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IWTG: Canucks get burned by the Flames in disastrous second period

J.T. Miller: “We’ve just gotta be better pros. We get paid a lot of money to do this.”
graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

“I’m not worried about Petey.”

Any time that Elias Pettersson was in a minor slump last season, the above was Travis Green’s regular refrain. The Canucks head coach had learned that Pettersson was never far from figuring it out and bouncing back, so he was never overly concerned.

At what point do you start to worry?

Pettersson has yet to score a goal through the first four games. He hasn’t recorded a point in the last three games, his first three-game pointless streak since his rookie season. Beyond the points, he and his linemates aren’t controlling possession the way fans are used to: of the Canucks to play all four games this season, Pettersson has the team’s worst corsi percentage and the team has been out-shot 39-to-24 when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5.

On Monday night, with the return of J.T. Miller to the Canucks lineup and his wing, it didn’t get any better for Pettersson. The Canucks were out-shot 8-to-2 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 and out-attempted 11-to-5. 

To top it off, Pettersson took two of the Canucks’ seven penalties, both of them in the second period, which played a significant role in the momentum shifting in the Flames’ direction after a solid first period. Both were undisciplined penalties seemingly borne out of frustration.

After the game, however, Pettersson was front and centre to face the media after the game and didn’t shy away from owning up to his mistakes.

“I took two dumb penalties. Not acceptable,” said Pettersson. “I was just disappointed in myself for letting the team down by taking another stupid penalty...It’s not going to happen again.”

Beyond the two penalties, which are certainly out of character for someone who only took nine minor penalties all of last season, Pettersson knows that he hasn’t been good enough to start the season.

“I think I can do a lot of better stuff out there,” he said. “I think I’m maybe not playing with the best confidence right now and playing too stationary. I need to move my feet. I’m an easy target if I’m not moving my feet, so I’ve got to be better.” 

While Pettersson does need to be better, he’s certainly not the only one, and the returning Miller made a blunt assessment of the team’s performance with the quote of the night.

“We’ve just gotta be better pros. We get paid a lot of money to do this,” said Miller.

“We have to evaluate our game honestly and go from there,” he added and that’s where I’m going to start. I’m going to evaluate this game honestly because I watched this game.

  • Let’s be clear: Pettersson will figure it out. He’ll be fine. He’ll make adjustments, the puck will start going into the net, and he’ll get his confidence back. It’s not time to worry just yet.
  • Like the show Heroes, the Canucks started out so well, then went completely off the rails after a strong first season/period. To make matters worse, the second period of this game didn’t even feature Kristen Bell as a saving grace. Disappointing.
  • The Canucks out-shot the Flames 16-to-4 in the first period. “We had the most ideal start you could have,” said Miller. “Carried the play in the first, had a good mentality going into the second and they outplayed us for the next 40 minutes.”
  • The start wasn’t entirely ideal: the Canucks only scored one goal. Really, the first period was all-too familiar for Canucks fans. With his teammates outplayed in front of him, Jacob Markstrom was a brick wall, keeping his team in the game long enough for them to take over and win. It’s just that he did it for the Flames instead of the Canucks. 
  • Adam Gaudette was flying in the first. All five of his shots on goal came in the first period, including three Grade-A scoring chances. Twice he stole the puck on the forecheck and was in alone on Markstrom, but just couldn’t beat him, with his last attempt going off the shaft of Markstrom's stick. He was getting stoned more than Saint Stephen.
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  • Jake Virtanen, freed from a top-six role, thrived on the third line with Gaudette in the first period. Virtanen opened the scoring by cutting across the top of the offensive zone as defencemen Olli Juolevi and Tyler Myers jumped up to the front of the net. With Juolevi screening, Virtanen’s wrist shot from the point hit Flames’ defenceman Juuso Valimaki and banked in.
  • Nothing could better illustrate how out of sync the top line is than the first-period 2-on-0 for Pettersson and Brock Boeser. What seemed like a sure goal didn’t even result in a shot on net, as Boeser’s pass was too far ahead of Pettersson, who couldn’t dive out to redirect the puck home. They couldn’t be less in sync if they were 98 Degrees.
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  • Still, the Canucks were up 1-0 after the first period and were in control. Then they got out-shot 20-to-3 in the second period. It was the worst middle frame since the triptych painting The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus by Dieric Bouts, and that depicts a grotesque disembowelling. 
  • Green gave a succinct diagnosis when asked by Sportsnet 650’s Brendan Batchelor what happened between the first and second periods: “That’s an easy answer, Batch: penalties and turnovers. Bad combination.”
  • The first Flames goal was off a Nate Schmidt turnover behind his own net during a long fourth-line shift in the defensive zone. The turnover caused a domino effect: Tyler Motte covered for Schmidt after the turnover, but lost his stick behind the net. With Motte momentarily out of position, Brandon Sutter didn’t realize that there was no one to cover Johnny Gaudreau heading to the net. Unlike the Canucks, Gaudreau made no mistake.
  • On the second goal, every Canuck on the ice backchecked hard, but not everyone backchecked smart. Instead, most were fixated on the puck, with Virtanen and Travis Hamonic the main offenders. Just look at the screenshot below: Quinn Hughes is the only one taking a man, so no one’s covering Mikael Backlund in the slot when the puck pops out to him.
NHL Highlights _ Canucks @ Flames 1_18_21 3-59 screenshotWhen you backcheck, take a man.
  • The third goal of the period was on a 5-on-3 power play where Jay Beagle wasn’t able to take away the cross-seam pass for a one-timer. Then in the third period, the Canucks gave up another power play goal when Hamonic got too cute with a pass between his legs, accidentally putting the puck on a tee for Mark Giordano in the high slot. The Canucks penalty kill this season has given up 7 goals on 21 power plays — one goal every three power plays. Not great, Bob!
  • The Canucks got a goal back in an incredibly unlikely way: Tyler Myers scored a shorthanded goal. Myers made a great play at his own blue line to steal the puck, then drove the other way. His centring pass to Antoine Roussel, who joined the rush, was tipped into his own net by Mark Giordano. That means both Canucks goals went in off Flames players, so technically the Canucks still haven’t scored a goal on Markstrom.
  • Fortunately, the road trip is over and the Canucks will return to the cozy confines of Rogers Arena for a six-game homestand starting Wednesday. Hopefully the Canucks can shake off their road woes and establish some winning habits in a hurry.