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IWTG: Pettersson forces overtime against the Jets, but the Canucks are realizing moral victories don’t count

The Vancouver Canucks lost a third-period lead and the game to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.
The Vancouver Canucks lost a third-period lead and the game to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Canucks have points in four of their last five games, but it still feels like they’re letting the season slip away. The three games they’ve lost — two in overtime — were winnable games and feel like missed opportunities.

That includes Sunday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets. The Canucks took a 2-0 lead in the first period and seemed to have the game under control. Even when the Jets scored a goal in the second period, the Canucks were still largely carrying the play and had a lead going into the third period.

The Canucks had yet to lose a game when entering the third period with a lead, though it’s usually been a larger lead than 2-1. But then it all slipped away.

“We have a lead coming into the third, I think there's some plays that we want back,” said Pettersson. “We've got to be more crisp with the puck, we turned it over in a few areas. I was trying to make some plays, I was losing too many puck battles…”

At that point, Petterssson sighed heavily and added dejectedly, “I mean, we had the game in our hands but we kind of let it go.”

On an individual level, Pettersson had a great game, with two fantastic goals, including a last-minute bomb of a one-timer to force overtime. At the same time, he can’t feel good about being on the ice for three of the Jets’ four goals, including the overtime winner. He wasn’t directly at fault, per se, but he’s the type of player to feel personally responsible anyway.

It particularly hurts right now because every point you give up in the standings goes directly to a team in your division. If the Canucks come even close to the playoff hunt at the end of the season, these winnable games could come back to bite them.

“Disappointed not to get the two points, for sure,” said Brandon Sutter, who had the other goal for the Canucks. “We feel it in the room, we know we've been playing better hockey in the last two weeks here, we've been talking about it but at some point these moral victories, they don't really count. That sucks.”

There are no moral victories at this point. The Canucks have been playing far better over this last stretch than how they started the season, but there are only so many positives you can take from losses when you’re not actually gaining points in the standings. 

They’ve gotten 40.9% of the available points in their 22 games so far, better than only the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. In other words, they’re effectively 29th in the league — far closer to securing the first overall pick than a playoff spot. Thank heavens they at least have their first-round pick this season — if they had missed the playoffs last year, it would have belonged to the New Jersey Devils from the J.T. Miller trade. 

There’s time for the Canucks to right the ship, but not much. They’re going to have to go on an incredible run the rest of the season to have a chance at the playoffs and it’s unclear whether this team has it in them to make that kind of run. 

“This was an emotional loss, I think, for our group,” said head coach Travis Green. “We did a lot of good things tonight... it's just not going for our team right now the way they're playing. But that's reality and we've got to be honest with our game, honest with our team.”

I’ll be honest too and agree with Brandon Sutter. It sucked when I watched this game. 

