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I Watched This Game: Suter's hat trick not enough for Canucks to beat the Blues

Elias Pettersson faced some staunch criticism from his head coach after the Vancouver Canucks' overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.
The Vancouver Canucks tied the game in the final minute to force overtime but couldn't complete the comeback against the St. Louis Blues.

Heading into Wednesday night’s meeting with the St. Louis Blues, Elias Pettersson had 12 goals and 18 points in his last 11 games.

Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet might as well be Shania Twain for how much that impressed him. Tocchet had firm words for his franchise forward after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blues but it wasn’t just about how Pettersson had performed that night.

“I haven’t liked his game the last three or four games,” said Tocchet. “We’ve got to get him going.”

Pettersson saw a plethora of linemates against the Blues, as Tocchet seemed to be searching for the right combination to get more out of him. He broke up the Lotto Line to start the game, putting Pettersson back with Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko, then tried the Lotto Line briefly when the team was down 2-0, and finally put him with Conor Garland and Nils Höglander in the third period.

“I think he's got to skate. He's got to start skating a little bit,” said Tocchet when asked specifically where Pettersson has gone astray. “I think he's good with the moves sometimes but I think when you have speed and make those moves, that's when he's at his best.”

It’s not like Pettersson was a disaster, by any means. Tocchet is just well aware that Pettersson has the capacity to dominant at 5-on-5. Maybe better linemates would help but there are things he can do better on his own as well. That’s what Tocchet wants to unlock.

Pettersson’s game culminated in an overtime shift where he turned the puck over twice, then got knocked to the ice in front of the net by Brayden Schenn, which gave Schenn the room he needed to score the game-winning goal. Pettersson pleaded for a penalty to no avail.

While Pettersson got very little sympathy from the referee, he got even less sympathy from St. Louis Blues head coach Drew Bannister.

“I just saw a lot of guys going down pretty easy tonight. That's what I saw,” said Bannister.

For his part, Schenn thought it was more of a 50/50 play.

“Just going to the net and pushed off him and whether it was a cross-check, it is what it is,” said Schenn. “I felt like I didn't push him that hard. Maybe it could have been a penalty, could have went either way, and [referee] Francis Charron gave me the benefit of the doubt.”

As for the Canucks, they avoided saying anything critical about the refereeing.

“Those two refs are the best in the league,” said Tocchet, while Ian Cole pleaded poverty: “That’s way above my paygrade to comment on that.”

Well, I make way less than Cole but I’ll still comment on it: a penalty probably should have been called on Schenn, negating the goal.


At the same time, Pettersson went down far too easily, not necessarily because he was trying to draw the penalty but because he was at the end of a long, tiring shift and was likely exhausted.

Also, the Canucks got the benefit of a crosschecking call on a very similar play to negate a goal during regulation. As Schenn said, it could have gone either way and it pretty much did. One call went the Canucks’ way, the other the Blues’ way, and if the calls had been reversed, then the Canucks wouldn’t have gotten a point out of the game.

Fans would certainly prefer to see some consistency from the officiating but maybe that consistency could’ve gone the other way with the referees letting both crosschecks go. 

In any case, it’s kind of a shame that the story of the game is going to be about the officiating and not the fact that Pius Suter scored a hat trick. Of course, that’s partly my fault in how I chose the topic for the introduction of the I Watched This Game.

  • The Canucks wore their shiny new chrome helmets for this game. When they went down 2-0 in the first period, it immediately brought to mind when they wore their Vancouver Millionaires jerseys three times, losing all three games in regulation, including the disastrous 2014 Heritage Classic that led to Roberto Luongo being traded back to the Florida Panthers. I’m not saying the chrome helmets are cursed but boy, did they clash horribly with the blue of their jerseys, which made me want to curse. 

  • I’ll admit, it’s concerning how much trouble the Canucks seem to have with the Blues. Three weeks ago, the Blues ground the Canucks into the dirt with their heavy, grinding game and they nearly did it again on Wednesday but for a last-minute goal to salvage a point. If the Canucks have to meet the Blues in the first round of the playoffs, it could be a deeply unpleasant series.

  • The Blues were also playing on the second half of back-to-back games and had their backup goaltender in net. This was a tired team that still wore out the Canucks and stole a win. More troubling is that they seem to have established the blueprint for how to beat the Canucks’ forecheck, which could potentially be taken and copied by other teams around the league.

  • “It seemed like they started throwing a lot of pucks out of their end, kind of playing that long kind of flip, stretch game, which gets them out of their end,” said Cole. “Ideally, if we play those well, that should give us possession in the neutral zone, we can turn it right back around.”

  • Unlike the game as a whole, Nils Höglander was wildly entertaining to watch. Midway through the first period, he went darting into the offensive zone, banked a puck off the boards behind his own back to himself, and then ran two Blues defenders into each other in slapstickian fashion. It was delightful.
  • The Blues opened the scoring against J.T. Miller’s line with Brock Boeser and Pius Suter, as all three seemed to get confused about who should cover Jake Neighbours in the slot. Like the Las Vegas Grand Prix, F1 was not where it was supposed to be, and Neighbours made the most of the wide-open opportunity to fire the puck past Casey DeSmith.

