The Vancouver Canucks needed something to go right in a season that has started all wrong. What better time for the Ottawa Senators, the consensus pick as the worst team in the all-Canadian North Division, to come to town!
The Canucks made a meal out of Matt Murray and the Senators, scoring a whopping seven goals on the former Pittsburgh Penguin on 35 shots. What stands out the most about those seven goals is that the top line of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser didn’t pick up a single point.
Instead, the damage was done primarily by the bottom six, including the first career hattrick for Brandon Sutter, with some help from the second line of Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat, and Nils Höglander.
All three Sutter goals were fantastic, with not a single garbage goal among them. He didn’t look like a player that had taken 735 career games to get a hattrick, but like he scored hattricks in his sleep. After the game, he couldn’t help but glow about his big performance.
“It feels pretty good, actually. You never know when you’re going to get one or if you’re going to get one,” said Sutter. “It only took 13 years.”
His teammates seemed pretty happy for Sutter as well. The evening’s backup goaltender Braden Holtby even made sure the occasion was marked by at least one hat tossed on the ice in the empty arena and captain Bo Horvat gave Sutter an extra-long hug after the game.
“Bo was pretty excited for me. We’ve got a pretty good group of guys, so we’ll have some fun with it,” said Sutter. “It’s my first hattrick, you don’t know if you’re going to get one as you get older, so I was pretty pumped.”
I know I’m not going to get a hattrick as I get older, but at least I saw Sutter get one when I watched this game.
- Sutter’s hattrick was seriously fantastic. He opened the scoring in the first period with the closest to a grinder goal, but his finish elevated it — quite literally. Zack MacEwen caused a turnover up the boards with his pressure on the forecheck, then Alex Edler threw the puck on net, where Sutter was getting knocked around by Erik Gudbranson. As is typical for Gudbranson, he didn’t tie up the forward’s stick and Sutter backhanded the puck top corner as he fell to the ice.
- Sutter’s second goal came at a crucial moment, a shorthanded stunner with the Senators looking to make it a one-goal game on the power play. Thatcher Demko made a fantastic glove save on a point blank chance from Artem Anisimov, then Sutter was able to take the puck the other way and score off a sick wristshot. His shot hit the back of the net so hard that it bounced out as if it had hit the post.
- “On my second goal, they had a chance in the slot, it’s a 3-1 game, [Demko] makes a glove save,” said Sutter. “That turns it 3-2 pretty quick [if he doesn’t make the save]. 10 seconds later, we go down and score, we’re up 4-1. That kind of just opened the game up.”
- “The last one, I knew going out in the last minute, if I had a chance to go I was gonna at least try it and luckily I broke away,” said Sutter. Luck had little to do with it. He shadowed rookie Tim Stützle to the top of the zone, then knocked it off his stick and burst the other way, gaining a step on the much younger player. With that step, he made a great move across the crease, cutting to the forehand to tuck it around the sprawled-out Matt Murray. Sure, Murray might describe it as lucky, but that doesn’t mean Sutter should.
- Sutter wasn’t the only bottom-six forward getting in on the scoring. Tyler Motte made it 2-0 late in the first period, catching Thomas Chabot off guard with a sudden burst of speed on the forecheck, forcing a turnover. Motte cycled the puck behind the net for Jay Beagle to fetch, then got open for the return feed, snapping it inside the far post.
- The Senators managed to get one goal, but it legitimately was a lucky one. Thatcher Demko, who has made so many intentional saves with his mask, had his head betray him: a deflection off the stick of Austin Watson bounced off Demko’s mask and in to make it 2-1 in the second period.
- Demko stopped every other shot he faced, making 35 saves on 36 shots. Like a caller on the post-game show that still owns a rotary phone, he was dialed in.
- “Enough was enough for me,” said Demko. “Coming in, the first three starts of the year, not getting a win, that’s tough. That’s not the guy I want to be. I want to be the guy that’s going to get wins when the team needs it.”
- While the bottom-six had themselves a night, the Canucks’ best forward on the night didn’t even get a goal: Nils Höglander. He was flying, trying all sorts of confident moves with the puck, and drew a penalty in a battle in front of the Ottawa net. He also got under the skin of the Senators’ best player, Brady Tkachuk, with some jousting off the second period faceoff. Tkachuk got in Höglander's face and shouted at him after the whistle, but Höglander just skated away, cool as a cucumber. Or, as the Swedish say, lugn som en filbunke, which translates roughly to “calm as a bowl of yogurt.”
- “I didn’t pay any attention to him,” said Höglander with what might have been a sly smile. “I didn’t hear what he said, I just tried to go away.”
- The highlight of the night wasn’t any of the goals, it was Höglander’s assist. Off a tied-up faceoff in the defensive zone, Höglander dug in and won the puck, then took off on the attack. He chipped the puck off the boards around Mike Reilly, forcing his defence partner, Nikita Zaitsev to come across to take the puck. Höglander didn’t give him the chance — he dove out and, at full extension with one hand on his stick, he swiped the puck across to the now wide open Pearson, who snapped the puck past Murray’s blocker.
- With the top line not producing, you can tell that J.T. Miller is frustrated. He snapped his stick on the net after taking a second period slashing penalty, then threw the shaft of the stick haphazardly behind him, nearly hitting a linesman. After coming out of the box, he lost a battle on the endboards and screamed a profanity that echoed through the empty arena. That pause to cuss caused him to be a step late to another puck and he swore again.
- Fortunately, the Canucks didn’t need the first line to score. Quinn Hughes made it 5-1 in the third period after gaining the zone with a quick change in direction in the neutral zone. That led to a Horvat chance that the captain sent off both posts like the Cody Parkey double-doink. Fortunately, Hughes kept going to the net and took the rebound off his stick to his skate and backhanded it in.
- Olli Juolevi got in on the goalscoring with his first career NHL goal. Horvat won the faceoff — the Canucks dominated the faceoff circle all night — and, like an insight from Squirelly Dan, Juolevi ripped a low, hard one. Juolevi gave a sheepish smile after the goal, like he was embarrassed about all the attention he was getting from his teammates. It was pretty adorable.
- “I don’t think we’re looking at Olli to be this offensive defenceman, we just need him to be a real solid defenceman that gets the puck up quick, plays heavy in his own zone,” said head coach Travis Green. “To see a young guy get rewarded with a goal like that, it always puts a smile on everyone’s face.”