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IWTG: Canucks give up three-goal lead to the Oilers, everything is terrible

“These last few games, giving up a lead like we have — we’ve got to show some more maturity.”
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The Vancouver Canucks gave up four unanswered goals to the Edmonton Oilers to lose 4-3. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

One could look at this game and blame some bad bounces for the Canucks losing to the Edmonton Oilers.

The Canucks took a 3-0 lead in the first period, but it fell apart after that, with the Oilers scoring four unanswered goals to win the game.

The first Oilers goal hit the post, then bounced off the pad of goaltender Thatcher Demko and rolled into the net. On the second goal, Demko made a fantastic save, but J.T. Miller’s skate accidentally kicked the puck out from under Demko’s glove as he went to cover it, leading to the goal a moment later.

Then there was the game-winning goal, a ridiculous pinballing puck that hit a stick, then Zack MacEwen’s leg, then Tyler Ennis’s shin and slid into the net. It doesn’t get much more lucky than that.

But it wasn’t bad bounces that did the Canucks in. In fact, they got the majority of the bounces in this game. The Oilers hit three crossbars and a goalpost, coming centimetres away each time from making this a blowout instead of a one-goal game. 

The Canucks goals benefited from bounces as well: a fluke goal from an awful angle, a lucky deflection off an opponent’s stick into the top of the net, and a fanned shot that luckily turned into a perfect move to the backhand.

Besides, the Canucks gave the Oilers far too many chances for those bounces to occur. They spent so much time in the defensive zone that the bad bounces didn’t seem unlucky — they seemed inevitable.

The Canucks, to their credit, weren’t blaming bad bounces. They knew they had blown a lead — the third time in the last five games they’d blown a multi-goal lead — and knew they had no one to blame but themselves.

“We can’t say it’s bounces all the time,” said captain Bo Horvat at one point. “We just have to mature as a group, learn from it, and move on.”

Maturity was an interesting watchword after the game, coming up a couple of times.

“These last few games, giving up a lead like we have — we’ve got to show some more maturity,” said Tyler Myers, who scored a goal but was also on the ice for both the game-tying and game-winning goals for the Oilers.

“This has happened a couple of times and we’ve got to put our foot down right now and make it stop,” said Horvat.

Head coach Travis Green was blunt in his assessment.

“Bottom line is, we weren’t good enough to win,” said Green. “In some of the games where we haven’t come out on top, and I’ve said that we’ve played well, we probably deserved a better fate, that might have been the case. But tonight, we just didn’t flat-out play well enough to win this hockey game and we deserved what we got tonight.”

While he didn’t name names, Green made it clear that he wasn’t just upset with the whole team, but with some specific players.

“Quite frankly, we had some individuals that didn’t play good enough tonight,” he said. “I’m not going to name names specifically, but there’s a couple key plays that suddenly it changes the whole momentum of the game. It doesn’t take much for a team that has the firepower with their players on their team to turn the tide quick.”

There are no moral victories here, no feeling good about how the team played despite the loss, no single point for getting the game to overtime to ease the pain. This one just hurts.

“There’s been some tough nights throughout this season so far,” said Demko. “Tonight’s stings a little bit more, being up three like that and letting them crawl back in the game.”

“We can’t keep making excuses for ourselves or feeling sorry for ourselves — at the end of the day, we’ve got to start getting wins,” said Horvat. “

At the end of this day, I sat down to write this article after I watched this game.

  • It really seemed like this game was going to go the Canucks’ way when Mike Smith let the wind out of the Oilers’ sails early, allowing an absolute stinker of a goal to Bo Horvat a minute into the game. Horvat threw the puck towards the net from the boards and instead of just sealing the post, Smith tried to punch the puck away with his blocker, only to miss the puck and metaphorically punch himself in the face like Tyson Fury.  
     
  • The Canucks took the momentum to create more chances, taking the 2-0 lead off a faceoff win when Tyler Myers’ slap shot took a friendly deflection off the stick of Tyler Ennis up over Smith’s shoulder. Ironically, the guy who never requires help to reach something on the top shelf got help putting something top shelf.
     
