You don’t typically look at a 5-1 win and think, “Man, the goaltender stole that one.”
But that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Yes, the Canucks scored five goals on the Ottawa Senators, including three goals from the much-maligned “Lotto Line” of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser, who had trouble finding their rhythm heading into Wednesday’s game.
Yes, the Canucks got the power play going, creating some fantastic chances and scoring a goal on three opportunities.
Yes, Tyler Motte pitched in a couple of goals himself, giving the team some secondary scoring from the bottom-six, and tying him for the team lead in goal-scoring this season.
None of that would have mattered — heck, it might never have happened — if Thatcher Demko didn’t play out of his mind in the first period.
The Senators, looking for revenge after a 7-1 whooping on Monday, fired a whopping 23 shots on goal in the opening frame, just one shot short of a franchise record for most shots in a period. They weren’t just shots from anywhere either — they tallied 17 scoring chances according to Natural Stat Trick and 11 high-danger chances. They were all around the net.
Fortunately for the Canucks, Demko was all around the net too. Or rather, he was in front of the net, primarily in between the net and the puck, which is generally where you want your goaltender to be.
“He keeps us in it, he gives us life,” said J.T. Miller about his goaltender’s first period performance. “It sucks when we don’t play the way we’re supposed to, especially to start a game. They’re coming off a game where we know they’re going to bring their best, so we have to be able to match that.”
Demko, at least, was able to bring his best. He stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced in the first period, keeping the score knotted at 1-1. By the end of the game, he made 42 saves on 43 shots.
“Demmer held the fort down,” said head coach Travis Green. “He’s definitely been very sharp the last two games.”
As Demko held the fort down at Rogers Arena, my wife held the fort down at my house while I watched this game.
- Despite the ice being tilted against them in the first period, the Canucks were fortunate enough to open the scoring. Tyler Myers jumped up the right wing on the rush and his bad angle shot squeaked under the arm of Marcus Högberg and sat in the crease. Like a Chelsea soccer star in an Adidas ad campaign, Motte went straight into the blue paint to put home the loose puck.
- Immediately after the goal, Demko was called upon to make a flurry of saves, as the Senators swarmed the Canucks net against the Pettersson line. After an initial save, J.T. Miller made an ill-advised pass between his legs off the boards that went right to Colin White in front, forcing Demko to make two more saves with his right pad.
- After the game, Miller didn’t seem impressed with the play of himself and his linemates despite scoring two goals himself. Perhaps he had that giveaway in the back of his mind.
- “I’ll be honest: other than a couple goals, I don’t think we spent much time in their end,” said Miller. “To be frank with you, I think we need to be way better as a line still. I think we need to push ourselves. I know it looks pretty for you guys because I got some points today, but at the same time there’s not much difference in the game… We need to be better and start the game better.”
- It took a power play, a bizarre turnover by Myers, and a mad scramble in front for the Senators to finally beat Demko. Around 30 seconds before the goal, Myers got the puck on the end boards with eons of time to fire the puck the length of the ice, but he bizarrely just...didn’t. Brady Tkachuk stole the puck and eventually, with the penalty killers hunting the puck instead of taking a man, Josh Norris popped in the puck after a wild scramble.
- Not to pick on Myers, who mostly played a solid game while leading the Canucks in ice time, but this was such a weird moment. He tried to work a give-and-go with J.T. Miller, looking for a one-timer. Instead of returning to the right point when it became clear the one-timer wasn’t going to work, he just kept backing up right into Quinn Hughes at the left point so that neither of them could take Miller’s pass.
- Either the Canucks got their act together in the first intermission or the Senators had given all they could give, because the home team took over in the second period, taking 20 shots of their own. Perhaps they turned the team off and then on again, or drank some of Michael Jordan’s Secret Stuff, or someone stepped into the room and did their best Herb Brooks impression. Whatever it was, it worked.
- For seemingly the first time all season, the Lotto Line looked like the line that was so good last season. Early in the second, Boeser picked up a puck in the neutral zone and hit Pettersson on the tape to send him in 3-on-2 with Hughes and Miller. With a lane to shoot, Pettersson instead caught everyone off guard when dropped the puck to Hughes, who swung it to Miller for the finish.
- “I heard a squeaky noise behind me,” said Pettersson with a laugh. “No, just joking. I was going to shoot it, but then I heard [Hughes] scream, ‘Petey! Petey!’ so I dropped it.”
- Miller gave the Canucks a two-goal lead a few minutes later when he tipped a Jordie Benn shot on goal, then chipped in his own rebound. A secondary assist can go to Erik Gubranson, who had a chance to clear the puck and instead swatted it to Benn, then stood uselessly in the slot as Miller skated right by him to score the goal. Brings back memories. Bad ones.
- Pettersson picked up an assist on the first Miller goal, but, like a character in an American Pie movie, he was eager to score himself. He had a game-high nine shot attempts and hit both a post and a crossbar.
- One of those nine attempts found twine behind Högberg. First Pettersson drew a power play, then he completed the Pettersson hattrick — an assist, a drawn penalty, and a goal — with a wicked wristshot from the right faceoff circle.
- The key to telling that Pettersson was feeling fully confident was his physical play. He got stuck in on puck battles more and more as the game progressed, then absolutely trucked Evgenii Dadonov in the offensive zone in the third period.
- “That’s his game. He had a pretty good lick on him there,” said Miller. “A lot of times he does that and it creates a little separation for him to skate out of it. Not every time you’re going to steamroll a guy like that, but it’s awesome to see.”
- Motte got his second goal midway through the third period, making it a 5-1 game. It was a lucky bounce, but only because Motte once again went to the net. Jay Beagle cut off a clearing attempt on the boards, then took a shot. The puck deflected first off Chris Tierney’s stick, then Braydon Coburn’s stick, then hit Motte in the leg, then went off Mike Reilly and in as he tied up Antoine Roussel. The only way that goal could have been greasier is if it was wearing Dapper Dan.
- As much as his two goals were greasy, go-to-the-net, grinder goals, Motte was playing with a ton of confidence and provided a serious offensive spark. He led the Canucks with six shots on goal against the Senators and tied with Pettersson with a team-high nine shot attempts. He didn’t just get lucky — he was buzzing around the offensive zone with a purpose.
- Despite doing all their scoring in the second period, both Miller and Pettersson said the third period was the best they played as a line all season. Is the Lotto Line back? Is the season saved? Or are the Ottawa Senators just really, really bad. Honestly, it might be a mix of all three.