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IWTG: Canucks played a better brand of hockey, but Canadiens made them look like No Frills

"There’s a winning brand of hockey and there’s a losing brand of hockey."
A stronger Vancouver Canucks performance couldn't stand up to Tyler Toffoli and the Montreal Canadiens. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Before Tuesday’s game, Canucks head coach Travis Green reflected on Monday night’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He was outwardly calm, but his words betrayed an intense frustration with how his team was playing.

“There’s a winning brand of hockey and there’s a losing brand of hockey,” said Green, “and last night we had some players that were playing a losing brand of hockey.”

It’s likely that a similar message was delivered to the players themselves. 

“We had a good team talk with our group,” said Green. “A couple individual talks.”

Did it work? Did the Canucks play a winning brand of hockey?

Well, they didn’t win, which is a strike against them, but they certainly played better. The Canucks actually out-shot the Canadiens for the first time all season, which was nice, and most of the player did seem to step their games up.

On the other hand, the Canucks repeatedly coughed up the puck like the Canadiens were performing the heimlich. The Canucks didn’t have quite as many turnovers as they did on Monday, but they had enough. 

The Canadiens certainly played a winning brand of hockey, particularly Tyler Toffoli, who continued to own the Canucks like his name was Francesco Aquilini. He scored two more goals, including the goal that stood up as the eventual game-winner. Just like that, Toffoli is leading the NHL with 9 goals, 8 of them against the Canucks.

Whether it was a winning or losing brand of hockey, the Canucks players and coach, at least, felt it was a better brand of hockey.

“It was a hard-fought hockey game out there tonight,” said Green. “I thought we played well tonight. We played like a team that knew how we needed to play tonight to win. It was a grinding game early, we slowly got a few more chances, and just came up short tonight, but it was a step in the right direction, for sure.”

My brand of hockey? That would be the watching brand of hockey, executed to perfection when I watched this game.

  • The Lotto Line was broken up for this game, understandably given their struggles on Monday. Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat swapped spots on the top two lines and the results were...okay, I guess? Neither combination really sparkled, but they weren’t dingy and drab either. They were fine, but the Canucks kind of needed more than fine.
  • An egregious turnover by Zack MacEwen in the first period seemed to set the stage for another ugly game. He threw the puck behind his own net, with only a Canadien there to take it, leading to an Alex Edler penalty. Not long after, Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter both jumped on the ice on a line change when only Jay Beagle came off, giving the Canadiens over a minute at 5-on-3. But then the Canucks killed off both penalties while only allowing one shot on goal. Things were finally looking up for old Gil.
  • The successful penalty kill was only lulling Canucks fans into a false sense of security. Not long after, a fluke deflection off Horvat’s stick turned a harmless shot from the side boards into a perfect backdoor pass to Josh Anderson, who held off Jalen Chatfield to tap the puck into the open cage.
  • Late in the first, a couple of turnovers cost the Canucks dearly. First, Tyler Myers’ pass to Nate Schmidt in the neutral zone was two feet off the ice and Schmidt couldn’t knock it down, resulting in a quick 2-on-1 the other way. Schmidt got back to break it up, but then Brandon Sutter coughed the puck up to Nick Suzuki, whose shot was blocked, but Brett Kulak’s follow-up shot was tipped in by Anderson for his second goal of the period.
  • Needing a strong start to the second, Roussel got the Canucks off on the wrong foot — or knee — with an undisciplined kneeing penalty two minutes in. But then Thatcher Demko slammed the door on the penalty kill with a series of fantastic saves and Roussel came out of the penalty box and immediately scored, finishing off a rebound off a Quinn Hughes point shot. 
  • Roussel’s bow-and-arrow goal celebration will be familiar to Canucks fans, as Alex Burrows used to do the same celebration in honour of Luc Bourdon. For Roussel, it was most likely a tribute to his longtime agent, Christian Daigle, who passed away last week at the age of 42.
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  • Jay Beagle deserves a ton of credit for the goal as well. He was on the ice for over a minute on that shift, starting on the penalty kill, and still gained the zone down the right wing, protected the puck to start the cycle, then battled in front of the net, and kicked the puck back on Josh Allen, which freed it up for Roussel to finish. That’s a hard-earned assist.
  • A Tyler Toffoli tip made it 3-1 off a defensive zone faceoff that never should’ve happened. Tyler Motte knocked down a puck with a high stick in the neutral zone. If he had touched it again immediately, the faceoff would have stayed in the neutral zone, but he missed it when he first reached for it and was just over the blue line, resulting in a defensive zone faceoff instead. It was a little thing, and not really something to fault Motte on, but it was still costly.
  • Then Toffoli unleashed the mother of all backhands. Like the Mother of Dragons, it looked innocent at first, but it got wicked in a hurry. Toffoli said, “Dracarys,” and the backhand torched Demko mercilessly to make it 4-1.
  • Elias Pettersson responded in the third period with a wicked shot of his own on the power play. After hitting so many posts and crossbars this season, he hit one more, but this one went bardown and in. Ben Chiarot gave Pettersson a little too much room and Allen stayed deep in his net, so his chances of stopping that rocket of a wristshot were slimmer than a Hattori Hanzo sword.  
  • Late in the third period, Tanner Pearson did the cruelest thing possible to Canucks fans: he gave them hope. With Demko pulled for the extra attacker, Pearson got greasier than Groundskeeper Willie, hacking and whacking away at a loose puck in the crease until Allen kindly moved his pad out of the way. That made the score 4-3 with less than a minute to play.
  • Unfortunately, the Canucks didn’t even get another shot attempt. Miller gave the puck away at the blue line instead of moving it safely down the boards, then gave up skating on the backcheck, allowing Jeff Petry to add a little insult to injury with the empty net goal.
  • With the loss, the Canucks are back below .500 on the season. Not to worry, they only play the Canadiens four more times this season.
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