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I Watched This Game: Spencer Martin and the Canucks win big in Las Vegas

Spencer Martin was robbed of his first career shutout by a bad-luck bounce off the boards late in the third period.
The Vancouver Canucks enjoyed their trip to Las Vegas, coming away a bit richer with a 5-1 win over the Golden Knights. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks have to be feeling good about themselves right now.

A few days after beating the defending Stanley Cup champions in Colorado, the Canucks took on the top team in the Western Conference in Las Vegas and cruised to a convincing 5-1 win.

It’s almost enough to make you wonder where in the world this team has been all season and maybe even think that they might actually be pretty good after all. Almost.

The Canucks have a long way to go to not only prove their doubters wrong but dig themselves out of the hole they’ve created. After all, there are some very good reasons to believe that the Canucks are a very poorly-constructed team and two wins in a row — or even four wins in their last five — isn’t enough to erase those concerns.

Until the Canucks prove that they can win games consistently, there’s no use praising them for being just good enough to screw up their draft position. 

Still, beating the Vegas Golden Knights 5-1 feels significant, even if the Golden Knights were playing their second half of back-to-backs and their third game in four nights. Less than a week ago, the Canucks took a two-goal lead against this same Golden Knights squad and proceeded to cough it up in the third period in demoralizing fashion.  

On Saturday night, the Canucks took a two-goal lead, then turned it into a three-goal lead, then a four-goal lead, then a five-goal lead. They didn’t have the same letdown that fans have witnessed so many times this year. Instead, they just kept attacking and extending the lead, while playing some pretty solid defence along the way.

It was a bit of a weird game. After taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, the Canucks didn’t get another shot on goal until over 11 minutes into the second period. But that shot went in — a one-timer blast from Elias Pettersson on the power play — and then their very next shot went in as well. Two shots, two goals.

But then the Canucks rattled off another ten shots, eventually out-shooting the Golden Knights 12-to-7 in the second period. Like I said, weird.

In fact, there were several times when this game could have gone awry for the Canucks if not for some fantastic goaltending from Spencer Martin — which isn’t the name that was supposed to end that phrase when this season began.

For now, the Canucks can feel good, like they knew that they would, but then they have to get back to work to prove that they can do more than just win a couple of games here and there. Meanwhile, I went to work right after I watched this game.

