Larsson’s attempted hook, and beat Demko with a quick shot past his blocker.
  • I believe in Elias Pettersson. I know he can be one of the best players in the NHL. But man, moments like this don’t help. Pettersson took a nifty drop pass from Höglander and completely whiffed on the puck. You could see him look at his blade, as if he couldn’t believe it was still there, like he was certain the only way the puck didn’t go in is because he broke his stick.
  • The Canucks managed to get one more goal in the third period to make it 5-2. It came from the fourth line, who had a solid game overall, and it was a simple play. Juho Lammikko won the faceoff, Matthew Highmore moved the puck more high to the point, and Hunt threw the puck on net. Lammikko got his stick on the puck to deflect it on Bobrovsky, then got just enough of the rebound to send the puck sliding in to say, “Good evening.”
  • As a final moment to confirm that this just wasn’t the Canucks’ night, J.T. Miller missed a wide-open net in the final minute, gifted to him by Bo Horvat. A goal would have extended Miller’s point streak to 10 games — instead, he completely missed and not by a little.
  • That’s it: the first regulation loss of the Boudreau era. It had to happen eventually and there’s no shame in losing to a team as good as the Panthers. Things won’t get any easier on this road trip, however, so the Canucks have some work to do.