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IWTG: Casually-dressed Canucks smother the Flames 3-1

How a Squidward hoodie, some plaid shirts, and work boots helped the Canucks break their six-game losing streak.
The Canucks dominated the Flames in shots and squeaked by them in goals. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The Canucks were casual off the ice on Saturday, which apparently helped them be less casual on the ice.

NHL teams are typically all business when they come to the rink on game days, wearing jackets and ties right from when they’re in junior hockey. On Saturday, however, the Canucks eschewed the suits as they arrived at Rogers Arena to play the Calgary Flames.

Instead, the Canucks wore whatever they wanted, which meant a lot of jeans, a fair amount of plaid, and hoodies for Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. Boeser showed his Gen Z bona fides with his Squidward hoodie, while Pettersson went vintage with AC/DC.

Hockey players, like the criminals Batman faces, are a superstitious lot. The pre-game clothing switch-up was followed by the Canucks breaking their losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Flames where they out-shot their opponents by a massive 46-to-19 margin. As the fallacy says, “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” which translates to “after this, therefore because of this.”

“I hope so,” said Quinn Hughes, leaning into the microphones excitedly when asked if they’ll keep dressing casually on game days. “I think we had a lot of fun with that — I know I did, for sure — and I think that’s maybe the most promising thing coming out of the win. It’s pretty cool to just throw on a jacket and come to the rink.”

Hughes suggested that the casual wear bore some responsibility for their improved play.

“I think we’re just making more plays, we’re playing more confident, we’re having more fun,” he said. “To bring up the clothes again, I think we’re just trying to have fun as a group again. I think it’s been helping.”

It may sound silly, but a big chunk of professional sports is mental. Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.”

Dressing differently may have very well helped the Canucks loosen up before this game and play with more confidence and ease. Even just changing up the routine that had resulted in a six-game losing streak could have switched up their mentality and broken them out of a rut.

“When you’re in a skid like that, sometimes it’s hard to maintain that positivity coming to the rink,” said Thatcher Demko. “I think our group has done a good job the last week here of just coming together and trying to stay positive, bringing the fun to the rink.”

So maybe the clothes helped. Or maybe not. After all, the Canucks had played much better in their last two games before this, out-shooting the Toronto Maple Leafs 32-19 and peppering Jacob Markstrom with 34 shots two nights earlier against the Flames. Perhaps this win was already on its way and the change of attire had little to no influence.

Because it’s hockey, they couldn’t forego the dress code without a corny reason for doing so.

“We made a thing that we all had to wear work boots coming into the rink,” said Tyler Myers. “I think it showed on the ice that we were ready to work.”

Frankly, I’m surprised they weren’t required to bring a metal lunch bucket and wear shirts with blue collars too. So, it wasn’t exactly a complete dismissal of a dress code, just a slightly more relaxed dress code. Also, some of the players stretched the definition of “work boots” if you review the footage.

There’s a saying that applies to this situation: it’s not stupid if it works.

One of the positives about the change is that it was clearly spearheaded by the players, who evidently kept their coaches in the dark about the plan.

“To be honest, I didn’t know anything about it,” said head coach Travis Green. “I found out watching Hockey Night in Canada, saw some of the pictures of our guys coming in. I liked it! They would have gotten my blessing on it. I think maybe the coaches will have to get in on it now too.”

