A pair of tough, one-goal losses wasn’t the way the Vancouver Canucks wanted to start their first homestand of the season.
Perhaps that goes without saying — of course, no one wants to lose their first two home games — but the losses have somehow felt worse because they were by one goal. In both games, the Canucks had a chance to win and that hope made the losses sting a little more.
A blowout loss can be almost cleansing. You know after a blowout loss that everything went wrong and you can then commit to fixing those issues. A one-goal loss, on the other hand, can make you feel like you’re almost there, that you’re doing the right things and just need one bounce to go your way.
“We had our looks, it's just about scoring,” said Quinn Hughes after the game. “Sometimes throughout the season you're gonna get some lucky bounces and sometimes you're not. Definitely didn't get any lucky bounces tonight. So I think we'll go through stretches where we're scoring three, four goals, and then stretches like this.”
There’s a certain amount of truth to this: a lucky bounce going their way would have made a difference in this game. They got several lucky bounces in their last game against the Philadelphia Flyers and eked out a shootout win. Depending on lucky bounces, however, isn’t a great way to go through a season.
From the outside, it doesn’t seem like the Canucks are playing good hockey. Passes aren’t connecting, whether it’s on the breakout or in the offensive zone. The Canucks can’t get to the inside to create dangerous scoring chances and the guy that should be their best player, Elias Pettersson, looks lost.
Of course, the Canucks didn’t get any goals out of J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, or Bo Horvat either. Conor Garland had his worst game of the season, while Nils Höglander, who keeps playing well, has yet to score a single goal this season.
“They're smart guys. They know they need to score and they need to produce,” said heads coach Travis Green. “I thought tonight was a little bit of a step in the right direction in creating a little bit more but I'm not gonna sit here and say we don't need production from those guys. We do.
“They know that, though, as well. I'm also not going to put a lot more pressure on them. They take a lot of pride and they want to win badly. Those guys have scored in the past — they'll score again.”
Surely they will score again. Right?
Through eight games, however, the Canucks are dead last in the league in expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 and the biggest reason is that they’re also dead last in the percentage of high-danger chances they’ve created compared to their opposition. At 5-on-5, they’ve been badly out-chanced and lucky bounces can only make up for so much.
At this point, a blowout loss might be preferable. They need something — anything! — to kickstart their season.
It was with great frustration that I watched this game.
- This game started off in the worst way possible. Seconds into the game, Tyler Myers pinched harder than your grandma after three whiskey sours but the puck was chipped past him and the Flyers had a 2-on-1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson gambled and attacked the puck carrier but Travis Konecny slipped the pass by him to send in Sean Couturier all alone. Unlike Myers and Ekman-Larsson, Couturier made no mistake.
- “On those ones, if we're going to pinch, we need a third guy high and if we're going to pinch, we need to stop the puck, we can't just let them go out,” said Hughes, who also took responsibility for a bad pinch of his own, saying, diplomatically, “I think I had one and Mysey and a couple others.”
- Brad Hunt definitely had one. He pinched down the boards and a 2-on-1 developed behind him but fortunately, Elias Pettersson was alert and disrupted the rush with a strong backcheck.
- The Canucks were down early but not for long: Hughes responded just two minutes after Couturier’s goal. Juho Lammikko and the fourth line did some good work down low, then cycled the puck up high, where Hughes fired a shot through Lammikko’s screen in front that went off the post, then Martin Jones’s leg, and in. There’s one of those lucky bounces Hughes was talking about.
- “I was shooting for a tip,” said Hughes. “He's a lefty, so I just tried to put it in that waist-high area and it just went in.”
- The goal may have been lucky but the chance was created with some hard work. It all started in the defensive zone, with a tough puck battle along the boards. The video doesn’t do justice to how much work Hughes put in to win that battle, kicking at the puck with his skates to gain possession while battling physically with a big boy in Zack MacEwen.
- “You win puck battles, you don't have to play in your zone as much,” said Hughes. “The better we play defensively, the more we're going to be in the O-zone, probably, and we're not going to get hemmed in. I think they definitely correlate.”
