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I Watched This Game: Rathbone caps off Canucks scoring in 3-1 win over Stars

Jack Rathbone scored the second goal of his NHL career in his first game since being called up from the AHL.
The Vancouver Canucks cruised to a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.

The Dallas Stars are supposed to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference, with a top-five goal differential in the NHL. On Saturday night in Dallas, however, the Stars’ light looked very dim, as they struggled to muster much of anything against a team far below them in the standings: the Vancouver Canucks.

To be fair, this isn’t the same Canucks team whose dreadful start landed them in the basement of the Western Conference. These Canucks are revitalized under a new head coach, who has them defending and attacking as a unit. These Canucks have their elite starting goaltender back. These Canucks don’t have their boat anchor of an overpaid defenceman in the lineup. 

The Stars haven’t matched up well against these Canucks. The teams that have given the Canucks the most trouble attack with speed and an aggressive forecheck, giving them no time on the breakout. That’s not the Stars, who are a bit more methodical in their approach. 

The Canucks methodically matched the Stars at every turn, marching steadily and somewhat stodigily to their third-straight win over the Stars this season.

Aided by a pillowy-soft schedule, the improved Canucks are 8-2-0 in their last ten games, with ten games remaining on the schedule. If they match that same record over their final five games, they’ll finish the season with a 41-36-5 record, good for 87 points.

Before anyone asks, no, that won’t be enough to make the playoffs. The Winnipeg Jets, currently in the second wild card spot, already have 85 points. But it could land them 20th in the NHL.

That’s significant because it would give them the 13th-best odds in the draft lottery. 

The team with the 13th-best odds has won the draft lottery before — or at least was one of the teams who won. In 2017, the Philadelphia Flyers saw their number drawn, moving up from 13th all the way to second overall.

Under the new draft lottery rules introduced in 2022, however, teams can only move up a maximum of ten spots by winning the draft lottery. That means that if the Canucks continue to go on a run to close out the season and finish 20th in the NHL, they can’t get the first-overall pick or even the second-overall pick, even if they, against all odds, win the draft lottery.

Given the Canucks’ history of bad luck, it would only be fitting that the one time they win the draft lottery would be the only time they couldn’t get the first-overall pick.

The Canucks have said these are important games in the final stretch of the season. They’re trying to establish a culture, with Rick Tocchet looking to instill his values in the players and prepare them for the offseason. They’re fighting tooth and nail to win every game, with their top players eating up major minutes in pursuit of moral victories.

It better be worth it. I watched this game.

  • With multiple injuries on the blue line, Jack Rathbone got called up from the Abbotsford Canucks. His ice time was extremely limited — he played just 9:14 — and he was sheltered from the Stars’ top two lines, but even with those caveats, he had a strong game. That’s not just because he scored a goal, though that helped, but because he was quick on puck retrievals and efficient with puck movement. Hopefully, this results in him getting more opportunities to prove himself to close out the season.

  • Vasily Podkolzin got an opportunity to play with Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko and it didn’t go so well. Podkolzin has played well with Pettersson in the past with Nils Höglander as the third member of the line, but Podkolzin seemed completely out of sync with his linemates in this game. His passes weren’t connecting and they struggled to create anything offensively. Like a computer mouse covered in honey, it just wasn’t clicking.

  • The Stars were first on the board. Vitaly Kravtsov got caught puck-watching below the faceoff dots, leaving him in no man’s land like Wonder Woman when Tyler Seguin made a perfectly-weighted bank pass off the boards to Ryan Suter at the point. Suter teed off with a one-timer and Kravtsov wasn’t close enough to get in the shooting lane. All Kravtsov could do was reach his stick out, which only served to deflect the puck up over Demko’s glove. 

  • While Kravtsov was partially at fault on the play, it was still pretty bad luck. The real trouble is that Kravtsov hasn’t made much of an impression in his time as a Canuck, showing flashes of potential here and there but little else. He had a team-low 6:48 in ice time and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get scratched for Aidan McDonough on Sunday.

  • Since coming back from injury, Thatcher Demko has been getting played like a workhorse starter — which he is. It’s pretty questionable with so little riding on these games, especially when there’s always a risk of suffering another injury, such as when Luke Glendening collided with Demko in the first period. It was a little nerve-wracking to see Demko shaking out his leg after, but he was okay. But maybe let’s give Delia a couple extra starts over the next ten games. Just a thought. 

