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IWTG: Pettersson-less Canucks fall prey to the Wild in fight-filled affair

Canucks have to hope Elias Pettersson won’t be out for long, as he was sorely missed.
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graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

As a general rule, NHL teams are cagey about injury reports. Injuries are frequently reported simply as upper or lower-body injuries — you seldom see a report of a mid-body injury — with specifics sometimes only coming out if a player has a clearly defined injury, like a broken bone. 

There could be good reasons to be vague about injuries. Perhaps it’s to prevent opponents from targeting injured players or for teams to hedge their bets and avoid being raked over the coals by fans and the media for an injury report that turns out to be false. But really, the reason the NHL doesn’t have more comprehensive and specific injury reports is because it’s not a major sport for gambling.

You see it in the NFL, which has requirements for reporting injuries, with fines levied if a team doesn’t disclose an injury. The reason? Injuries have a major impact on the betting line and if a particular gambler had inside information on an unreported injury, they would have a significant unfair advantage.

Officially, the NFL is opposed to gambling, but Richard Sherman noted the hypocrisy a couple years back: seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/seahawks-cb-richard-sherman-rips-nfl-for-reasoning-behind-injury-reports/ “Maybe somebody should look into that, because I thought we weren’t a gambling league and we were against all those things. But our injury report is specifically to make sure the gamblers get their odds right.”

It’s the same story for the NBA, whose changes to when the starting lineup and scratches need to be submitted before a game this season were almost certainly designed with gambling in mind.

In terms of gambling, hockey barely registered compared to the billion-dollar industries surrounding football, basketball, and hockey. In 2017 for instance, according to a report on sports gambling in Nevada, $2 billion was bet on football and $1 billion each on basketball and baseball. Hockey fell into the “other” category, with soccer and other sports: a combined $428 million between all those sports.

It won’t be until gambling truly takes off in hockey that sportsbooks will demand more detailed injury reports, forcing teams to be more transparent.

Even in the NHL, however, the Canucks have been particularly secretive with injuries this season. Heading into Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, there was no indication whatsoever that Elias Pettersson might not play. 

While Zack MacEwen took the warm-up skate, so did Pettersson, and some thought MacEwen might get into the lineup at the expense of Jay Beagle, who was shaken up after blocking a shot last game, or Loui Eriksson, who has gone cold of late (NESN was right!). There wasn’t even a suggestion that Pettersson might be nursing a minor injury or could be a gametime decision.

So it came as quite a surprise that I didn’t see Pettersson when I watched this game.

  • Hopefully Pettersson’s injury isn’t serious and he won’t miss much time. It’s presumably a result of the late hit he took from Matt Grzelcyk in his last game against the Bruins, which was the talk of the town the last couple days. Pettersson finished that game and practiced on Wednesday.
     
  • Apparently Pettersson is the primary provider of haps to the Canucks lineup, as his teammates looked hapless without him to start the game. Before the Canucks could even say, “What’s the haps?” they were down 3-0.
     
  • The first Wild goal was a bit of bad luck: after a Wild penalty expired, Maple Ridge’s own Brad Hunt wristed a shot from the top of the circle that caught just enough of Alex Edler’s pants to change direction and beat Jacob Markstrom. I haven’t seen pants cause that big a change in direction since Lena met Kostas.
     
  • The Wild nearly made it 2-0 shortly after when a puck snuck through Markstrom and was sitting in the crease, but Brock Boeser got his stick on the puck first, clearing it out of danger. Boeser may not have scored in front of his family and friends, but he did save a goal, which is almost as good, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score.
     
  • Unfortunately, Markstrom made an uncharacteristic mistake a couple minutes later, giving the puck away behind the net to Mikko Koivu. Markstrom got back to his crease, but was caught out of position on the centring pass to Ryan Hartman. Like Hartman was Mjolnir with a bunch of non-Thor Avengers, no one picked him up. 
     
  • Without Pettersson, the first power play unit got a substantial downgrade. Instead of promoting someone like Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen, or Tanner Pearson from the second unit, the Canucks instead turned to Brandon Sutter, who has one power play goal in the last three seasons. Just imagine, for a moment, if the Canucks instead had a spare power play specialist in their bottom-six instead of highly-paid grinders.
     
  • Kevin Fiala utterly embarrassed the pairing of Tyler Myers and Oscar Fantenberg on the 3-0 goal. On a Wild power play, the two defencemen had a bigger gap than Michael Strahan, and Fiala walked right in and fired a bullet past Markstrom.
     
  • With toughness at the forefront of the Canucks’ minds after there was limited response to Grzelcyk’s hit, the game got particularly scrummy and fighty. It started when Jason Zucker threw a hit on Antoine Roussel and Jake Virtanen responded with fisticuffs. It was the first regular season fight of the 5’11” Zucker’s NHL career — his only previous tilt at the NHL level came in the preseason back in 2014. 
     
  • Then, in the second period, the newly-recalled Zach MacEwen dropped the gloves with Marcus Foligno, who took exception to MacEwen, uh, standing too close to his goaltender, I guess? It seemed like Foligno was just looking for a reason to fight, given his emphatic gestures to the crowd on his way to the penalty box afterwards.
     
  • By modern NHL standards, those two fights turned this into a full-on slobberknocker. We're far from the days of bench-clearing brawls. 
     
  • Shortly after that fight, J.T. Miller echoed Fiala’s rush up the ice on the power play. He got Greg Pateryn moving to the inside, then dashed outside, gaining enough space to place a shot perfectly into the top corner. Like 1917, it looked like one incredible shot. 
     
  • After the missed call on Grzelcyk, Canucks fans are even more hyper-aware of shoddy officiating, so a questionable hooking call on Gaudette in the third period raised their ire, particularly since Gaudette himself was hooked with no call on the same shift. Of course, the Wild scored on the power play, with Zach Parise banging in a rebound from the top of the crease, so the ire could be fully actualized. No one wants half-actualized ire.
  • The Canucks pushed hard to erase the three-goal deficit late in the third, pulling Markstrom for the extra attacker while on the power play with 2:30 left. Going 6-on-4 paid off. With MacEwen screening him, Alex Stalock couldn’t swallow up Tyler Myers’ point shot, and Antoine Roussel jumped all over the rebound like he was wearing Moon Shoes to make it 4-2.
     
  • Unfortunately, that was as close as the Canucks would come. Like Giselle and Robert at the King and Queen’s Costume Ball, they were so close and still so far.