Thursday’s game between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks felt a little bit like a preseason game.
There were no real stakes, as both teams have been thoroughly eliminated from the playoffs. Just like in preseason games, star players like Elias Pettersson and Sean Monahan were not in the lineup, albeit because of season-ending injuries. And the only players who really had something to play for are the guys trying to make the team for next year.
That includes a guy like Matthew Highmore, who the Canucks acquired for Adam Gaudette at the trade deadline. Highmore bounced in and out of the lineup with the Chicago Blackhawks but he’s been given a prime opportunity to prove himself with the Canucks as he’s spent the last few games in the top-six on a line with Bo Horvat.
To be quite frank, the early returns haven’t been great for Highmore in that role, which is higher up the lineup than he’ll likely be asked to play in the future. But he did get the Canucks’ lone goal on Thursday night, which is typically a good way to stand out in a preseason game.
“Honestly, any game you get in this league, you’re looking to prove yourself and continuously get better,” said Highmore. “In the remaining games, I’ll continue to work hard, do the little details, and hopefully we get a couple of wins here.”
As for whether Highmore feels getting ice time with Horvat is a good sign for his future with the Canucks, Highmore played a classic blue-collar card: I’ll play wherever the coach wants me to play and do whatever I can to help the team win.
“Honestly, anything that I’m asked to do, I’m happy to do, whether it’s a checking role or trying to support these guys and make plays and whatnot,” he said. “Just trying to do my thing and help the team any way I can.”
Elsewhere in the lineup, Tyler Graovac and Travis Boyd are trying to make an argument to be the team’s fourth-line centre next season, while Olli Juolevi is getting his chance to finish the year strong and stay ahead of Jack Rathbone on the depth chart heading into next season.
That’s about it for intrigue in these games, though Jonah Gadjovich and Will Lockwood will likely get a look next week after the end of the Utica Comets season. They’re not in the lineup now because the Canucks are out of player recalls.
Is that enough to keep watching each of these games? You tell me. I, for one, had no choice but to watch this game.
- Highmore was involved from start to finish on his first goal as a Canuck. He stole the puck in the defensive zone and made a nice cross-ice pass to Brock Boeser to gain the zone. Boeser drove down the right wing, then pulled up to create some space and set up a Travis Hamonic one-timer. Highmore kept driving after his initial pass and was in place to tip Hamonic’s shot right under the bar where a New York City bartender keeps his baseball bat.
- “Boes made a great play, he drove the puck deep, pulled up, and made a great play to Hamonic,” said Highmore. “I just tried to get my stick on it and I honestly didn’t know it went in until I heard somebody scream. It was kind of right place, right time.”
- I like that Highmore used the word scream, rather than shout or yell. It makes me think one of his teammates saw the puck go in and just bellowed the Wilhelm Scream.
- The Flames quickly responded. After Nils Höglander and Bo Horvat couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, the Flames took advantage of a defensive breakdown by Nate Schmidt, who couldn’t take Elias Lindholm charging to the net. That forced Tanner Pearson to try to cover Lindholm, which left Rasmus Andersson wide open behind Pearson at the backdoor.
- Tyler Myers and Olli Juolevi were victimized on the 2-1 goal. Myers lost a puck battle to Joakim Nordstrom behind the net and Nordstrom fed Nikita Nesterov for a point shot. Meanwhile, Juolevi inexplicably went behind the net instead of taking Andrew Mangiapane in front and Mangiapane was wide open to tip in Nesterov’s shot.
- Honestly, I have no idea what Juolevi was thinking. This is one of the worst defensive reads I’ve ever seen in the NHL. It’s a shame too, as I thought Juolevi did some other good things — a couple of good defensive plays, one really nice stretch pass — but this one play basically negated anything else he did all game.
- Myers got some redemption a few minutes later, as he got his stick on a puck just before it crossed the line after Andersson made a nice move around an aggressive Thatcher Demko. Of course, in the ensuing chaos he also nearly shot the puck into his own net, instead hitting the post, but the puck didn’t go in, did it?
- At least Myers could admit it was him. “I was able to get a stick on that one when he tried to tuck it and then I think I got my stick on the next one and then I’m pretty sure it was me who shot it off the post,” he said with a wry smile. “A lot going on in that situation.”
- The Canucks’ top six and bottom six combined for a dominant performance early in the second period, hemming in the Flames for over three minutes. First the Miller line got the cycle started, then the line of Jimmy Vesey, Travis Boyd, and Zach MacEwen came over the boards and kept it going. They even got a third line of Jayce Hawryluk, Tyler Graovac, and Marc Michaelis out with the Flames still stuck on the ice, forcing an icing call to get the Miller line back out. Did they score? No, but the vibes were good.
- It’s easy to forget that Jimmy Vesey is 6’3” and over 200 lbs. Then he sits a guy like Derek Ryan flat on his tuchus with an open ice hit and reminds you. Sure would be nice to see that from him a little more often.
- Despite the lopsided 4-1 score, Thatcher Demko was solid, with little chance to stop any of the goals that got past him. His best save of the game came on Oliver “Duke of Hastings,” as he faced down a 3-on-2 and made a sliding glove save.
- With the power play struggling, the Canucks shook up the power play units, looking for a spark. Hughes, Schmidt, Höglander, Miller, and Boyd were on one unit, with Edler, Myers, Horvat, Boeser, and Pearson on the other. It was weird but worth a shot at this point. The second unit had the better looks, with Jacob Markstrom robbing Horvat off a Myers setup on their best chance.
- “Things haven’t exactly been running great for our power play,” said Green. “I thought the second group did some good things. Obviously, we only had the one power play...not so sure I agree with that.”
- It’s unusual for Green to comment on the officiating, so I had to follow up, specifically asking about a Matthew Tkachuk elbow on Schmidt in the third period.
- “That’s definitely a penalty if you’re gonna call the Vesey elbow — Vesey wasn’t an elbow, he just has the puck and the guy runs into his elbow,” said Green. “I don’t know if either one’s a penalty, but if Vesey’s is, that is for sure.”
- Let’s compare! First is the Tkachuk elbow, where he takes his left hand off his stick and elbows Schmidt in the chin. Then there’s the Vesey elbow, where his hand is on his stick the entire time as he makes a play on the puck. Which one seems more like a penalty to you?
- Already up 3-1 — a poor read by Myers gave Lindholm a breakaway from the blue line in for the third goal — the Flames made it 4-1 on the power play. Or rather, Miller made it 4-1, as he attempted to pick off a centring pass from Tkachuk, only to send the puck right over Demko’s glove for the own goal. That’s what happens when you put a goalscorer on the penalty kill, I guess. No wonder Green prefers to use guys like Jay Beagle.