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IWTG: Canucks left salty after peppering Jacob Markstrom in loss to the Flames

The Canucks lost their sixth-straight game on Thursday, falling to the Flames 3-1.
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The Canucks lost their sixth-straight game on Thursday, falling to the Flames 3-1. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Thursday’s game followed a familiar script for the Vancouver Canucks. Jacob Markstrom faced way too many shots early, but stood on his head, keeping his team in the game until they could push back and get a goal or two of their own. He was particularly good on the penalty kill, keeping the opposing power play off the board despite some great chances.

The only problem was that Markstrom was in the wrong net. 

Over the past couple of years, the Canucks got used to Markstrom keeping them in games despite shot totals heavily tilted against them. Now the Calgary Flames get to be the beneficiaries of the same.

The Canucks played a strong game, peppering Markstrom with 10 shots in the opening 10 minutes and out-shooting the Flames 34-to-26 overall. They created a lot of good scoring chances and were solid defensively until late in the game when they tried to force plays while down by two goals.

Arguably, the Canucks should have been ahead by a goal or two after the first period instead of down by one. But last season there were many instances when they should have been down by one or two after the first period, but Markstrom kept them in the game. It’s much less fun being on the other side of that.

Combine a great performance from Markstrom with a couple of bad bounces and it’s easy to see a moral victory in this game. The Canucks were the better team, but got undone by luck and a goaltender standing on his head. If the Canucks keep playing like this, they’ll bust their losing streak sooner rather than later.

The only trouble is, there are only 56 games this season and the Canucks were already projected to be a team on the playoff bubble that needed a lot of bounces to go their way. If the bounces don’t go their way, like they didn’t in this game, they’re simply not a good enough team to overcome the odds.

Maybe I’m just being pessimistic, but then again, it’s easy to be pessimistic after seeing the Canucks lose their sixth straight when I watched this game.

  • It was the first game back in Rogers Arena since signing with the Flames for former Canucks Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Josh Leivo. Even with no fans in the building, the Canucks made a tribute video for the three of them, but maybe they shouldn’t have. They combined all three players into one video, with a pair of highlights for each, and it came off as rather half-assed. I always say, if you’re not going to whole-ass it, don’t even bother. 
     
  • Nils Höglander continues to impress on a game-by-game, if not shift-by-shift basis. He created several scoring chances for himself with his slick skating and battle level, and had 7 shot attempts, second only to Pettersson. Head coach Travis Green clearly noticed, giving him 19:10 in ice time, the most since his second game of the season. 
     
  • “He’s been a pleasant surprise for our team. The exciting thing is I think he’s still getting used to the league, it’s only been 17 games for him,” said Green. “As good as he’s playing, there are little things that we see in his game that I think will just improve and we’re just trying to let him just play. I think smart players pick it up as they go, especially offensively.”
     
  • He had fancier moments in the game, but this clip below was my favourite Höglander moment because it’s such a mature play. He comes back defensively to break up a chance for Matthew Tkachuk, wins a puck battle and breaks the other way, then smartly pulls up inside the blue line and draws two defenders to himself before finding the trailer, Alex Edler, who gets to walk right up Main Street for a fantastic chance.
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  • Jordie Benn did the right thing on the Flames’ opening goal, tying up Matthew Tkachuk’s stick in front to prevent a deflection. Unfortunately, he became the deflection, as Mark Giordano’s point shot deflected in off his skate. It was a lucky bounce, but the Flames’ power play had already worn out the Canucks’ penalty kill with relentless pressure, which has a tendency to increase the odds of a lucky bounce.
     
  • It seemed like Justin Bailey, like Miles Teller in Whiplash, was just starting to find his rhythm, so it was a shame that Milan Lucic hit him right in the numbers early in the second period, causing an injury somewhere in the vicinity of his left shoulder. It’s also a shame, or rather shameful, that neither of the referees saw anything wrong with the hit, which went unpenalized.
  • Lucic didn’t get a penalty, but at least Elias Pettersson made him look stupid, slipping the puck between Lucic’s legs in the defensive zone before springing Brock Boeser on a breakaway with a brilliant bank pass. Markstrom stopped his first chance, but couldn’t find the puck before Boeser banged in the rebound to tie the game 1-1.
     
  • Adam Gaudette had a great chance to give the Canucks the lead off of a sublime stretch pass by Nate Schmidt. After a little bit of deceit, Schmidt sent a perfectly-weighted pass for Gaudette to split the Flames’ defence while staying onside, but Markstrom came up with the glove save.
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  • Schmidt had a strong game, but he got victimized by another unlucky bounce. Once again it was a split second after a Flames power play expired. Andrew Mangiapane’s shot was blocked by Benn, but the puck caromed off his leg, hit Schmidt, and went in. It was pretty Schmidtty luck, if you ask me.
     
  • “That’s never happened to me before,” said Schmidt, dumbfounded. “Bounced off of a guy and hit me and went in the net, in all my years of playing, I don’t think that’s ever happened. I kicked a puck to a guy last game and put it on his tape, I don’t think that’s ever happened to me...I’ve had pucks go off me, like a shot, but never a double-redirect off a guy, so things are happening like that.”
     
  • Honestly, “Things are happening like that” is a pretty apt slogan for the Canucks season.
     
  • The Canucks best chance to tie the game came after Höglander stole a puck in the offensive zone and drew a penalty. On the ensuing power play, J.T. Miller sent a hard pass to Boeser at the top of the crease and he deflected it right off the post with a resounding “ping.” It’s stunning it didn’t go in because this is only the second time all season that Boeser has only scored one goal in a game. Normally they come in pairs.
     
  • The Flames had a knack in this game for scoring right after power plays. For the 3-1 goal, it was after a Canucks power play: Sean Monahan came out of the box and picked off a pass by Tyler Myers, then sent Johnny Gaudreau in alone on a breakaway. Alex Edler was too late coming off the bench to catch Gaudreau, who flicked the puck top corner where heathens dog ear their books in lieu of a bookmark.
     
  • Heading into the season, Gaudette said, “When they shorten the bench late in the game, I want to be one of the guys who are out there and playing.” He got his wish in this game, sent out as the extra attacker when Green pulled Thatcher Demko while down by two goals. That seems like a vote of confidence for a player that was so recently a healthy scratch.
     
  • “I think Gauds has a good shot,” said Green. “I think everyone wants to be on the ice in the last couple minutes of a game, whether you are or not is usually determined by how you’re playing. I’ve liked his game the last couple games. It looks like he has a little bit of hop back in his skating and he’s had the puck more.”
     
  • Elias Pettersson is running out of ways to describe his frustration. Last game, he ended his media availability by trailing off while trying to answer a question, then saying, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” which was pretty understandable. After this game, he went for a grand roller coaster metaphor for both hockey and life, but lost control of it halfway through and had to abandon it with an agitated, “Whatever,” and as a person who has lost grip on innumerable metaphors in my life, I have never related to him more.