  • They kept pressing and made it 3-0 not long after. A Quinn Hughes centring pass was partially blocked and J.T. Miller alertly bumped the bouncing puck to Elias Pettersson in the slot. Pettersson tried for the quick shot, but the rolling puck wouldn’t cooperate. It did, however, bounce across to the opposite side of the crease and Pettersson stuck with the puck and swatted it home on the backhand.
     
  • The Canucks couldn’t hang onto the three-goal lead heading into the first intermission, as the Oilers acted according to Newton’s third law of motion and pushed back on the Canucks equally as hard as they had been pushed. Boeser blocked a shot off the skate, but it was for nought, as Dominik Kahun flicked a shot on net shortly after that snuck under Demko’s arm, hit the post, hit Demko’s pad, and rolled in.
     
  • Things started to go off the rails in the second period. “We took a couple penalties in the game that I didn’t like,” said Green. “We talked about getting the power play advantage against this team and being disciplined and they didn’t score right away on the first couple, but you could see it got them going in the game.”
     
  • One of those penalties was on Antoine Roussel, who inexplicably dropped the gloves with Jesse Puljujarvi after a battle along the boards. Except he didn’t exactly drop the gloves with the Finnish forward, who seemed to have no idea what was happening before he suddenly took two punches to the face. Somehow, Roussel only received a two-minute minor while Puljujarvi dealt with his bleeding face on the bench. 
  • If you’re wondering why Jake Virtanen doesn’t get more opportunities further up the lineup, it’s because of plays like this at the end of the second period. The Oilers were pushing hard and the Canucks had struggled to get the puck out of the zone, but Virtanen commits the cardinal sin of waiting for the puck to come to him while gliding backwards, just asking for someone with some hustle to cut in front of him and keep the puck in the zone. Sure enough, that’s what happened.
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  • Virtanen wasn’t the only one at fault when it came to getting the puck out of the defensive zone — that’s just one of the more egregious examples. The Canucks were repeatedly hemmed in the defensive zone because they just failed to get the puck out when they had the chance. I asked Travis Green about it and want to include his complete answer.
     
  • Travis Green:
    “When we talk about puck management, it’s different in different parts of the rink. Some of it is decision-making with the puck. I thought we had a couple young forwards that made a couple plays that they would have liked back, just with their decision-making. 

    “Some of it is your ability to get a puck out under pressure and your skill level to do that, getting places quick enough to get enough time, players talking — I think the ones you’re talking about, Daniel, are ones that you’ve just got to get the job done and get it out. They’re not trying to make a fancy play in that area, that’s not necessarily a decision that they’re making.

    “The ones through the neutral zone or in the offensive zone are more puck management issues where I think we’ve had that in the past, where we’ve tried to be too cute in our game. There was probably two that I didn’t like for sure that come to mind — one in the first, one in the second. 

    “But I thought we didn’t handle their pressure well when they started pinching. Teams start to do that when they’re down, we didn’t handle the heat very well, and we lost some puck battles when they were pinching to make us spend more time in our zone.”
     
  • The Canucks still had a 3-1 lead going into the third period, but it very quickly disappeared. The Oilers scored less than a minute into the final frame, then got a power play and cashed in with some slick passing that seemed impossible to defend. There’s a reason why Brandon Sutter put so much emphasis on not even letting the power play into the zone when he talked about why the penalty kill has been successful.
     
  • It’s not a Canucks game with Nils Höglander doing something notable. In the third period as McDavid was about to enter the Canucks’ zone, Höglander figured out a brilliant way to prevent McDavid from scoring: he stole his stick. McDavid better hope the rest of the league doesn’t catch on to this one weird trick.
  • Nothing good happened for the Canucks in the third period. The few chances they managed to get were stopped by a suddenly competent Mike Smith, they gave up a pinballing game-winning goal and then, with three minutes left in the game, Tyler Myers took a terrible interference penalty that sunk any chance of them coming back to force overtime.
     
  • “It was frustrating. He chipped it by me. Tried to step in front of him. Got a penalty,” said Myers, who didn’t seem happy to be asked about it, but he’s currently tied for the NHL lead in penalty minutes with 37. If you want to emphasize maturity, then discipline from your veterans has to be part of the conversation.