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IWTG: Connor McDavid lights up the lacklustre Canucks

Nate Schmidt got his first goal as a Canuck, but McDavid and the Oilers' power play proved the difference.
graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The second game of the Canucks season saw the long-awaited return of two much-beloved voices in Vancouver: John Shorthouse and John Garrett. It had been ten long months since John and John had called a Canucks game and it was wonderful to hear their dulcet tones once more.

There was just one problem: Shorthouse’s play-by-play, normally right on top of the action, if not a step ahead with his excellent anticipation, was delayed by 2-3 seconds. His commentary was completely out of sync with what viewers saw on the screen. 

Travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant Shorthouse and Garrett were calling the game from Vancouver rather than live in Edmonton, which meant a several second delay. Frequently, Shorthouse would excitedly describe a developing scoring chance that fans had already seen saved and turned up ice by the opposition. It was discombobulating.

Unfortunately, much like John and John’s commentary, the Canucks seemed a few seconds behind the play all game.

The Edmonton Oilers bounced back from their opening night loss to the Canucks and evened up the season series. Or rather, Connor McDavid bounced back. He bounced back like he was made of Flubber.

McDavid looked unstoppable. He had a game-high 12 shot attempts, 9 shots on goal, and scored a hattrick while dominating puck possession. The Canucks simply had no response.

“He was exceptional,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green. “He's one of the best players in the world, so he definitely played well tonight.”

Defenceman Nate Schmidt pointed out that there’s only so much you can do to prepare to play against star players.

“You can scrimmage, you can do those types of things, but real games aren’t mimicked until you get out there and you have McDavid and [Leon] Draisaitl flying around and their D activating, making plays,” said Schmidt. “Those things, you can’t mimic in practice.”

You can’t mimic watching a game in practice either. My eyes weren’t quite up to game speed when I watched this game.

  • Thatcher Demko made his first start of the season and immediately faced 46 shots on goal. That means in four of his last five starts, he’s faced more than 40 shots. Every time he’s in the net he gets more shots than a Bachelorette party at the Roxy.
  • To the Canucks’ credit, they also had 40 shots on goal. It seems like it might not be the best idea to get into a run-and-gun firefight against a team boasting McDavid and Draisaitl, but maybe that’s just me.
  • While Demko gave up five goals, it’s hard to put too much blame on him. Early on, he was sharper than a carefully-honed candy cane, making a stunning glove save early on Zack Kassian then recovering to kick aside a rebound chance from McDavid. 
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  • Demko couldn’t stop them all and the Oilers opened the scoring on the power play. The penalty-killing unit of Brandon Sutter, Antoine Roussel, Travis Hamonic, and Alex Edler got stuck on the ice for a long shift while the Oilers’ top unit ran them ragged. Eventually, Draisaitl found some space and beat Demko under the arm, only to hit the post. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, however, was first to the puck and tucked it home like Porkchop.
  • I don’t know why, but this little head fake from Nate Schmidt made me smile. So now I’m showing it to you.
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  • There were a couple of moments that could be termed turning points. One came at the end of the first period when McDavid, with less than a second on the clock, swatted in a rebound to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead. It came off a faceoff with only 1.7 seconds remaining in the period, so perhaps the Canucks let their guard down for a moment, but as anyone who has played Wii Sports Resort Swordplay knows, you can never let your guard down, even for a moment.
  • “That's on me,” said Schmidt. “At the end of the period, you've got to know the most dangerous player is out there. Shot comes, you freeze for a second to try and see if you can see where it goes. You can't freeze for a second when you know you've got a guy barreling down on the backside. That's really all it comes down to, I have to have that play.”
  • Schmidt made up for his error with his first goal as a Canuck. It was a low screamer of a slap shot through multiple layers of screens, including Brandon Sutter parked in front of the net. “It feels a lot better when you win,” said Schmidt about scoring. “It does feel good to get that goose egg off the scoresheet… We needed more of that tonight, our D didn’t do a particularly great job of getting pucks through.”
  • The Oilers struck again on the power play thanks to McDavid’s speed. He burned rubber through the neutral zone and caught the entire Canucks’ penalty kill standing still or, at least, they looked like they were standing still compared to McDavid. As soon as Alex Edler’s skates turned to the outside to try to keep pace, McDavid immediately cut inside and unleashed a shot past Demko’s blocker.
  • Special teams made a big difference on Thursday. All five Canucks goals on Wednesday night came at even-strength, which was seen as a positive — they didn’t need the power play to score. On Thursday, the power play went 0-for-5 and they gave up two power play goals. Obviously, we must immediately panic, crack each other’s heads open, and feast on the goo inside.
  • The Canucks got one back off the stick of Tyler Motte. Quinn Hughes made a great pinch down the boards to win a puck battle with Jesse Puljujarvi, then fed Travis Hamonic at the point. He spotted Motte heading to the slot and sent a low slap-pass that Motte neatly tipped over Mikko Koskinen’s right pad. 
  • That’s the last goal the Canucks would get and Green hit the Line Blender 4000X™ to try to get things going again. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Jake Virtanen was struggling against the McDavid line, so Green shuffled Virtanen off the line and tried some other wingers. 
  • “The line just wasn't doing anything, they weren't playing very well,” said Green bluntly. “We couldn't get away from the matchup that easy. McDavid's line spent a lot of time in our zone so we tried to change it up a little bit.”
  • First, Green tried Motte with Pettersson and Boeser, then Nils Höglander got a shift in the third period, Tanner Pearson took a couple shifts, and even Adam Gaudette got bumped to the wing on the top line. In the offseason, I suggested Gaudette might fit on the wing in the top-six, but on Bo Horvat’s line. It was unexpected to see him skate with the top line, but the Canucks had limited options. 
  • “There's always potential to try Gauds on the wing,” said Green. “I've thought about it. We haven't done it yet, but I thought tonight was a good time to try it a couple times. I also thought the Beagle, Motte, Sutter line has had two pretty good games. So it's a give and take. If you move Gaudette off the other line now you're breaking up pretty well three lines then.”
  • When asked if one of those combinations on the top line might start next game, Green said, “I'll go back and watch the tape and take a look at it tomorrow and give our guys a day off and we'll see what we come up with.”
  • If the last second goal in the first period wasn’t the turning point, Hughes taking a penalty on a second-period power play was. He took exception to a high hit from Nugent-Hopkins on Boeser and broke his stick on him with a crosscheck. That took the Canucks off the power play and, when Hughes got out of the box, he missed his defensive assignment, which was McDavid. Which is bad, because McDavid is good.
  • So, instead of a chance to score on the power play and tied the game, McDavid scored the 4-2 goal. But some fans will like that Hughes stepped up to defend his teammate. 
  • In the third period, Höglander looked like a rookie for the first time in his young career. He was the last man back and he tried to force a puck uup the middle of the ice, tuurning the puck over to Nugent-Hopkins. He got the puck back and immediately gave it away again with a bank pass that was picked off by Kailer Yamamoto. To top it off, Höglander couldn’t tie up Nugent-Hopkins’s stick in front and he deflected in Yamamoto’s centring pass.
  • It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad shift for Höglander, but those happen. On the bench, Hamonic gave his helmet a tousle and Pettersson gave him a little, “Head up, kid,” chin rub. It was adorable. Everything’s going to be okay.