I can’t critique any of their fashion choices. Since I’m coming off a cold, I’m working from home instead of at the rink, which meant I was in my comfiest sweatpants when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks absolutely dominated early in the game, out-shooting the Flames 10-to-0 in the first ten minutes and 20-to-4 in the first period. It was stunning: they were smothering the Flames like baking soda on a grease fire, making the neutral zone a quagmire for the Flames’ breakout. There was just one problem: they couldn’t get the puck past Jacob Markstrom.
  • With that kind of start, it could have been easy for frustration to set in and Green knew it. “That’s a fear as a coach, because you know that you’re playing well and you know that your team wants to win badly,” he said. “I give our guys credit tonight, they really stuck with it and didn’t deviate from how we wanted to play the game. I think we get in trouble when we start forcing too many plays.”
  • The Canucks didn’t force plays; they just made plays. Nils Höglander was his usual shifty self all game, darting around the offensive zone to create scoring chances, but others got into the act as well, like Nate Schmidt, who showed tremendous confidence at the blue line to undress Matthew Tkachuk, thus rendering him powerless. As Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
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  • Despite Schmidt's best efforts, however, Höglander still reigns as the shiftiest Canuck. He nearly had the game-winning goal in the third period with a crafty slalom around the Flames after Tanner Pearson created a turnover. Höglander used the threat of a backdoor pass to Bo Horvat to slip around the defence and rung a backhand off the post.
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  • Quinn Hughes finally solved Markstrom halfway through the game. It was a brilliant individual effort, as he stepped up to pick off a pass from Sean Monahan to Johnny Gaudreau, moving in 2-on-1 with Elias Pettersson. Hughes faked the pass with the conviction of a Shakespearean actor, then ripped a shot off the post and in.
  • It was such a good fake pass that Hughes even fooled himself. “I think Marky thought I was going to pass it — I think I thought I was going to pass it — and the D took him away, so I just shot it,” said Hughes.
  • Just as impressive was the bold read to lurk at the blue line instead of backing up into the neutral zone as the Flames started their breakout. “I saw Monahan was passing that puck and he wasn’t looking at me and Johnny was looking at Monahan, so I knew I could sneak up on Johnny,” said Hughes. “He had no idea I was there. Everyone was going north and me and Petey were the only ones that stayed. It worked out.”
  • The Flames tied the game just over a minute later despite the overwhelming differential in shots, 32-to-8 at the time of the goal. It came off one of the Canucks’ few turnovers and defensive breakdowns in their own zone, as J.T. Miller’s pass was out of Pettersson’s reach, leading to a scramble. Pettersson fell to the ice trying to get the puck out of the zone and Miller and Boeser didn’t read that one of them needed to pick up Pettersson’s man, Sam Bennett, who walked into the high slot unopposed and beat Thatcher Demko on the blocker side.
  • That was all the Flames could get past Demko, who only had to face 19 shots. He was still excellent when called upon, but it was easy to see how much better the Canucks were defensively in front of him. It was like the Canucks suddenly discovered structure, as if defence was a piece of complicated IKEA furniture that they were previously putting together without reading the instructions. 
  • “Huge improvements, for sure,” said Demko. “I can’t say enough about the commitment to the D side that we’ve seen in the last few games here… Tremendous job tonight — anyone who was watching the game has seen it — our D corps did a great job and our forwards also, coming back and helping out, making sure that they were covered hard, and that way our D can have good gaps.”
  • As part of the defensive whole, the penalty kill shone bright like a diamond and was equally hard to crack for the Flames. They managed just one shot on goal in three power plays. 
  • Speaking of defence, this was Olli Juolevi’s best game. Shot attempts were 24-to-10 for the Canucks at 5-on-5 when he was on the ice and he was snapping passes around with fantastic confidence. He also showed a physical edge, leveling Tkachuk after the Flames winger kicked out his skate a moment earlier. 
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  • Yes, the Flames got a chance out of this play, but stepping up on Tkachuk was absolutely the right move and Juolevi needed to trust that his defence partner would take care of what was behind him. Tyler Myers sliding out of the play on one knee wasn’t ideal and is a slight blemish on an otherwise outstanding game from the giraffian defenceman.
  • “Olli is getting a lot better at using his voice and I think it’s helping our breakouts a lot more,” said Myers. “He’s playing well for not having a lot of games under his belt and I think he just keeps improving each and every game.”
  • Myers led the Canucks in corsi percentage, with the Canucks out-attempting the Flames 32-to-9 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. That’s unreal. He topped it off with a fantastic game-winning goal to boot. As Demko put it, “Big man comes down the zone and wires one in there, it was great to see.”
  • There was a little more to it than that. Myers made a great read in the neutral zone, pressuring Bennett and poking the puck off his stick. He countered immediately and used Miller and Pettersson as distractions to dart into the slot between two Flames with surprising grace, proving that giraffes can dance. He kicked the puck up to his stick and fired a shot under Markstrom’s arm to make it 2-1.
  • The Canucks allowed just two more shots on goal after Myers gave them the lead and got two shots of their own. One of them went into an empty net. Loui Eriksson, the king of the empty net, picked off a pass in his own zone and swatted the puck to Brandon Sutter, who hit the middle of the net from his own blue line for the insurance goal.
  • The team celebrated hard for both goals. “The emotion was just because we got the lead at the end of a game, it’s been a while,” said Myers after the game. “I think we had the same amount of emotion for Suttsy’s empty netter if you look at the bench. It just felt really good to get back in the win column.”