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IWTG: Canucks defence gets exposed by Canadiens in crushing defeat

Bo Horvat’s two goals were eclipsed by his team’s dreadful defensive play.
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graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Vancouver Canucks used eight defencemen all of last season and really it was only seven. The eighth was Ashton Sautner, who played all of 2:49 in one game.

This season, the Canucks have already used eight different defencemen and, with Jalen Chatfield leaving the game with an upper-body injury and Tyler Myers potentially going to get suspended for a hit to the head late in Thursday night’s game, that number could grow in a hurry.

It’s a testament to how fortunate the Canucks were last season to stay mostly healthy on defence, never really digging deeper than their seventh defenceman on the depth chart, and also how unlucky the Canucks have been this season to have a slew of injuries on defence so early on.

But wasn’t this predictable? Alex Edler hasn’t played a full season without injury since 2012. Travis Hamonic has never played a full season and missed 20 games last season. Then there’s the shortened season played in a tighter timeframe with less time for rest and recovery between games — injuries were inevitable.

With that in mind, it’s troubling that just six games into the season, the Canucks iced a defence corps that was half rookies: Chatfield, Olli Juolevi, and Brogan Rafferty all dressed for the Canucks. What’s even more troubling is that the rookie defencemen were the least of the Canucks’ concerns — their veteran defencemen were by far the bigger problem.

That’s what worried me most when I watched this game.

  • In a game where Tyler Myers was the oldest, most experienced defenceman in the lineup, the last thing the Canucks needed was for him to take three minor penalties, then blindside hit someone when the game was out of reach for a major penalty and a possible suspension. I’m pretty sure the coaching staff gave him those exact instructions, word-for-word.
     
  • Between the penalties, Myers got dominated at 5-on-5. Shot attempts were 28-to-6 for the Canadiens when Myers was on the ice. No one was particularly good tonight, but Myers was doubleplusungood. 
     
  • Of the rookie defencemen, Brogan Rafferty got off to a rough start, losing the puck to Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the defensive zone, which led directly to Tyler Toffoli’s opening goal. Yes, Toffoli opened the scoring after a hat trick on Wednesday night. It gets worse.
     
  • Myers did do one good thing in this game. A minute after Toffoli opened the scoring, Myers stole the puck from Tomas Tatar in the offensive zone and threw it on net, where Bo Horvat was waiting to tip it in to tie the game. 
     
  • In many ways, this game started off like a reflection of Wednesday’s game, with the two teams trading goals. There were even three goals scored on Canucks power plays. The only difference was that two of them were shorthanded goals for the Canadiens.
     
  • The Canadiens took a 2-1 lead when Nate Schmidt whiffed on a stretch pass while on the power play. Toffoli stole the puck, drew in Schmidt, then sent Joel Armia in on a breakaway, where he used both his armias and his handias to shoot the puckia with his stickia into the netia.
     
  • Horvat had the response again, this time on the power play, finishing off a J.T. Miller one-touch pass. It was a carbon copy of one of his goals from Wednesday, but since kids these days have no idea what a carbon copy is, the Canadiens’ penalty kill was powerless to stop it.
  • The first period, then, was pretty good overall for the Canucks, but unlike Chardonnay, this game did not get better over time. The second period was a disasterpiece.
     
  • The Canucks were out-shot 18-to-3 in the second period and gave up four unanswered goals. The Canucks even had two power plays in that time. It was gross, gross hockey. 
     
  • "We weren't just giving up scoring chances, we were giving up goals," said head coach Travis Green. "We gift-wrapped probably four to five goals...In this league, if you give up chances that are gifts, you're going to lose bad. We did that tonight."
     
  • The 3-2 goal came off a brutal Elias Pettersson giveaway on the power play at the top of the zone, allowing a 2-on-0 the other way that Toffoli finished off for his second of the night. Thatcher Demko bit so hard on Toffoli’s fake shot that I’m worried he might have broken a tooth.
     
  • On the 4-2 goal, Myers got caught deep in the Canadiens zone and stopped skating on the backcheck as Nick Suzuki got a breakaway. Unfortunately, so did Adam Gaudette and J.T. Miller, which meant the trailer, Josh Anderson, was wide open to bat in the rebound after Demko robbed Suzuki.
     
  • Nine seconds later, it was 5-2. Nate Schmidt stepped up in the neutral zone off the faceoff, leaving Olli Juolevi outnumbered. No one picked up Jake Evans at the backdoor — Bo Horvat was the closest — and he gave the Canadiens a three-goal lead.
     
  • Just over a minute later, Myers gave the puck away on a weak clearing attempt, then didn’t pick up Armia going to the net and he cut right through the slot and backhanded the puck past Demko to make it 6-2. The only way you could tell Myers wasn’t one of the three rookie defencemen in the lineup is that he wasn’t subsequently benched.
     
  • Green tried every combination of his forward lines he could to try to get some sort of offensive spark. Pettersson, Horvat, and Nils Höglander — one of the few Canucks players that seemed to play with any sort of drive or passion as this game progressed — were put together at one point. Brock Boeser and Miller started the third period with Horvat, while Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen lined up with Pettersson. At one point, Gaudette was centring Miller and Boeser. Nothing seemed to work.
     
  • The Canucks did get one more goal and it was a fantastic one from an unlikely source. Brandon Sutter moved in on the left wing, then completely undressed Alexander Romanov, putting the puck through the rookie defenceman’s legs before stepping around him. Sutter, spun around with his back to the goal, then unleashed an absurd backhand into the top corner, post and in. This game didn’t deserve a goal that pretty.
  • “You want to score when it’s an important goal in a tight game. It was just kind of whatever,” said Sutter about taking something from that goal. “When you’re down by that many — I was hoping we were going to get that fourth one, we had a couple chances to make it 6-4 with about 10-12 minutes left and that would’ve really opened it up for us.”
     
  • There was a little bit of ugliness to end the game. Philip Danault caught Brock Boeser in Burrows and the Twins with his stick, causing Boeser to cry out in pain and collapse to the ice right in front of the referee. He left the ice in some discomfort because, as he appeared to tell Pettersson at the bench, he was hit “right in the balls.”
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  • The uglier moment was Myers’ hit on Armia, which came from the blind side while Armia was battling for the puck with two other Canucks. There’s some debate whether Myers hit him in the chest or caught his head, but Armia reportedly has a concussion.