  • At the end of the first period, Nils Åman and Dakota Joshua proved that J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson are not the only Canucks that can put up points shorthanded. Åman aggressively pressured Jamie Benn and picked off his pass, creating a 2-on-1 as Joshua alertly jumped up in the rush. Åman got the pass through to Joshua early and he went over the blocker like Jamie Collins.

  • There was an odd delay to the start of the second period because the Stars’ star-shaped spotlights were stuck on, giving centre ice a literal Stars On Ice feel, but with fewer triple salchows. Unable to turn them off, they decided to just play with the extra lights illuminating the neutral zone. Disappointingly, none of the players stood on top of one of the stars on the opening faceoff to create an NHL 94 moment.  

  • Brock Boeser gave the Canucks the lead early in the second period. On the rush, he fed J.T. Miller on the outside, then smartly tapped the brakes like Lauren Lavoie to create a huge gap between himself and Miro Heiskanen. Miller returned the puck and Boeser had plenty of space for a quick catch-and-release that ticked every-so-slightly off Heiskanen’s stick to beat Matt Murray. 

  • Filip Hronek picked up his first point as a Canuck on Boeser’s goal because the NHL is very generous with second assists. Don’t get me wrong, Hronek made a great play to break up a Stars rush and start Boeser the other way — something that seems like we will see routinely from Hronek — but it’s always been funny to me when players get second assists when there are multiple passes afterward between the two players that get the goal and the primary assist. If this was the KHL, for instance, Hronek wouldn’t have received an assist for that play.

  • Rathbone extended the lead with the second goal of his NHL career. It was a pretty passing play, as Kuzmenko got things started with a saucer pass to Pettersson in the neutral zone, then Pettersson returned the favour with a cross-seam pass to Kuzmenko in the offensive zone. With too many bodies between him and the net, Kuzmenko decided not to shoot — can’t risk hurting that league-leading shooting percentage — and instead heard Rathbone slap the ice hard asking for a pass. Rathbone absolutely hammered the one-timer past Murray to make it 3-1. 

  • With the second assist, Pettersson extended his point streak to 11 games. Like the stories covered by sports guy Jon Bois, Pettersson is pretty good. 

  • The Canucks put both Filip Hronek and Quinn Hughes on the first power play unit, flying in the face of everything that shows that four forwards and one defenceman is by far the most effective way to man a power play. With Hronek’s shot and Hughes’ playmaking, however, there’s some sense to trying it out, but sticking with two defencemen when the Canucks got a 5-on-3 was baffling, especially since the Canucks didn’t use their leading power play goalscorer, Andrei Kuzmenko, in that situation. Like retail cashiers after Canada phased out the penny, it didn’t make sense.

  • Unsurprisingly, the Canucks didn’t score on the 5-on-3. In fact, they have yet to score on a single 5-on-3 power play all season, one of just four teams who hasn’t scored with a two-man advantage. The Canucks lead the league with 14 shorthanded goals but can’t score on a 5-on-3. 
  • Not much happened in the third period, which is a credit to the Canucks, who completely shut down the Stars. It made for a boring period of hockey compared to the thrills of the Canucks constantly giving up multi-goal leads earlier in the season, but it was probably preferable for the players and coaching staff.

  • There was one notable moment: Brock Boeser beat out an icing near the end of the third period. Sure, the on-ice officials disagreed, calling it an icing anyway, but Boeser definitely won the race and had body position. Not that it matters, since the Stars couldn’t capitalize on the offensive zone faceoff, but for a guy lambasted by the Canucks fanbase for his skating, it’s a shame that he wasn’t rewarded for his hustle on that play. 

  • A major stick-tap to Brian Burke for his excellent intermission segment on Hockey Night in Canada discussing the issue of Pride Nights and players and teams opting out of wearing Pride jerseys. Burke was pointed and direct with his comments, making it eminently clear what the purpose of the jerseys are.
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  • Ron MacLean, on the other hand, gets no stick-tap for the bizarre way he muddied the waters during the segment, even bringing up the utter rot and nonsense of replacement theory — a white supremacist conspiracy theory — and suggesting that there needs to be a “compromise” or “middle ground” with that ideology. It was honestly stunning to hear that from MacLean and kudos to Burke for immediately getting things back on topic. 

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