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IWTG: Canucks can't get a goal against the Oilers, what is this world coming to?

Canucks can't score, fly, fight, or crow — they're not the Pan.
The Canucks couldn't muster up a goal against Mike Smith and the Oilers. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

We should have known the Canucks would get shut out by the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. It was inevitable. 

Thirteen minutes before the puck was dropped for the opening faceoff, the Canucks Twitter account shared a contest where fans could win their Reverse Retro jerseys. They would give away one jersey for ever goal the Canucks scored.

It’s the exact same thing they tweeted out for the first game of their homestand on February 19th: one jersey for every goal. The end result? A shutout loss to the Winnipeg Jets — no goals scored to celebrate with a jersey giveaway.

Is it hubris to tempt fate again? Did they not heed the warning given to them by the hockey gods that such pride would not go unpunished? Did they think it was just a coincidence that the Canucks got shut out the first time they ran this promotion?

See, because it’s so much easier to blame a tweet than to investigate and properly parcel out blame to the Canucks’ management, coaching staff, and players. It’s more fun too.

To point the finger at the real culprit means to call out a real human being. Certainly, there are real human beings behind the Canucks’ Twitter and marketing team, but no one is actually blaming them for any of this. It’s a goof. We say, “Of course, they got shut out,” shake our fists at the nonexistent hockey gods, and try to laugh at the dreadful state the Canucks are in because it’s preferable to the alternative.

The painful truth is the Canucks squandered an excellent goaltending performance from Thatcher Demko and ensured they’ll finish the month of February with just two wins in 13 games. They’re currently 8-14-2, picking up just 37.5% of the available points so far this season.

Only the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have a lower points percentage than the Canucks and they both have two games in hand. If those two teams win their two games in hand, the Canucks will be dead last in the NHL.

Things are bad. Really bad. It’s there’s-no-sugar-coating-or-silver-lining bad. It’s time-to-start-reading-draft-previews bad. For longtime readers of Pass it to Bulis, it’s LA Kings bad. It’s almost, but not quite, Star-Wars-Christmas-Special bad.

Just as I suffered through the Star Wars Christmas Special, I also suffered when I watched this game.

  • Here’s the thing: this stretch of 8 or 9 games is the best the Canucks have played all season and they have just two wins to show for it. They played well in this game! And they couldn’t score a goal. That’s what feels the most hopeless — their best isn’t even close to good enough.
  • Mike Smith was phenomenal in the Oilers’ goal, as the veteran goaltender stared down chance after chance and turned them all aside. In a season where the average save percentage league wide is the lowest it’s been in over a decade, the 39-year-old Smith is somehow having a career year, with a league-leading .944 save percentage. Quite frankly, goaltending is nonsense and should be abolished.
  • “A lot of times when you're watching a game, it looks a lot easier [to score] than it actually is,” said Travis Green, “and you've got to give their goalie credit too. He played a hell of a game.”
  • Thatcher Demko was also fantastic. He made some truly stunning saves and stared down multiple breakaways. His left pad stop on Leon Draisaitl looked miraculous in real time, as it appeared the Oilers forward had a wide open net until Demko made a desperate lunge to take it away. 
  • Then there was this ludicrous display against Connor McDavid, as Demko, seemingly down and out, still got his right pad across to take away a goal. 
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  • That save was almost immediately overshadowed by the game’s opening goal. Alex Chiasson got the puck down low on the power play with space to turn and shoot. Demko anticipated a short side shot and sealed the post, but Chiasson sent it off the far post and in. 
  • Demko even had to deal with getting run over by Josh Archibald early on. “My job is to try and keep an eye on the puck there,” said Demko. “The play's coming downstream towards the net. With some of the rule changes and things like that, you just don't know if a goal is going to get called back or what have you, so you've got to make sure that you, first and foremost, you're taking care of the puck and whatever happens to you after that is gonna happen and you're gonna have to deal with it.”
  • The Canucks switched up their lines heading into the game, with J.T. Miller demoted to the third line, Nils Höglander in his spot on the top line, and Jake Virtanen bumped up to the second line. Aside from a couple of early penalties, Virtanen had a strong game, with multiple scoring chances, while Höglander had a team-high five shots on goal. Like a kid in the early 2000’s when their parents were on the phone, they couldn’t hit the net. 
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  • “I liked the look of our lines,” said Green. “I really liked our 5-on-5 game, especially the first two periods. I thought all three lines had some good looks. Jake could have had a couple goals, Gauds could have had a couple goals. Then you talk about Hogs, he's been a player that we can kind of put anywhere and play well so far. So I like the new look and we'll watch the tape again over the next few days and see what we go back to.”
  • Virtanen was legitimately unlucky not to get a goal. At one point he was robbed by Smith, then jammed at the rebound, but the puck ended up sitting on the goal line, halfway into the net. Unfortunately, halfway only counts if you’re Zeno of Elea.
  • Höglander couldn’t finish any of his chances, but he did finish a massive hit on Kris Russell. It might be the biggest Canucks hit of the year so far and it was delivered by their shortest player.
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  • The Oilers put this game away for good with a fortunate bounce on the power play. Draisaitl took a shot from in deep, looking for a rebound. Jesse Puljujarvi swatted at the rebound and it ramped up Tyler Myers’ stick and found a gap between Demko and the post. It didn’t seem to matter that there was still over 7 minutes left — the game was effectively over.
  • The difference was ultimately special teams. The Oilers went 2-for-5 on the power play, while the Canucks went 0-for-4. The biggest missed opportunity was when they started the third period with a full two-minute power play. They struggled to gain the zone and get set up and, when they did, they had five shot attempts, but not one was on goal. Three were blocked and two missed the net — with a golden opportunity to tie the game, they didn't force Smith to make a single save.
  • HockeyViz has the Canucks at an 8% chance of making the playoffs. Those are just pure numbers, but my gut says those odds are a tad too high. It’s hard to see even an 8% chance that this team can find a way to turn the season around with nearly half of their games already played.