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IWTG: The Canucks smoked the Leafs and exposed David Rittich

The Canucks honoured World Autism Acceptance Month and the Canucks Autism Network during the game.
The Vancouver Canucks have now won two-straight over the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

The first Canucks game that was postponed because of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak was meant to be their game in support of the Canucks Autism Network.  

The Canucks Autism Network is one of the Canucks’ signature charities that does some amazing work helping individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. It was tough to see such an important opportunity lost to increase awareness of their charitable work and raise funds for the organization. 

Rescheduling the team’s World Autism Acceptance Game had to be a priority for the Canucks as they got back on the ice but it’s good that they didn’t make it their first game back, where the cause would have been overshadowed by the story of the team’s return.

Instead, Tuesday’s game was the team’s opportunity to highlight the Canucks Autism Network as part of World Autism Acceptance Month.

“Autism is a lot more prevalent in our lives than probably a lot of people know,” said Travis Green on Sportsnet 650 about the special game. “It’s definitely an important day.”

Green has a personal connection with the Canucks Autism Network because of his son.

“Having a son that has autism and seeing how it can affect families firsthand, it’s hard to put into words, to be honest,” said Green. “Being part of an organization that really wants to help people and help families that have had to go through hard times with family members who have autism is special. For me, it’s been so close to my heart, being able to be part of it is probably extra special.”

In recent years, the emphasis has shifted away from merely promoting awareness of autism to promoting acceptance. The Canucks Autism Network works to help both kids and adults with autism be accepted into society in multiple different ways.

“Whether it’s sports, recreation, art, social, employment, having people who have autism accepted into everyday life is important,” said Green. “But also providing training for families that have to deal with autism...because it’s different for each person. I’ve seen it firsthand and I can really understand what people go through that have families that are dealing with people on the spectrum and accepting them is very important.”

Through very careful COVID-19 protocols, the Canucks Autism Network has been able to resume in-person programs, a crucial part of connecting with kids.

“Any time you can see a young boy or young girl be part of something that they don’t get to be very often, seeing a light shine in their eyes, it can say a thousand words,” said Green. “A lot of these families go through some hard times with autism. Obviously, the child gets to enjoy the sports, the recreation, or being involved with other kids — it’s so important — but also the families see their child be involved in maybe something that they haven’t been before. 

“It not only lights up the child but puts hope and light into a father or a mother.”

I tried not to lose sight of what really matters as I watched this game.

  • This game was truly outrageous. Two days after Braden Holtby stole a win for the Canucks, David Rittich just handed them one on a silver platter. It was a wild, back-and-forth affair, like one that Thomas Crown might engage in, just with less smoldering sexual tension. 
  • Much like Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs controlled play for large portions of the game, eventually out-shooting the Canucks 40-to-29. Unlike Sunday, the Canucks pushed back with some significant offensive zone time of their own, with Quinn Hughes playing a particularly inspired game, with some of his signature wheeling and dealing around the blue line.
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  • “You're gonna have one or two shifts a game where you can hem someone in,” said Hughes. “You've just got to try to capitalize on that.”
  • Absolutely nothing came of this appallingly bad drop pass by Brandon Sutter to Jalen Chatfield in the defensive zone, but a terrible joke about it popped into my head when I saw it, so now I have to share it or it will grow tendrils into my brain, spawn offspring, and take over my entire mind, soul, and body.
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  • I’ve heard of dropping an F in the chat, but that drop to Chat was more like an F-minus.
  • I am so sorry. Moving on.
  • The Leafs opened the scoring on a stumble by Tyler Myers, who can be forgiven because he had already played over 30 minutes on Sunday. Nylander burned past the fallen Myers, who didn’t get much help from the puck-fixated Jimmy Vesey and J.T. Miller, missing John Tavares open at the back door. Nylander’s shot was stopped, but he collected the rebound and found Tavares, who found the back of the net.
  • Antoine Roussel left the game in the final minute of the first period after suffering an injury to his right knee, the same knee he had surgery on two years ago. Mitch Marner got tangled up with Miller in the neutral zone and fell backwards into Roussel, who went down to the ice in agony and struggled to the bench. He didn’t return.
  • Between the goal and the injury, it was a tough first period for the Canucks, but they responded well in the second. Brandon Sutter got the Canucks on the board after Brock Boeser’s tip hit the side of the net and somehow bounced back out front. Rittich, out way too far for Travis Hamonic’s initial point shot, was, like Kristoff Bjorgman, lost in the woods on the redirect.
  • The Leafs had an injury of their own, as Zach Bogosian took an ugly fall into the boards after losing his footing charging back for a puck. He thankfully left the ice under his own strength, but he didn’t return to the game with an upper body injury. You could see Bo Horvat’s immediate concern for Bogosian as those kinds of collisions with the boards can be extremely dangerous.
  • The Canucks took the lead on Hughes’s first goal in over two months. Miller found Hughes at the point with some room and he walked in and unleashed a wrist shot that took a favourable deflection off Marner’s stick and into the top corner. 
  • Tavares tied the game on the power play past a screened Holtby, his second goal of the game, and the Canucks were tied heading into the third. Honestly, if you had told me they would win one game and even have a chance to win the second after coming off three weeks without a game, I wouldn’t have believed you.
  • The third period started off disastrously with a brutal shorthanded goal by the Leafs. Hughes took a gamble at the blue line, which allowed Marner to rush the other way. Everything went higgledy-piggledy from there: Holtby stopped one shot, but the Canucks couldn’t find the puck or their checks. Marner picked up the puck and fed Adam Brooks streaking up the middle for the wide open goal. 
  • The game could have spiralled out of control from there, but the Canucks kept a level head — 20 of them, including the backup goaltender. They also had a little bit of help from the Leafs’ new goaltender, David Rittich, who was Rittichulously bad.
  • Boeser sent Nils Höglander down the left wing but, without a lane to the net, all he could do was take an unscreened slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle. It seemed to go right through Rittich as if he had a hole in his stomach like Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. It was one of the worst goals I’ve seen in a while, but Rittich would top it before the night was done.
  • Before that, the Canucks got the power play going to take the lead. Some crisp puck movement led to a one-timer by Miller that Rittich couldn’t swallow up — or perhaps he did swallow the puck and it fell out of the hole in his stomach — landing right on the stick of Tanner Pearson in front, who banged it home.
  • “On the powerplay, I probably could have backchecked a bit harder,” said Pearson about the Leafs’ shorthanded goal. “So I was happy to get that one that back for [Holtby].”
  • Pearson added some insurance with a dreadful goal. He stole the puck off Alex Kerfoot in the neutral zone and, perhaps remembering Höglander’s goal, threw the puck towards the net from a bad angle. Rittich went into his reverse VH too early — it’s only really meant for pucks below the faceoff circles — which meant his left leg was sticking out. The puck was going wide but went in off the toe of Rittich’s skate and in. 
  • The Leafs were able to go 6-on-4 to end the game thanks to a Myers penalty, but Nate Schmidt — who was very good in his first game back — made a brilliant defensive play on the penalty kill to pick off a centring pass and feed Sutter for the empty net goal to seal the game for good.
  • A few additional notes: Braden Holtby was superb once again. Jalen Chatfield was solid, though not always the best with the puck on his stick. Jake Virtanen and the newly-acquired Matthew Highmore provided some much-needed speed. Travis Boyd was quietly quite good on the fourth line, going 8-for-11 on faceoffs and limiting chances. Kudos all around!