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I Watched This Game: Tocchet rips 'soft' Canucks after toothless loss to Kraken

"Soft. You hate to call your team soft, but it was soft tonight."
For the first time in their history, the Seattle Kraken defeated the Vancouver Canucks. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks proved decisively on Tuesday that they are significantly better than the blatantly-tanking Chicago Blackhawks.

They proved decisively on Wednesday that they are significantly worse than the top-of-the-Pacific Seattle Kraken.

Just 24 hours after dominating the Blackhawks, they were dominated in turn by the Kraken by about the same degree. At 5-on-5, scoring chances were 35-to-12 for the Canucks against the Blackhawks, while they were 33-to-10 for the Kraken against the Canucks. High-danger chances were 16-to-5 for the Canucks against the Blackhawks and 15-to-3 for the Kraken against the Canucks.

You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect example of how much the Canucks are stuck in the murky middle of the NHL.

Well, you could. If it was a perfect example, then the Canucks wouldn’t be playing on the second half of back-to-back games. That might provide some explanation for their sluggishness against the speedy Kraken, who had a three-day break between games. 

Honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing for the Kraken that it took them seven attempts to beat the Canucks for the very first time and that they needed to be rested against a tired Canucks to do it. Sure, that’s the narrative we’ll go with. 

New head coach Rick Tocchet, however, wasn’t making any excuses for his team, as he tore them to shreds in his postgame media availability.

“Woof, that was bad tonight, that was bad,” said Tocchet. “Soft. You hate to call your team soft, but it was soft tonight. We didn’t participate on the wall battles, we didn’t get a rim out…We were just talking, the coaching staff — man, I wish I had ten practices, I really do, because it shows tonight that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

At one point, Tocchet was essentially speechless when asked about the difference between how the team performed from one game to another, something that had also vexed Bruce Boudreau.

“I don’t know what to say, I really don’t,” said Tocchet after trying to form a sentence several times before continuing on with some of the same talking points he’s used before about living for another shift and not needing to make a homerun play. 

It’s like Tocchet was smacked in the face with the reality of the situation — this is not a good team.

It’s easy to watch from a distance and see Elias Pettersson looking like an elite forward, Bo Horvat in the top ten in goalscoring, other star players like J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes, and recognizable veteran names like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers and think, “There are some good pieces here, the team can’t be that bad, right?”

It’s only Tocchet’s second game on the job. Maybe with some more time, he can put into place some different systems that truly help the Canucks get a handle on their defensive struggles.

The trouble is that it’s awfully hard to tell whether a team’s defensive struggles are because their systems aren’t good enough or if the players are not good enough to play the system. In both cases, the end result is about the same.

The end result was about the same as most of the rest of the Canucks’ season when I watched this game.

  • It was almost comical how much the Kraken dominated the Canucks in the first period. The Kraken were all over the Canucks like they were the Black Pearl,   as the Canucks could barely get the puck out of the zone by chipping it out, let alone with possession. It was about as one-sided as a Möbius strip.  
  • Phil Di Giuseppe, who long-time Bulies will know I am a fan of, finally got to play his first game with the Vancouver Canucks, called up in place of Will Lockwood, who was injured on a hard but clean hit in the game against the Blackhawks. Di Giuseppe proceeded to have an absolutely calamitous first shift where he was stuck on the ice for over two minutes, primarily in the defensive zone, exacerbated by him icing the puck unnecessarily when he could have gained the red line. Not great!
  • Apart from that first shift, Di Giuseppe had a decent enough game, in the sense that he was only on the ice for one goal against, while some of his teammates were on the ice for two, three, or, in Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s case, five goals against.
  • Turnovers were a major issue, with two leading to the opening goal. First, after Spencer Martin made a save on an Eeli Tolvanen breakaway, Quinn Hughes blindly threw the puck off the glass under pressure for one turnover. Then Bo Horvat got a loose puck and made the softest possible pass out of the reach of Dakota Joshua for a second turnover. A moment later, Oliver Bjorkstrand pushed off Hughes to get enough space to fire home a rebound. The Canucks managed the puck about as well as someone promoted according to the Peter Principle.
  • The Canucks’ penalty kill managed to kill off all three Blackhawks power plays, mildly improving their historically-bad penalty kill. They proceeded to allow two goals on three Kraken power plays. It took eight seconds on the Kraken’s first power play to make it 2-0. A hard Jared McCann pass was tipped by Jordan Eberle to Alexander Wennberg at the side of the net for the easy finish.
  • The kill is hard to watch. Just before McCann’s pass, Bo Horvat is way too high at the top of the zone and J.T. Miller is on the far left, still with Andre Burakovsky instead of sliding into the middle to pressure Eberle in the slot. There’s just so much space in the most dangerous area of the ice because Horvat and Miller don’t adjust after the puck is passed from the point to McCann. Is that a coaching problem or a lack of defensive awareness by Horvat and Miller?