  • Was it a moral victory when Zack MacEwen punched Derek Forbort a few times in retribution for the Jets defenceman going after Nils Höglander last game? The players on the Canucks bench, who were smiling and cheering on MacEwen might say so. The Canucks fans revelling in MacEwen’s decisive win might agree. It’s hard to see it as one when the realities of concussions and CTE are staring us in the face. Micheal Ferland suffered a concussion in a fight with Kyle Clifford in October, 2019 — 16 months later, he still hasn’t fully recovered and his NHL career may very well be over.
  • It would have been a lot more satisfying, to be honest, if the Canucks had scored a goal on either of the two power plays where Forbort was sitting in the penalty box. The opportunity was right there, people! The Sedins would be disappointed in you.
  • The Canucks did open the scoring thanks to that ever-rare commodity for them this season: a fortunate bounce. Sutter won an offensive zone faceoff and Jordie Benn sent a shot wide of the goal. Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck expected the shot to ricochet out to the other side of the net and, like Mance Rayder, he abandoned his post. Instead, the puck hit a seam and bounced back out on the same side and Sutter was first to it to chip it into the net.
  • Right from their first shift, the Lotto Line of Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller was buzzing like bees around Nicolas Cage’s face. They were pouring on the pressure like bees onto Nicolas Cage’s face, and kept winning the puck back and flying into the offensive zone, like bees into Nicolas Cage’s eyes.
  • On one of those buzzy shifts, Pettersson made it 2-0. He won an offensive zone faceoff, then went to the net, which is where the puck went too. Miller picked the puck out of some skates and dropped it to Boeser, whose shot was stopped, but Pettersson made a brilliant play on the rebound: with his back to the net, he made like Roger Federer and smacked the puck back between his own legs and past Hellebuyck like he was Novak Djokovic. 
  • Adam Gaudette seemed to enjoy Pettersson’s goal or perhaps Pettersson’s witty repartee on the bench. Either/or.
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  • Here’s a sneakily dirty play from Paul Stastny on Tanner Pearson. In a battle along the boards, Stastny stops going for the puck and pulls Pearson’s skate towards him, which seems like a recipe for a pulled groin. Pearson clearly didn’t like it, giving Stastny a piece of both his mind and his stick.
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  • The Jets got a goal back in the second period. Miller lost a puck battle behind the Canucks’ net and Nate Schmidt got caught puck-watching. Pierre-Luc Dubois was exactly where he wanted to be — out of Columbus and open at the backdoor behind Schmidt, where Blake Wheeler found him for the 2-1 goal.
  • It wouldn’t be a Canucks game without Nils Höglander making a power move and almost, but not quite, scoring a fantastic goal. His scoring chance after coming out of the penalty box in the third period was pure power forward: after taking a pass and tapping it up between his own skates, he held off Andrew Copp with one arm, tossed him to the ice, then drove to the net, but had nowhere to shoot on Hellebuyck.
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  • Unfortunately, the Jets had no such trouble beating Braden Holtby in the third. Mark Scheifele tied the game on a partial breakaway, firing a shot that squeaked through Holtby and Schmidt wasn’t able to clear off the line behind him, instead accidentally helping it into the net.
  • Holtby blamed himself. “On that second goal, it's a weird bounce, say what you want, but it's one your goalie has to save in order to have success,” said Holtby. “I thought we played a pretty good game. Myself, I just have to be better.”
  • There was plenty of blame to go around on that goal, however. Boeser had the turnover in the offensive zone, then Alex Edler made a dreadful read to pinch down on Wheeler in the neutral zone, with Mark Scheifele, the Jets’ leading scorer, blowing past him at full speed. Even that could have been okay if Schmidt had been more conservative on the weak side and covered for his defence partner when he pinched, instead of waiting at the blue line in hopes Edler would keep it in.
  • Holtby looked completely out of position on the Jets’ third goal, a power play blast from Neal Pionk. He seemed to lose sight of the puck as it was passed across and left far too much room on his blocker side. He was partially screened by Jordie Benn, who didn’t get out far enough for the block, but that’s no excuse for how much space was left on the short side, which was more like a wide side. 
  • “I saw the initial pass when I was looking on the left side of the screen,” said Holtby. “Went to my right and I couldn't see the guy that was shooting. I tried to go far right side, saw nothing, kind of shifted back a little bit to the left and the shot came in. One of those that you'd like to do it over somehow, try and find that guy if there's a way. One that we'll just have to look at and see what we can do different.”
  • Holtby made some other great saves, but those two goals against cast a pall on his performance. It’s particularly frustrating because the Canucks out-chanced the Jets 36-to-25 according to Natural Stat Trick, with high-danger chances 14-to-6 for the Canucks. This was a game they should have won, but the Jets simply got better goaltending than the Canucks.
  • Those are publicly available scoring chance metrics — the Canucks internal metrics also had them out-chancing the Jets according to Green. “We'll look at it deeper tomorrow but from what I have, yeah we out-chanced them,” said Green. “I think we've got them for around 10-11 scoring chances, which is probably one of our lowest against all year.”
  • The Canucks pushed hard for the equalizer and should have had a chance to go 5-on-3 when Boeser was hooked off a faceoff. To make it all the more galling, Boeser was called for a penalty of his own a moment later on a Jets rush up the ice. He was apoplectic, which is a fun word that when you have the opportunity to say it, you should. 
  • Green was blunt: “We should have had a 5-on-3 on the last call. The ref knows he made a mistake on that one and it comes back to our end, but I'm not gonna blame it on the penalties tonight.”
  • During a couple of third-period power plays, either because Pettersson had finally had enough or because Hughes was finally putting the puck in his sweet spot, Pettersson started unleashing his vicious one-timer from The Petterzone. His bad luck held firm at first, as he broke his stick on one attempt, then hit his ninth post of the season shortly after, and had another blast blocked. On a late power play, he drilled Hellebuyck in the mask, knocking it clean off his head. That was all just warm-up for the main event.
  • With less than a minute to remaining and Holtby pulled for the extra attacker, Pettersson fanned on a wrist shot attempt, but quickly recovered, gave the puck back to Hughes, and prepared to unleash hell. Hughes put the puck right in Pettersson’s wheelhouse and he let loose a devastating one-timer. The puck left his stick like it was launched from a ballista, beating Hellebuyck to force overtime.
  • “It's been a lot of hitting the post, broken sticks,” said Pettersson. “I mean, I've been trying to score those for X amount of games now, so I'm happy I got one and tied the game.”
  • The jubilation was short-lived. Much like last week’s game against the Calgary Flames, where Boeser scored a last-minute goal to force overtime, the game was lost on the opening shift in the extra frame. The Jets sent out three forwards in overtime and all three got in on the goal. Pettersson lost the puck to Wheeler in the offensive zone, Scheifele fed the puck ahead to Dubois, and the former Blue Jacket took advantage of a 1-on-1 rush against Boeser, driving past him then beating Holtby on the short side, another goal Holtby would likely want to have back.