  • A minute later, Andrei Kuzmenko saved a goal by clearing the puck out of the crease. Only, his turnover at the Blues blue line was what caused the near-goal in the first place. Unlike my kids, Kuzmenko at least cleaned up his own mess.
  • “If somebody’s wide open and you turn it over, I get it because if it goes by, the guy gets an empty net,” said Tocchet. “But if you’re gonna pass the puck and the guy’s still got three guys to go through, it makes no sense. I think that’s really our philosophy: don’t turn the puck over when there’s no play.”

  • The Blues extended the lead on the power play when the Canucks’ penalty kill got caught too high, leaving Tyler Myers alone down low to defend a 2-on-1. Myers couldn’t block Jake Neighbours’ backdoor pass and Pavel Buchnevich tapped it in better than Happy Gilmore.  

  • After the disastrous first period, Kuzmenko spend a good minute sitting on the bench all by himself, either contemplating his turnover at the blue line or thinking about the great philosophical questions of the universe, like whether we have free will or if we can experience anything objectively. 
  • The Blues scored their third goal early in the second period, only to have the goal immediately waved off and Neighbours sent to the bench for crosschecking Cole in front of the net. Was it a soft call? You betcha. Was it still the right call? Probably. But it negated a very nice rush up the ice by the Blues and should’ve had the Canucks counting their blessings.
  • “I mean, that's a 6-foot-3, 220-pound defenseman,” said Bannister. “It's a push on the back. That's the way I saw it. I saw some guys falling pretty easy out there.”

  • While the Canucks’ penalty kill struggled in the first period, they were fantastic to kill off a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Kuzmenko in the second period. The Canucks then came roaring back with a bunch of momentum off the successful kill but couldn’t get a single puck past Joel Hofer. Well, J.T. Miller got one past him but hit the post, which only counts if you’re playing Three Bar against Gordon Bombay.  

  • This game did show me one thing I’ve never seen before: a player breaking his stick into three pieces. Typically when a stick breaks, it breaks just once, but Nikita Alexandrov somehow managed to have his stick snap in two places while trying to check Quinn Hughes. It was bizarre.
  • Here’s some photographic evidence courtesy of Wyatt “The Stanchion” Arndt, whose phone camera is more powerful than my own.
Nikita Alexandrov's broken stick. photo: Wyatt Arndt
  • The Canucks got on the board a minute into the third period when Pius Suter made like Ray Stannard Baker and went muckraking. Brock Boeser tipped a Quinn Hughes shot and Suter got into the grime to get to the rebound first, sliding it through Hofer’s five-hole.

  • Unfortunately, the Blues immediately responded on the next shift. Nikita Zadorov went a-wanderin’ before finally recognizing that maybe he should check Alexey Toropchenko, who was open in front of the net. Unfortunately, he was far too late to get to him to prevent him from jamming in a Kevin Hayes pass.

  • That was Zadorov’s only shift of the third period, as he was benched for the rest of the game. “Footey felt he wanted the best five to go,” said Tocchet. “I think he was a little late on a couple of coverages. He’s got to be a little bit quicker on his reads and a couple box-outs there. You’ve got to get there quicker on the box-outs.”

  • Suter scored again on the power play, making the most of his time on the first unit. Hofer strayed from his net to play a loose puck to a teammate and had to scramble back when Boeser jumped on the loose puck and fed it to Suter in front. Suter flung it past Hofer with authority for his second goal of the game.

  • “When I got it, I know he’s gonna slide,” said Suter, saying he didn’t want to shoot the puck too quickly on the scrambling goaltender and needed to be patient. “I knew I had enough time, so you’ve got to pick your spot.”

  • Quinn Hughes really is remarkable. Despite being in some pain on the bench at one point, he came back out and did what he does best: made something out of nothing. Midway through the third period, he went end-to-end, got in on the forecheck to free up the puck, then stayed engaged in the play and picked up a loose puck for a good chance that led to a rebound chance for Teddy Blueger. 
  • In the final minute, Suter completed the hat trick to tie the game and send it to overtime. Hughes once again got it started, firing a shot that clanked off the post, and Suter was once again in the muck and grime to jump on the rebound. He didn’t get much on his shot, but the flailing Hofer knocked the aerial puck into his own net.

  • “Enough,” said Suter when asked how much he got of the puck.

  • It wasn't immediately clear to the Rogers Arena fans that it was Suter's goal, so it took the final buzzer to start the hats raining down on the ice for Suter's second career hat trick. That's now four goals in his last two games or four goals since I wrote an article saying Suter (and his linemates) needed to start scoring.

  • Kuzmenko apparently took his surfing lesson from the game against the Chicago Blackhawks to heart. In overtime, he perfectly executed the surfing maneuver to pull up alongside Brayden Schenn and out-battle him for the puck. If only Pettersson hadn’t immediately skated into trouble and given the puck away, maybe that could’ve been something.
  • Tocchet clearly didn’t want to dwell on the missed penalty call on Schenn’s game-winning goal — “I’m more concerned about other stuff on that goal,” he said — so I’m not going to dwell on it either. It was a crummy way for the Canucks’ comeback bid to come up short. Oh well. The Canucks are still in first place in the NHL and were given plenty of things to work on and improve from this game. It’ll probably be good for them in the long run.

  • “It’s never ideal to have to play catch-up,” said Cole. “The games kind of develop different every time, right? Would you rather be ahead and have the lead and close it out and win the hockey game? Yeah, absolutely, that would be the ideal way to draw it up. But you’re not always in Position A. Sometimes, you’ve got to scramble, sometimes you’ve got to figure it out, sometimes you’ve got to make it work.”