It was a night of firsts for the Vancouver Canucks.
Jack Rathbone scored his first goal in the NHL. Travis Hamonic scored his first goal of the season and first as a Canuck. And for the first time ever, the Canucks scored four goals on their first four shots and chased a goaltender from the game with .000 save percentage.
Okay, I haven’t fully researched that last one, but I feel like it’s a pretty safe assumption. According to the Sportsnet Stats Twitter account, the last goaltender to get chased by four goals on four shots was Don Beaupre of the Washington Capitals back in 1989. Before that, it was Dan Bouchard of the Atlanta Flames in 1979. The Canucks weren’t exactly known for scoring a lot of goals prior to 1979.
On Thursday night in Edmonton, the goals came easily, as their first four shots of the game all got by Oilers’ goaltender Mikko Koskinen. What was supposed to be a game off for starter Mike Smith instead turned into an almost full game of work for the 39-year-old netminder.
“I think every goalie has been in that situation,” said Thatcher Demko. “You’re watching it and you might feel bad, but when you’re at the other end of the rink, you’re not feeling too bad.”
Koskinen has struggled all season for the Oilers, with a .900 save percentage that ranks 37th among the 44 goaltenders with at least 20 starts this season. His $4.5 million contract that runs through next season is one last gift from former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, signed two days before he was fired in 2019.
At the time, it was hoped that Koskinen could rescue the Oilers from years of volatile goaltending. In retrospect, making that kind of bet on a 30-year-old goaltender with 31 career NHL games might have been a mistake.
Instead, the Oilers are getting elite goaltending from a 39-year-old who had .898 and .902 save percentages in his previous two seasons.
Goaltending, man. It just don’t make no sense.
What does make sense is celebrating Rathbone’s first career goal, which I saw when I watched this game.
- What a game for Travis Hamonic, who assisted on the first Canucks goal, scored the third, then added a fight to complete the Gordie Howe Hattrick. He now has as many of those as Gordie Howe himself: two.
- “It’s my mom’s birthday actually today,” said Hamonic. “I know she doesn’t like when I fight too much, but she’ll be happy about the goal for sure.”
- Hamonic got his assist in an unusual way: he was first in on the forecheck. He jumped up in the rush, but J.T. Miller’s pass bounced off his stick to the end boards, Hamonic kept going and was first to the puck, moving it to Miller behind the net. He found Nils Höglander, who made a beautiful move around Jesse Puljujarvi before snapping the puck short side with the wickedest release since The Moon is Blue.
- Seriously, let’s take a moment and just appreciate Höglander’s goal, his tenth of the season. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can also take a moment to chuckle at Puljujarvi’s defensive efforts. I won’t tell.
- Rathbone struck a few minutes later with a fantastic shot for his first career goal. Tyler Graovac pressured on the forecheck, causing a turnover to Jayce Hawryluk, who cut to the slot, only to have his shot blocked. Rathbone showed great offensive instincts to jump on the loose puck, drag it towards himself to change the angle, and whip the puck past Koskinen’s glove.
- “It was a little bit of a broken play,” said Rathbone. “I was coming in the zone pretty late and [Hawryluk] was able to get a shot off and luckily the puck was just sitting in the slot for me...That’s the dream, just to be able to walk down Main Street there.”
- “It’s awesome to see,” said head coach Travis Green. “Anytime you see a player score his first NHL goal, it’s something that you never forget, you’ll always remember it. It’s a special night...The team was excited, I’m sure he’s thrilled, and I’m sure his family is too and rightfully so.”
- After Hamonic assisted on Höglander’s goal by being quick on the forecheck, Höglander returned the favour. He chased down a dump-in by Brock Boeser, then chipped the puck back to Boeser under pressure from two Oilers. Boeser swatted the puck across the ice and Hamonic stepped into it like Albert Pujols in his prime, overpowering Koskinen, who got a piece of the slap shot with his blocker, but not enough to keep it out of the net.
- The fourth goal again came from a strong forecheck. Hawryluk chased down an Alex Edler dump-in, then got to the front of the net. Nate Schmidt’s point shot hit Hawryluk and he chased down the loose puck, out-working Ryan McLeod to force his shot through, where it ramped up Koskinen’s stick like a skee ball and went right through the five-hole for 500 tickets.
- That was the end of Koskinen’s night and in came Mike Smith. He immediately made a difference for the Oilers, not defensively, but offensively. He played a quick up to Connor McDavid on the power play, who dropped the puck to Leon Draisaitl then blatantly — incredibly blatantly — interfered with Nate Schmidt to give Draisaitl room to beat Demko past the blocker.
- The interference was so blatant that Draisaitl looked to the referee to make sure he wasn’t calling a penalty before he celebrated the goal. He knew.
- The Oilers cut the Canucks’ lead to two before the end of the first period — yes, all of this happened in just one period — when Puljujarvi got open for a one-timer. Höglander was on Puljujarvi, but left him to shadow his man at the point and Quinn Hughes didn’t recognize the switch in time to close on the big Finn.
- Rathbone’s offensive instincts and skill have been readily apparent, but I’ve been impressed by his work defensively as well. He has a quick stick, as demonstrated on this play in the second period where he darts his blade out to poke away a pass, then tracks the puck to the boards and again flicks out his stick like a mantis shrimp's claw to poke the puck up to a forward.
- “He’s held his own,” said Green. “You can see the puck skills, you can see his shot, his passing. The timing in your D-zone coverage is going to take him a little bit, there’s a few times where he’s softening and just a little bit late to get to the corner for a battle, but that’s all to be expected when you’re a young D-man who’s never played in the league.”
- The Canucks got back in front by three off an outstanding play by an unexpected player. Tyler Graovac went forward off the draw on a faceoff in the neutral zone, banked the puck off the boards to himself past one Oilers defender and out-battled another, then sent a shot from below the goal line off the back of Smith’s head and in. It was a fantastic individual effort.
- Zack MacEwen got under the skin of Darnell Nurse in a big way in this game, with Nurse taking an undisciplined penalty going after MacEwen after the whistle in the second period, then cross-checking him again in the third period and starting a fight. The worst part was the one-legged takedown Nurse used on MacEwen, an incredibly dangerous move, especially since MacEwen lost his helmet and could have hit the back of his head on the ice.
- Kole Lind should’ve had his first career NHL point in this game too. He set up Brock Boeser with a beautiful cross-slot pass on the power play, giving the sniper half the net to shoot at, but Smith dropped his goal stick in desperation to more quickly get his blocker across to rob Boeser.
- McDavid got a breakaway shortly after and Tyler Myers hacked him in the hands to give him a penalty shot. Demko laid out and stretched his left pad across, looking like a young Roberto Luongo, to stop McDavid’s backhand move.
- After Draisaitl once again narrowed the Canucks lead to two, Boeser put the game away for good. He cut off a Draisaitl clearing attempt and swung the puck down low for Tanner Pearson. Boeser looped around to find a soft spot in coverage and Pearson found him. Boeser’s stick hit McDavid’s as he shot, making it tough to read for Smith.
- It was a big win, not in the sense of being meaningful for the team in the standings but for keeping them from feeling too down in a season that has been tough mentally on everyone.
- “I think it was important, just to hear the music after the game and smile and just kind of enjoy it,” said Hamonic. “I thought we probably needed a win like this. It's fun. As the season grinds along, it's never gonna go necessarily the way you think or you want but you've got to slow things down and enjoy the wins when they come your way.”
- Honestly, that’s pretty good advice for everyone right now.