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I Watched This Game: Putrid first period costs Canucks in loss to Islanders

That was an expensive 16 minutes from Jaroslav Halak.
The Vancouver Canucks gave up five-straight goals to the New York Islanders in the first period, digging a hole from which they could never, ever escape.

What can you get for 1.25 million dollars?

You might be able to buy a high-performance hypercar, like the McLaren Senna, which was sold for $1 million when it was new. If you want something that looks like a McLaren Senna but a lot more of them, you could buy approximately 1,146,789 individual Hot Wheels cars.

You could buy a private island in the Gulf of Mexico , stay 12 nights in the Empathy Suite at the Palms (the most expensive hotel room in the world), or you might actually be able to afford a detached house in Vancouver, which is saying a lot. You could even be reasonable and use it to pay off debts and invest the rest.

Or you could do what the Vancouver Canucks did on Wednesday night: pay for 16 minutes of goaltending from Jaroslav Halak.

Former Canucks GM Jim Benning signed Halak to backup Thatcher Demko but had to get a bit creative with the terms of the deal to fit Halak under the salary cap. The base salary and signing bonus of Halak’s deal total $1.5 million, giving him a $1.5 million cap hit this season. But, because Halak is over 35, they were able to add $1.5 million in performance bonuses to entice Halak to sign.

Halak has two performance bonuses. One is for $250,000 if he carries a save percentage of at least .905 through the season. The second is $1.25 million if he plays in at least 10 games.

Wednesday night’s game against the New York Islanders was Halak’s 10th game.

He lasted just 16 minutes and 19 seconds, as the Islanders scored 5 goals on 12 shots. 

It wasn’t entirely Halak’s fault. The Canucks were absolutely dreadful defensively in the first period and were completely outplayed by the Islanders in pretty much every facet of the game.

“They’re not ready to play,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau about his team. “I give them credit, as they never quit and they played really hard in the second and third, but we talk about self-preparation all the time and coming to the game ready to play. 

“Usually, an NHL game, it’s an all-day thing. It’s not just coming to the game, putting your skates on and saying ‘Let’s go, you’ve got to prepare the right way mentally for the game and we obviously weren’t there the last two games. That has to get better.”

Boudreau certainly doesn’t mince words.

Now, technically the Canucks might not end up paying that $1.25 million to Halak. Someone will, but it might not be the Canucks.

The bonus is not paid immediately — if it were, the bonus would immediately put the Canucks over the salary cap, they wouldn’t be able to use LTIR to cover it, and the bonus would have to be applied to next season’s cap. Instead, the bonus doesn’t need to be paid until the end of the season, according to some digging by The Athletic’s Thomas Drance.  

If the Canucks were to trade Halak, they could negotiate to have the team taking him also take on the responsibility of paying for the bonus, which would likely lower the asking price. Alternatively, the Canucks could move out enough salary to no longer be in LTIR by the end of the season and fit Halak’s bonus under the salary cap, but that would require some major moves.

As it stands, however, that was a very expensive 16 minutes for the Canucks that not only cost them the game but might also cost them $1.25 million against the cap next season. 

On the plus side, Halak’s performance brought him down to a .903 save percentage this season, so maybe they’ll be able to avoid that other bonus of $250,000.

I looked on the bright side when I watched this game.

  • You could treat this game as a microcosm of the Canucks’ season. They had a terrible start but then got things together after making a change — management and coaching for the season, goaltending for the game — but it wasn’t quite enough to make up for the hole they put themselves in. The Canucks are, of course, hoping the season ends differently.

  • It was a really bad sign when the Canucks gave up a 2-on-0 breakaway three minutes into the game when Oliver Ekman-Larsson whiffed on a drop pass from Vasily Podkolzin and Noah Juulsen gambled on a hit instead of conservatively backing up into the neutral zone. It was a messy play from the pairing but Halak bailed them out with a superb right pad stop on Matt Martin.

  • Unfortunately, the 2-on-0 breakaway was more of a harbinger of things to come than Halak’s excellent save. Seconds after the breakaway, the Islanders opened the scoring when Ekman-Larsson was unable to either get inside position on Zach Parise or take his stick and the 37-year-old winger banged in a centring pass from Noah Dobson.

  • 18 seconds later, Brock Nelson tipped in an Adam “Not PulockPelech point shot to make it 2-0. Tyler Myers didn’t help much: standing in front of Halak, he moved right into his line of sight as the shot was taken and tried to shove Nelson out of the way instead of tying up the forward’s stick. That wasn’t shoving time — as the aliens in Strange Planet say, you’ve got to regulate your shoves. 

