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IWTG: Brock Boeser's last-minute goal salvages a point, but Canucks still lose a winnable game to the Flames

A winnable game slipped through the Canucks' fingers thanks to mental mistakes.
The Vancouver Canucks couldn't overcome their mistakes in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks might slowly bleed out this season from self-inflicted wounds.

All three goals scored by the Calgary Flames in regulation were a result of unforced errors by the Canucks. On the first goal, it was a failure to get the puck out of the defensive zone leading to a defensive breakdown as a result of tired legs. The second goal came from a turnover at the offensive blue line and an odd-man rush the other way. And the third was from a terrible decision to pass the puck up the middle from behind the net.

“Obviously, we made a few mistakes and if we don’t make those, I think we win the hockey game,” said Brock Boeser. “Overall, we still played a good game, but there are still some small details that we’ve got to fix.”

Those small details had big repercussions. There’s a reason why so many NHL coaches gravitate towards a conservative approach to the game — mistakes so often end up in the back of your net. What should have been a win instead required a near-miraculous goal for the Canucks to even get the game to overtime, which lasted all of 23 seconds before the Flames scored and stole the victory.

“We shouldn’t have gone to overtime in the first place,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who took responsibility for the giveaway on the second goal. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ve just got to learn from it and move on.”

As much as the Canucks management has been in the crosshairs this season, their puck management has been even more suspect. It looked like an aspect of their game they had cleaned up over the last week or so, but it reared its ugly head again on Monday night.

Part of it was adjustments made by the Flames after the Canucks kept them to just 19 shots last game. Horvat pointed out how the Flames sent forwards in behind the Canucks defence to take advantage of the Canucks’ aggressive approach in the neutral zone, which meant turnovers could quickly turn into odd-man rushes the other way.

Boeser, on the other hand, pointed to a detail in the Canucks’ game that needs to take a step forward.

“I think just making tape-to-tape passes. There’s times where we’re getting passes in our skates, so you’ve got to try to handle it and get it to your stick to make plays,” said Boeser. “Even last game, you saw when we were making tape-to-tape passes for most of the game, how clean our breakouts were, how clean everything was. I think that’s a little detail that we can continue to get better at and will definitely help our game.”

