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I Watched This Game: Pettersson's two-goal night gives Canucks first preseason win over Oilers

Elias Pettersson is wide awake, which is a great sign for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Vancouver Canucks won 5-4 over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night in Abbotsford. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks finally got one — a preseason win.

That may not seem like a big deal but there have been some nervous nights as it started to look like the Canucks might get blanked in the preseason. Sure, the games don’t matter for the standings but the vibes would have been awful and isn’t vibes what sports are all about?

It certainly seemed like it mattered to the players, who battled hard all game. The Canucks and Oilers made like Ned Fulmer from the Try Guys and turned something as innocent as an exhibition game into an aggressive affair.

Elias Pettersson seemed to take it as a personal affront that the Canucks had yet to win a game in the preseason, which is a good thing, because Pettersson is at his absolute best when he’s personally offended. He was a force in this game, both in terms of his offensive skill — he had two goals on a game-high seven shots on net — and his physical game, as he threw multiple hits on his very first shift of the game and was engaged physically every time he stepped on the ice.

“It’s just getting involved in the game,” said Pettersson. “It brings emotion…I’m just trying to play hard, do my part, and be a teammate you can rely on.”

It was good to see from Pettersson and it seemed to spread to the rest of the team. It was the type of hard-fought, passionate effort from the Canucks that had been missing thus far in the preseason. With just one preseason game remaining, this is what the Canucks needed to start getting ramped up for when the games actually matter.

“It’s way more fun to win than lose, no matter the situation,” said Boudreau. “They worked really hard, they wanted to win. They know they haven’t played as well as they’re capable of playing. Even though there were still a lot of mistakes, you could see the effort and the will, so that’s what was very encouraging.”

The effort and the will were visible when I watched this game.

  • It was an interesting lineup for the Canucks, who are getting very close to a 23-man roster. Kyle Burroughs lined up on his off-side on the left with Tyler Myers and Nils Åman played on a potential fourth line with Jason Dickinson and Curtis Lazar. Keep an eye on Åman — he’s got a chance to make the opening night roster.
  • “Over the course of camp, he’s opened eyes with his speed,” said Boudreau of Åman. “He’s so smart defensively and that line had a role — we tried to put them on almost all the time with Connor [McDavid] but sometimes Connor’s shifts are two minutes long…I thought that line did a really good job and [Åman] was very responsible in his own zone.”
  • You just knew it was going to be a great game from Pettersson when he drilled Dylan Holloway with a heavy hit on the very first shift of the game. Fans love Pettersson for his dekes and his goals but man does the crowd ever pop when Pettersson throws a big hit.
  • In his hometown of Abbotsford, Jake Virtanen got booed every time he touched the puck, so there will be no bad-mouthing Abbotsford for at least one month. 
  • Conor Garland deserves a lot of credit on the opening goal — he fought off two Oilers along the boards to get the puck to the point, where Oliver Ekman-Larsson got a shot through traffic. Nils Höglander was creating a ruckus at the net-front, then went to the net-side to bang in the rebound for his second goal of the preseason.
  • Pettersson and Bo Horvat were paired together on the penalty kill and picked up right where they left off last season. They were a menace in the neutral zone, making it difficult for the Oilers to even gain the blue line with their quick sticks, leading to two breakaway chances for Horvat and some extended time in the offensive zone, which is generally a good thing on the penalty kill.
  • You can only do so much to slow down McDavid. He tied up the game in the second period when he wheeled through the neutral zone, burst between Garland and Dickinson, then shot past Quinn Hughes like he was standing still before roofing the puck over Spencer Martin. Honestly, kudos to the Oilers for dressing McDavid for a game in Abbotsford — it was a treat for the fans to see him play.
  • Martin couldn’t really be blamed for getting beaten by McDavid, but it certainly wasn’t his best game. The Canucks held the Oilers to 21 shots on goal, but Martin gave up four goals on those 21 shots for an .809 save percentage. The worst part was that it wasn’t even an .808, so you couldn’t even make a beat with it.
  • The Canucks got a lot of power plays as the game started getting chippy but it was the Oilers who cashed in first with a shorthanded goal to make it 2-1. Ekman-Larsson couldn’t catch up to Zach Hyman on the breakaway and he beat Martin with a deke to the backhand.
  • Tanner Pearson quickly responded with the first Canucks’ power play goal of the game. Hughes sent a shot through traffic and Pearson, like errybody in the club, got tipsy. 
  • Conor Garland gave the Canucks the 3-2 lead during a 4-on-4 shift. Vasily Podkolzin put the pressure on Jesse Puljujarvi in the neutral zone and he coughed up the puck to Garland, who jumped up the left wing and sent a hard shot through Stuart Skinner’s five-hole. Skinner got just enough of the puck to keep it from going in, but it was still sitting behind him and Garland jammed it in.
  • The Oilers quickly responded to make it 3-3. Pearson and Hughes didn’t communicate who was supposed to take James Hamblin on the backcheck, so when McDavid got a step on Tucker Poolman and sent the centring pass in front, Hamblin was ambling in all alone for the finish.
  • You never like to see a player go down and stay down, whether it’s the preseason or not. Nils Höglander took a swinging elbow from Darnell Nurse in the second period and hit the deck, staying down as he bled from the face. Fortunately, he was okay and stayed in the game — he seemed to be staying in one place so he wouldn’t track blood everywhere rather than because he was dazed.
  • That wasn’t the last dirty hit. Markus Niemelainen ran Pettersson from behind into the boards, causing a massive scrum. On the same play, Hughes was hit with a high stick, so both of the Canucks’ most important skaters were flat on the ice at the same time, which was a bit nerve-wracking. Annoyingly, the refs evened up one of the penalties with a roughing minor to Tanner Pearson, giving the Canucks a 5-on-4 power play instead of the two-man advantage they deserved.
  • Seriously, how was this not a five-minute major?
  • “I think I can definitely do a better job of protecting myself,” said Pettersson. “I was kind of leaning forward a bit, so sure, he hits me hard too, but I think I can do better at protecting myself.”
  • The ugly hit seemed to just fuel Pettersson even more. He sniped the 4-3 goal from the right faceoff circle, putting some extra spice on the puck. It was a superb shot.
  • After Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tied the game again, Pettersson put it away with another power play goal, this time a bullet of a one-timer from the top of the faceoff circle, which I’ve affectionately dubbed “The PetterZone.” Like a bar with high-end alcohol, Pettersson put the shot top shelf.
  • Honestly, this was a great night in Abbotsford. The atmosphere was fantastic, with a full — and loud — house, and both the Oilers and Canucks put on a show. I could do without the dirty hits, but this was otherwise an ideal preseason game from an entertainment standpoint. 
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