  • This game could have immediately gone pear-shaped if not for some superb saves from Martin that kept the game thoroughly game-shaped. The first came after Luke Schenn assumed Elias Pettersson would win a battle — often a safe assumption — and left Chandler “Could I Be Any More” Stephenson wide open in front, where Jack Eichel found him with the pass. Martin slammed down his right elbow into his own leg and, instead of causing intense pain, it stopped the puck.
  • The second save came on Mark Stone, when Quinn Hughes left him to check Eichel and Schenn didn’t pick him up — Schenn never picks up Stones since he read a sign on a nature walk that said, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” — but Martin picked up Stone and also some cool-looking sticks and leaves.
  • Martin stoned Stone again later in the first period after a bad turnover inside the blue line by Nils Höglander. There’s something to be said for the argument that if Martin doesn’t come up with those saves on Grade-A chances, the way Thatcher Demko sometimes hasn’t this season, then a demoralized Canucks team doesn’t come away with the win.
  • The PITB Transformative Moment of the Game (a phrase that by reading you enter a binding legal agreement that it bears no resemblance to the phrase TSN Turning Point) was a shift seven minutes into the game by Elias Pettersson and his linemates, Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev. Up until that shift, the Canucks didn’t have a single shot on goal, but on that shift, the Canucks were all over the Golden Knights, just like their flying-skate colours are all over their Reverse Retro jerseys.
  • Bo Horvat and his line with J.T. Miller and Nils Höglander followed up the Pettersson line’s shift with some offensive zone time of their own, with Horvat drawing the game’s first penalty. After such long shifts, the top-six was tired, so the second power play unit took to the ice and didn’t give the first unit a chance, scoring just ten seconds into the power play.
  • It was a simple play: after a faceoff win by Sheldon Dries, Oliver Ekman-Larsson faked a one-timer at the point, stepped to the left to create a shooting lane, and floated a shot to the net that Brock Boeser neatly tipped past Logan Thompson. 
  • The power play’s chief weapon in this game was ruthless efficiency. Ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. Amongst the power play’s weaponry are such diverse elements as ruthless eff…I’ll start again.
  • The Canucks’ power play was ruthlessly efficient, with the first unit one-upping the second unit by scoring just five seconds into a penalty. Andrei Kuzmenko helped Bo Horvat win the faceoff back to Quinn Hughes, who dragged the puck into the middle of the ice while J.T. Miller rotated to the top of the left faceoff circle. He wasted no time ripping the puck past the screen, the screen set by Kuzmenko, the screen set especially by Kuzmenko, Kuzmenko’s screen — that screen — and into the net. 
  • In the midst of all the power plays, Elias Pettersson continued to be an absolute beast on the penalty kill. He created a shorthanded breakaway by stealing a pass just inside the blue line and drew a penalty on Phil Kessel with a nifty spin move along the boards. He excels at even-strength, the power play, and the penalty kill — the Canucks’ biggest failure is they can’t find any more situations in which to play Pettersson. 
  • Pettersson had a whopping nine shots on goal. When he finally put one in the back of the net, it was with authority. The Golden Knights found out the hard way why penalty kills cheat over to Pettersson’s side to take away his shooting lane — they got caught scrambling and Hughes put one right in his wheelhouse at the top of the right faceoff circle for a bomb of a one-timer from the PetterZone.  
  • A couple of minutes later, Kuzmenko came off the bench and snuck into the slot with no one picking him up. Nils Åman sent a beautiful backhand pass from behind the net and Kuzmenko one-timed it through Thompson to make it 4-0. Kuzmenko didn’t even realize he had scored at first, thinking Thompson had robbed him, but the only ones robbed were Canucks fans of one of Kuzmenko’s vociferous goal celebrations.
  • In the final seconds — literally — of the second period, the Canucks put an exclamation point on the game. Nils Höglander won a couple of battles on the shift to keep the play alive in the offensive zone. The second time, he picked Kessel’s pocket and tried to feed Miller in front, but the puck deflected to Horvat, who relayed it to Miller. With incredible poise, Miller deked, then laid the puck off to Horvat for the open net.
  • That’s an incredible play, particularly given the situation. Some players might have panicked with so little time left on the clock and just tried to jam the puck toward the net and hope for the best — Miller instead made a highlight reel play to give Horvat his 17th goal of the year.
  • If I was being uncharitable, I might suggest that Miller was about as unaware of how much time was left on the clock as he typically is of where his check is in the defensive zone. If I was being uncharitable, mind you, but I'm not because that was an amazing play.
  • It was a three-point night for Miller, who has been miles better on the wing of Bo Horvat's line than at centre this season. After Pettersson took on the match-up role in Colorado, Miller and Horvat were back on match-up duty against Jack Eichel and performed admirably. The addition of Höglander to that line seems to have helped.
  • For a team that has struggled so much in the third period, the final frame of this game was blissfully uneventful. Sure, Conor Garland fought Jonathan Marchessault — which was wildly unexpected — and Dakota Joshua fought Keegan Kolesar — which was wildly unnecessary — and the Golden Knights even got a late goal off a weird bonus off the glass to ruin Martin's shutout bid, but those were events the way the events you get invited to on Facebook are events. You can just ignore them, they don’t matter.
  • The Canucks successfully defended a multi-goal, third-period lead. Yes, it was a 5-0 lead, which, like the statement “Black Lives Matter,” shouldn’t really need defending. But defend the lead, they did, and I will commend them for it. Kudos, Canucks. Now, do it again.
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