Clean tape-to-tape passes may help in the future and they definitely would have made it more enjoyable when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks’ power play got two goals tonight, but that’s not an accurate representation of how well the power play actually performed. They were, quite frankly, a mess, and only managed six shots on their six opportunities. Boeser’s point about tape-to-tape passes can definitely be applied to the power play, which was about as crisp as a bag of Five Guys fries 20 minutes after purchase.
  • “There’s been games where I’ve said [the power play has] been good and they just haven’t scored,” said Green. “I didn’t think they were very good tonight.”
  • That’s about as blunt as Green gets when delivering criticism. “I just didn’t think they were sharp, passing wasn’t sharp on the outside,” he added. “Give the other team credit too — when you get in mini-series like this, teams do make adjustments as the series goes on and their penalty killers did a good job tonight, but I thought our power play could have been better. You’re not always going to score, but sometimes momentum is gained and lost with a power play. We expect that a lot out of those guys.”
  • The second unit hadn’t scored a single power play goal heading into this game and it looked like they were once again out of luck, as Tanner Pearson’s opening goal was initially ruled as happening after the power play expired. The official gamesheet now scores it as a power play goal, so chalk one up for the other guys.
  • The goal came after a truly atrocious power play that couldn’t gain the zone, let alone get set up. At the end, however, they got an offensive zone faceoff, won the puck, and Pearson tipped in a Quinn Hughes slap shot with a downward chop — we’ll call it a slap chop and hope Vince Offer doesn’t sue us.  
  • The Flames kept gifting the Canucks chances with the man advantage, possibly because they saw how hapless their power play was. That only applied at 5-on-4, however. When the Flames gave them a lengthy 5-on-3 power play, the Canucks went from casual to clinical. J.T. Miller faked the shot, then passed to Boeser, who one-touched it to Horvat for the quick finish from the slot to make it 2-0.
  • Juuso Valimaki had an interesting strategy for avoiding a too many men on the ice penalty: launch himself into the bench like Vladimir Yashchenko. Mark Giordano is lucky he still has an ear.
  • After the Canucks took the 2-0 lead, the Flames pushed back hard, forcing two icings from the Canucks and a long shift from the fourth line. Jake Virtanen had a clear opportunity to move the puck out of the zone, but waited too long and got hit by Milan Lucic, extending the shift in the defensive zone. Eventually, Lucic got open in the high slot thanks to some puck-watching by Jay Beagle and Lucic smacked in a one-timer.
  • The Flames tied the game 2-2 midway through the second thanks to a dreadful turnover by Horvat. His pass to Hughes was like Sriracha: weak sauce. The Flames broke the other way and Elias Lindholm ripped a shot past Thatcher Demko’s blocker.
  • “It was a pass that should’ve been harder,” said Horvat. “It was a little miscommunication between Huggy and I. Ultimately, I’ve just got to move that over to him quicker.”
  • The 3-2 goal was just bizarre. Demko moved the puck to Nate Schmidt from behind the net, then Schmidt tried to force a pass up the middle to Antoine Roussel while Demko was still getting back into his net. Dillon Dube got his stick on the puck, which deflected into the net off Demko’s skate. Schmidt could only look skyward as he came to a full realization of the mean of “Canuck luck.”
  • Nils Höglander continues to impress. He had a team-high five shots on goal and eight shot attempts, but beyond that, the Canucks dominated possession when he was on the ice, out-shooting the Flames 11-to-5. He was winning battles like another short king, Napoleon. At some point, his high volume of shots is going to lead to a high volume of goals, especially if he keeps driving to the net.
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  • “He’s playing a strong game right now,” said Green about Höglander. “He seems to be getting better as the season goes on. There’s still subtle things in his game that we’re trying to teach him from game-to-game. We talk about puck management, there’s some areas in the neutral zone where he could probably clean that up a little bit, but he’s very coachable, he works extremely hard, and you’ve got a lot of time for young players like that.”
  • The Canucks had a very good third period, particularly early on, but couldn’t crack Markstrom. Puck management issues still cropped up, like when a Jordie Benn pass in Boeser’s skates — like he mentioned after the game — ended up in a giveaway, but Boeser poured on the gas like a member of the Vancouver media and dove out to prevent a breakaway.
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  • “We talked about not complicating the game after the second period,” said Green. “We talked about the temperature of the game, the type of game it was. It was a gritty game out there, it was a bit of a greasy game. You had to fight for space. We talked about not over-complicating the game in the third and getting pucks behind them and recovering pucks and getting shots. I liked our third period.”
  • Even given the strong third, it looked like it would be all for nought when Hughes, after a two-minute long shift, took a penalty with just 1:40 left in the game. It seemed impossible that the Canucks could tie the game while on the penalty kill for the rest of regulation, but the Canucks took Billy Corgan to heart when he said, “The impossible is possible tonight.”
  • With Demko pulled for the extra attacker to skate 5-on-5, the Canucks got an offensive zone faceoff. Horvat won the draw — he was 17-for-24 in the game — and a few quick passes gave Boeser a wide open shot from the top of the left faceoff circle with Miller screening Markstrom. Boeser fired a bullet off the post, making a fire bell sound, but don't fear: it was the inside of the post and still went in. 
  • Boeser is now second in the NHL in goal-scoring with 11 goals in 19 games, a 47-goal pace over a regular 82-game season. He’s been good, folks. 
  • Unfortunately, the last-minute game-tying goal didn’t change the fact that the Canucks were still on the penalty kill. Green sent out his top penalty killers — Jay Beagle, Alex Edler, and Tyler Myers — but they couldn’t keep Johnny Gaudreau from firing a one-timer, which barely snuck inside the post, just like Lindholm barely kept his skate onside on the zone entry. Thanks to the change to the offside rule this season, players no longer need to keep their skate touching the ice to stay onside and the heel of Lindholm’s skate was still over the blue line by a millimetre or two. 
  • The Canucks got one point out of this game, but instead of feeling like they gained a point with Boeser’s last-minute goal, it still felt like a lost opportunity. This was an eminently winnable game and the Canucks are not in a position to throw away potential wins because of how they started the season. They’re not just shooting themselves in the foot; they’re shooting themselves in the foot with a nail gun that’s sticking their foot to the floor, preventing them from making any forward progress. It’s time to wear some proper work boots with steel toes, I guess.
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