  • Tocchet quickly called a timeout after the second goal and he keyed in on all of the turnovers. “There were two opportunities to go north with it, which we did last night to advance the play and actually chase the puck down and win a battle,” said Tocchet after the game. “For some reason, we regroup, the weak-side winger is staying wide, nobody wants the puck — I don’t…I’ve been here a short time, four or five days, and from what I was told, this group has a tough time putting back-to-back, predictable hockey efforts together. We’ve got a long way to go.”
  • Tyler Myers ought to get a call from the Department of Player Safety for this entirely unnecessary and cheap hit on Matty Beniers well away from the puck. Worse, it appeared to be retaliatory for a rather inconsequential hit on the boards a moment earlier. Beniers’ head appeared to bounce off the ice — he left the game and didn’t return. 
  • The Kraken cashed in on the subsequent power play when Dakota Joshua and Elias Pettersson were too aggressive at the top of the zone, leaving the soft underbelly of the penalty kill exposed to the danger of a cross-seam pass. Andre Burakovsky zipped the puck across to Jared McCann, who had all the time he needed to find a hole in Martin as he slid across.
  • Eeli Tolvanen took advantage of some defensive zone confusion to blast a one-timer past a screened Martin to make it 4-0 a couple of minutes later. Elias Pettersson switched off Tolvanen to take Yanni Gourde, who was open with the puck, but the only player who could then take Tolvanen was Travis Dermott, who was sitting deep in the slot, checking nobody. He charged out to Tolvanen, but only served as even more of a screen for Martin. 
  • You might hope that Martin would stop one or two of the Kraken goals that got past him but he made so many other fantastic saves that it’s hard to be too critical. The Kraken were clinical in picking apart the Canucks’ defence, with far too many wide-open chances, breakaways, and odd-man rushes. This loss was not Martin’s fault.
  • Case in point, the Kraken’s fifth goal. The Canucks were chasing all over the zone — see if you can spot the issue in the screenshot below.


  • Despite this being a 5-on-5 situation, three Kraken skaters are somehow completely open. The Kraken passed the puck all around the Canucks, eventually setting up Bjorkstrand with a pass across the Royal Road that had Martin desperately trying to charge out to cut off the angle, because no one else was pressuring Bjorkstrand in the slightest. Bjorkstrand may as well have been in the Accuracy Shooting event at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition with how much time he had to load up his shot.
  • The Canucks finally got one goal on the board late in the second period thanks to some strong work down low by Curtis Lazar. He fought off two Kraken — which sounds immensely badass — to get the puck to Dakota Joshua, then swung out front and swatted in Joshua’s deflected centring pass. It looked like Lazar’s first goal in 35 games, but the puck actually skeeballed in off Conor Garland’s stick.
  • Yet another turnover led to the 6-1 goal in the third period. Myers chased down a puck along the boards but instead of immediately chipping it up those boards to Di Giuseppe, he tried to pull the puck back and immediately lost it to the pressure from Morgan Geekie and McCann. The puck came across to Ryan Donato, who caught Martin off-guard with a backhand shot that was probably the softest goal of the night on Martin.
  • Towards the end of the game, you could hear a “Bruce, there it is” chant ringing out at Climate Pledge Arena. Credit to the Kraken fans — that’s some quality trolling.
  • I mean, at least the Boudreau-coached Canucks went up 3-0 before giving up four or five unanswered goals.
  • Kidding! This was just a dreadful game all around and Tocchet now seems well aware of the difficulty of the task ahead of him. Let’s see how he handles it.
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