  • Just 13 seconds after the 2-0 goal, it was 3-0. To Juulsen’s credit, he at least tied up Anders Lee’s stick as Ryan “Not PelechPulock took a point shot. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter, as Lee angled his skate to expertly deflect the puck past Halak.

  • After three goals in just 31 seconds, Boudreau called a timeout, but it didn’t seem to help. Ekman-Larsson had trouble sticking with Anthony Beauvillier, giving him space to find Casey Cizikas at the backdoor, who was open because of a poor defensive read by Juulsen. Cizikas had position on Juulsen and was able to chip the puck over Halak on the backhand.

  • Three minutes later, some more questionable defence by Juulsen and Ekman-Larsson led to the 5-0 goal. Facing an Islanders transition, Juulsen gambled on poking away a pass in the neutral zone, missed, and was unable to keep Lee from gaining the Canucks’ zone. Meanwhile, Ekman-Larsson misjudged the rush and couldn’t keep pace with Mathew Barzal, who got in behind the veteran defenceman for a breakaway, pulled the puck to the forehand, and went upstairs on Halak.

  • That was the end of Halak’s night. “We hung Jaro out to dry,” said Bo Horvat. “Obviously, it’s unacceptable by us, not being ready to go that game.”

  • Ekman-Larsson somewhat made amends for his earlier foibles with the Canucks’ first goal just before the end of the first period. The line of Nils Höglander, Elias Pettersson, and Vasily Podkolzin attacked the net and a rebound popped out to Ekman-Larsson in the high slot. He caught the puck, dropped it like it was hot, then smacked it towards the net, sending it past a Höglander screen, off the post, and in. 

  • The Canucks looked like a completely different team in the second period, led by the line of Höglander, Pettersson, and Podkolzin, who were easily the Canucks’ best line. When they were on the ice together at 5-on-5, the Canucks out-shot the Islanders 12-to-3, which is outright dominant.

  • Pettersson got the Canucks’ second goal on a power move to the front of the net. Podkolzin poked the puck free to Pettersson along the boards and Pettersson cut to the net, fighting off Andy Greene to make like an Olympic curler and sweep the puck around Ilya Sorokin like he was a centre guard. 

  • Just over a minute later, Luke Schenn gave Canucks fans reason to believe in a comeback. Brad Hunt rung the puck around the boards and Conor Garland smartly let the puck go past him to Schenn. The burly defenceman sent the puck towards the net on a wing and a prayer — the prayers were answered with a deflection off Cizikas in front, sending the puck five-hole on Sorokin.

  • The Canucks continued to pour on the pressure like Nasim Pedrad pouring a tureen of tapioca on Vanessa Bayer. They hemmed the Islanders in their zone for long shifts, creating chance after chance, but couldn’t beat Sorokin. J.T. Miller nearly had a goal on a point-blank chance after Tanner Pearson stole the puck along the boards, but Sorokin kicked it out like it was a scene with talking, but no walking.

  • Sorry, I’m thinking of Aaron Sorkin, not Ilya Sorokin. Honest mistake. 

  • “Once [the Islanders] get a lead, they're tough to beat,” said Boudreau, “but I thought if Miller had've scored that one goal at the end of the second period, we would have been tough to stop.”

  • Instead, the Canucks didn’t score again and Martin ended Thatcher Demko’s pseudo-shutout bid in relief with a late goal to make it 6-3. Myers was victimized on the goal, as Cizikas neatly lifted his stick as he went back for a puck in his own zone, and Myers laid out flat on the ice in a desperate attempt to block a pass to Martin. It didn’t work and Martin beat Demko under the blocker. 

  • There were plenty of positives to take from this game. Pettersson’s line was legitimately fantastic and will hopefully get a long look together as the season goes on. Schenn had a solid game playing his usual physical brand of defence. I thought Brock Boeser quietly played great, creating some dangerous chances as the game progressed. It just wasn’t enough to make up for that awful first period.

  • Ekman-Larsson, Myers, and Juulsen stood out the most for their poor defensive play in this game. Brad Hunt also had some rough spots, giving up a second 2-on-0 breakaway with a dreadful giveaway at the Islanders’ blue line that Demko stopped. I can’t help but think of Boudreau saying, “our strength is defence right now.” Bruce, where?
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