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IWTG: Canucks rack up frequent shooter miles on the Jets, but can’t beat Hellebuyck

Canucks 0 - 4 Jets
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“The Guess Who sucked, the Jets were lousy anyway...I hate Winnipeg.”

The Weakerthans’ affectionately hateful classic “One Great City!” may as well be the theme song of the Vancouver Canucks when they visit the titular town. Of course, Winnipeggers would probably protest: only people from Winnipeg are allowed to say they hate Winnipeg.

The last time the Canucks won in Winnipeg, John Tortorella was coach of the Canucks. It was March 12th, 2014, just a week after Mike Gillis traded Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers for Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom. Quinn Hughes was 14 years old.

That March 12th game was a shootout win to boot. The Canucks have never actually had a regulation win in Winnipeg since the Jets returned to the NHL in 2011. In those nine years, the Canucks have a 1-10-0 record in Winnipeg and have been out-scored 37-to-14. Over the last five seasons, the Canucks have scored exactly one goal per season in Winnipeg.

The Canucks have had trouble with the Jets in general over the last few years, not just in Winnipeg. The last time the Canucks beat the Jets was over three years ago, on December 20th, 2016 in Vancouver. The Canucks have lost 10 straight to the Jets since then.

Connor Hellebuyck, in particular, owns the Canucks. The devilishly-named Hellebuyck now has a dominant 7-1-0 record against the Canucks, with two shutouts. His save percentage against the Canucks is a ridiculous .953, more than 20 points better than his best save percentage against any other team.

This time around, Hellebuyck had good luck on his side as well, as his goalposts gave him plenty of help and the Canucks missed some open nets. It was like there was a forcefield in front of the net and then also Hellebuyck, like the net was the second Death Star and Hellebuyck was the Imperial fleet.

That’s why they couldn't score. The Canucks never found the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor to disable the forcefield and allow them to score a goal. It was a trap when I watched this game.

In all honesty, this might have been the Canucks’ best game of their five-game road trip, despite the lopsided result. Apart from a shaky first couple minutes, the Canucks outplayed the Jets for most of this game, outshooting them in every period. They fired 41 shots on goal and created some golden scoring chances, but, like the Canucks roster since Markus Granlund left, the finish was lacking.

The Jets put three pucks into the Canucks’ net in the opening two minutes; just one of them counted as a goal. First, Mark Scheifele’s centring pass banked off Brock Boeser and the puck slid underneath the side of the net when Tyler Myers took a spill and wound up in the net behind Jacob Markstrom.

On the subsequent faceoff, the Jets pulled off a set play. Kyle Connor started on the left side of the left faceoff circle and made a beeline for the right faceoff circle after Scheifele won the faceoff. That shook Connor free of his check, Troy Stecher, and, like a lousy date, Alex Edler didn’t pick him up in time. Connor’s shot past Markstrom on Sami Niku’s cross-ice feed probably also describes how often he went on a date with Edler: one time.

15 seconds later, the Jets took a 2-0 lead as Anthony Bitetto’s point shot deflected in off Edler’s skate. Travis Green, however, made a bold challenge for offside. The puck on the zone entry was tipped by Edler and went up a good 20 feet in the air. In the best angle they showed on the Sportsnet broadcast, the puck wasn’t even visible against the crowd. The Jets broadcast on TSN, however, had an overhead view that was a little more clear: it was offside, no goal.

Green’s bold challenge changed the complexion of the game, if not the final result. The overturned goal and pseudo timeout caused by the challenge seemed to wake up the Canucks and they played significantly better from that point forward. They just couldn’t beat Hellebuyck.

J.T. Miller got robbed on a power play breakaway off a great pass by Elias Pettersson. Brock Boeser had a great chance off a rebound, but Hellebuyck stuck out the blocker to turn him aside. Loui Eriksson had a point blank chance set up by Bo Horvat, but Hellebuyck shut the door. He was making more steps than a police officer in Estelline, Texas.

The Jets took a real 2-0 lead late in the first period when Jack Roslovic snuck in behind Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev for a breakaway. Hughes had just been pushing up ice, so the responsibility likely falls on Tanev for failing to pick up Roslovic, whose top corner snap shot was about as good as it gets, though it could have used a little more Greg Kinnear, though that goes without saying.

I wasn’t a fan of Jake Virtanen’s chicken-wing elbow to the head of Matthieu Perreault. The puck was long gone and any hit would have been late, so Virtanen sticking his elbow out to tag Perreault in the head was particularly unnecessary. It was a cheap shot that went unnoticed by the referees, but Virtanen might get a call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, though I doubt a suspension will follow.

Beyond Hellebuyck’s stupendous play were all the great chances that the Canucks just couldn’t bury. Pettersson had a pair of chances late in the first period that could have brought the Canucks within one: the first was a wide open net on a rebound that he somehow hooked through the crease, missing by a mile. The second, he had enough space to load up his deadly wrist shot and sent it pinging off the post.

Markstrom was playing his third game in four nights, which felt like an unnecessary run for the netminder. He looked a little shaky at times, particularly on the 3-0 goal from Blake Wheeler, which snuck through Markstrom’s five-hole with Connor screening in front. It was arguably not even a shot, as it looked like Wheeler was trying to pass it to Connor for a deflection, but Markstrom didn’t seal off the ice with his right pad, and you know what happens when you have a loose seal: someone’s going to lose a hand.

Like Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes were calling for the Canucks, particularly in the third period. Antoine Roussel had a chance to bank the puck in off an out-of-position Hellebuyck, but hit the post instead. Bo Horvat had a fantastic chance off a great passing play and sent it clanging off the cross bar. Pettersson hit his second post of the game on a wide open net with Hellebuyck spun around the wrong way. It was laughable that it didn’t go in.

By the end of the game, the Canucks didn’t seem to trust open nets. With four minutes left, Pettersson made a neat play to steal a pass at the blue line and passed to Hughes, who set up Miller with pretty much the entire net wide open. “Not going to fall for that again,” Miller probably thought, then passed to Pettersson in the slot.

The Canucks pulled out all the stops trying to come back in this game. Literally. They pulled Markstrom with five minutes left in the game and down 3-0. That led Hellebuyck to take a shot at the empty net, trying to replicate Pekka Rinne’s goalie goal from last week, but Horvat knocked it down with a high stick. It would have been better if Horvat had made like Zion Williamson and swatted the puck into the 20th row, but you take what you get.

Patrik Laine had a shot at the empty net too, but rung the crossbar from centre ice. Of course, with his accuracy, he probably did it on purpose. He was trying to mount a comeback of his own in the secret game of Posts that he was playing with the Canucks. Alas, the Canucks soundly defeated the Jets in that competition.

The Jets finally made it 4-0 into the empty net with just over two minutes remaining, putting the game even further out of reach that it already was. The score didn’t accurately reflect the way the Canucks played. Heck, Pettersson could have had a hat trick with the open net he missed and two posts. Overall, the improved play was an encouraging sign as they head back to the friendly confines of Rogers Arena.