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IWTG: Canucks strike first, but Flames strike anywhere, scoring four unanswered goals for the 6-2 win

Jacob Markstrom pulled out some spectacular saves, but got little help from the defence in front of him.
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graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

When a coach speaks in the media about officiating, they’re taking a calculated risk. A coach’s media scrum or press conference takes place long enough after the end of the game that piqued emotions don’t necessarily enter into the equation. This is particularly true for a coach like Travis Green, who is generally very careful with his words.

So, when Green spoke out about the late hit Elias Pettersson took from the Boston Bruins’ Matt Grzelcyk on Tuesday, he knew what he was doing. He was sending a message to the league that he and the Canucks are frustrated that Pettersson is taking abuse without penalties being called.

The intent is to get the NHL to take a closer look at potential missed calls on Pettersson and hopefully get the referees to call things a bit tighter when it comes to their franchise centre. There’s also a risk, however, that it backfires. No one likes being called out for making a mistake; perhaps even just subconsciously, it could make a referee less likely to call a penalty. 

Pettersson missed one game with an undisclosed injury after the hit. On Saturday he returned to the Canucks lineup and, in a coincidence, the same referee that stood 20 feet away watching as Pettersson got hit by Grzelcyk was one of the two referees for the Canucks meeting with the Flames.

Would referee Trevor Hanson be more inclined to view infractions against Pettersson as penalties or would he again turn a blind eye as the opposing team took liberties?

The latter.

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Clearly battling through an injury, Pettersson was targeted by the Flames all night long. He was repeatedly cross-checked, slew-footed, hooked, and held, all without drawing a single penalty. 

All told, it was a very appropriate way to kick off Sedin Week. I watched this game.

  • This game was far closer than the 6-2 score would indicate, though that’s little consolation in such a crucial game. In the Pacific Division, just four points separate the first-place Canucks from the fifth-place Arizona Coyotes, and every Pacific matchup holds extra significance in the push for the playoffs. The Canucks can’t afford to lose too many of these intra-division games over the next couple months or, like a trash compactor on the detention level, things could get uncomfortably tight.
     
  • The Canucks got the scoring started early, with the Insurance Line of Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat, and Loui Eriksson providing some rare scoring against a goaltender. It was the first shot of the game, just 34 seconds in, as Pearson took the pass from Quinn Hughes in the high slot, spun and fired a low shot just inside the post with Eriksson screening in front.
     
  • That goal was all about Hughes and his ability to walk the line. He picked up the puck and slid sideways as smoothly as Marlon Webb wishing you a good evening. The point kept Hughes neck-and-neck with Cale Makar in the rookie scoring race as well.
     
  • Immediately after the goal Matthew Tkachuk and J.T. Miller squared off in a fight, likely because Tkachuk wanted to spark his team after going down 1-0 in the opening minute and because Miller...I’m not really sure why Miller would agree to a fight in that situation. Maybe he just thinks Tkachuk has a really punchable face and wanted to confirm his hypothesis.
     
  • The Flames tied the game while Tkachuk and Miller were still in the penalty box. After a backcheck, Jake Virtanen inexplicably decided to stop in the worst possible spot: directly in front of Jacob Markstrom, completely out of reach of any Flames player. He couldn’t have set a better screen if he had tried and Markstrom couldn’t pick up the shot off Derek Ryan’s stick as a result. 
     
  • It was part of a theme all night of the Canucks giving Markstrom no help whatsoever. On the 2-1 goal, Alex Edler lost his stick in the offensive zone, so was limited in what he could do on the Flames’ 3-on-2. Meanwhile, J.T. Miller went for a line change instead of skating hard on the back check. The combination left Tkachuk all alone on Markstrom, who made a marvelous safe, but couldn’t stop the rebound off of Tkachuk’s skate.
     
  • On the shift after Tkachuk’s goal, Horvat nearly pulled the Canucks even with a fabulous solo effort. He absolutely undressed T.J. Brodie, going inside-outside like Willow on Warren at full speed, but Rittich got his glove on the shot. He at least drew a penalty on Brodie.
     
  • The Canucks showed a bit of a different look on the power play, at least for one brief moment. They worked the puck down low to Miller, who set up behind the net, with Pettersson and Brock Boeser on their strong sides ready to shoot and Horvat in front of the net. Like the disposable paper dresses of the 1960’s, it was a good look, even if it didn’t last long, and they went right back to point shots and looking for tips.
     
  • With the injury and the uncalled crosschecks and such, Pettersson wasn’t quite as effective as he has been, but he still pulled some nifty moves from his bag of tricks. I was particularly fond of this fake drop pass on the power play that completely flummoxed a Flames’ penalty killer.
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  • The Canucks have done well with home ice advantage this season, but the 2-2 goal made that quite literal: the puck rolled around the top of the kick plate along the boards, then hit a seam and popped unexpectedly out to Adam Gaudette, who found himself all alone in front of a surprised Rittich. Gaudette tickled the twine with quick shot before Rittich could get set.
     
  • That was it for scoring from the Canucks. They created some decent chances, but Rittich was up to the task every time. Meanwhile, Markstrom played out of his mind in the Canucks’ crease, making some truly spectacular saves, but the Flames had a few too many spectacular chances.
     
  • Markstrom was screened again on the third Flames goal, but the bigger issues was Tyler Myers, who was unable to stay with Dillon Dube as he made a quick cutback and couldn’t maintain a gap close enough to use even his prodigious reach. That gave Dube plenty of room to pick his spot and Markstrom couldn’t pick it up past Hughes and Ryan in front.
     
  • There were too many great saves to highlight them all, but this stop on Gaudreau might have been his best. Mark Jankowski picked Virtanen’s pocket on the breakout, then dipsy-doodled around Hughes before setting up Gaudreau for the easy finish. Markstrom, however, stretched out with the inside of his blocker and somehow made the stop.
     
  • The most concerning part of the game wasn’t the loss to the Flames, but the loss of Boeser in the third period. Something went wrong with his right arm in what looked like an innocent puck battle and he went straight to the room. With Pettersson already ailing, the Canucks can’t afford to lose Boeser for a significant amount of time.
     
  • A team looking for a comeback in the third period shouldn’t get out-shot, but that was the case for the Canucks, who made mistakes that didn’t come back to bite them — they bit them immediately. One was a penalty on Pettersson, which he couldn’t believe after all the infractions against him had gone uncalled all night, but it was a penalty. Milan Lucic scored with a tip-in on the top of the crease, with an assist to his frosted tips.
  • Then the 5-2 goal came as a result of a turnover by Myers, who tried to pass the puck to Pettersson when he wasn’t looking. As the Flames counter-attacked with a 3-on-2, Myers and Hughes went for the same man, leading to a 2-on-0 behind them. Markstrom had no chance.
     
  • The Canucks didn’t give up, pulling Markstrom for the extra attacker with nearly three minutes left despite the three-goal deficit. It didn’t work, as the Flames took control of the puck in the Canucks’ zone with the net empty and they could only keep it out for so long. Horvat stopped the initial shot with a stand-up save in the crease, but then Eriksson, perhaps paralyzed by seeing an empty net he wasn’t allowed to shoot at, took too long to clear the puck and Tobias Reider stole it and jammed it into the net.