- It wasn’t long before the Flyers regained the lead, scoring a power play goal on a nifty passing play. Claude Giroux sent a bank pass off the boards behind the net to Couturier on the opposite side and he one-touched it to James Van Reimsdyk in front for the tap-in goal. It was a gorgeous passing play.
- “I'm not really surprised by Claude Giroux on the half wall,” said Luke Schenn of the goal. “I played with him for three-and-a-half years or whatever and arguably one of the best probably in the last 10-12 years on the half wall. He makes some pretty special plays...It was really the perfect bank and tic tac toe. Once in a while, you gotta tip your hat.”
- While the Canucks needed to be better at 5-on-5, this game could be summed up by looking at the power play: the Flyers went 1-for-5 and the Canucks went 0-for-5. There’s your one-goal game.
- Jaroslav Halak may have allowed a goal on the first shot of the game but he was pretty good otherwise. His best save may have been his glove stop on Giroux after J.T. Miller inexplicably went for aa line change while the Flyers were on the rush, providing no back pressure. Giroux had a clear shot but Halak snagged the puck out of the air like Daniel LaRusso catching a fly with chopsticks.
- Zack MacEwen was facing his old team for the first time and decided a fight was his best chance of impacting the game. It may have worked but in the wrong direction. Shots on goal were 18-5 for the Flyers at the time of the fight. 10 minutes later, the shots were 19-18 for the Canucks.
- It didn’t help MacEwen that he got the extra two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for grabbing Schenn’s visor during the fight. Because fighting is sporting; visor-grabbing is evidently not. My word, you might hurt somebody!
- “Not that I can remember,” said Schenn when asked if he’d ever had his visor grabbed in a fight. “I mean, I give him the benefit of the doubt there. I'd like to think it's on accident. It is a bit of a ways away from the jersey but he's a pretty stand up guy, I don't think it'd be intentional.”
- Speaking of unsporting behaviour, I just have to laugh at this ludicrous moment from Miller, as he gave Giroux’s sleeve a tiny tug from the bench — just enough for Giroux to miss the puck. That’s so stupid that I can’t even be mad.
- Conor Garland was a beast on the Canucks’ road trip and he leads the team in scoring but he struggled in this game. Shot attempts were 9-2 for the Flyers when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, as he just couldn’t get the puck moving in the right direction. When the Canucks shortened their bench to three lines, Garland wasn’t on one of them.
- “I didn't think he had his best night or he wasn't going,” said Green. “When I put Petey, Millsy and Boes back together, I put Hög up with Bo, and the Lammikko line gave us some good minutes. We kind of ran with three lines for a little bit and it kind of changed the game, I thought we got some momentum going.”
- The big question, of course, is when is the real Elias Pettersson going to show up. There were moments in this game — the backcheck mentioned above, a deke between the legs — where he looked like his old self, but to often the puck was clanking off his stick like his hands were made of stone. Pettersson had just the one shot on goal on the power play. At 5-on-5, he didn’t even have a single shot attempt.
- Pettersson did have one moment where he looked like his old self — when he kept his feet moving in the neutral zone and got taken down by Patrick Brown, who both grabbed Pettersson’s arm with his right hand, then got his stick in between Pettersson’s legs and can-opener’d him. Over the past three seasons, only five players have drawn penalties at a higher rate than Pettersson — only, this time the refs didn’t call the blatant penalty.
- “Yeah, I was mad,” said Green, who was caught cussing at the refs with a look of almost-amused disbelief by the Sportsnet cameras. “I thought that was a penalty. But the refs are human. They're not always gonna see it the same way I'm gonna see it either. But I did notice a big difference in Petey trying to get his feet moving a little bit more tonight.”
- “You've got to hit some singles,” said Green about Pettersson’s game, insinuating that his star forward is looking for the home run play. “I think for him with his game, it was get skating, get skating with speed and good things will happen for you.”
- While the fans were boisterous with their “Ref, you suck!” chants, you could tell that they were getting a little restless too. A late power play gave the Canucks a chance to go 6-on-4 to end the game with the net empty and they got a couple of shots out of it but they couldn’t even gain the zone for the final 30 seconds of the game. As time expired, it was hard to ignore the smattering of boos in the arena.