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IWTG: Canucks can't stop Nathan MacKinnon after forcing overtime in thrilling comeback

Canucks 4 - 5 Avalanche
IWTG Banner - 2019-20

I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but the Canucks have lost more games than they’ve won this season.

With Saturday’s overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Canucks are now 10-7-4, which means they’ve won 10 games and lost 11. It’s certainly some consolation that they’ve been able to squeeze a point out of four of those losses, but it’s certainly disconcerting.

The Canucks have now lost six of their last seven games and, while it’s not time to hit the panic button, it might be worth moving towards it while trying to act casual, then lightly rest your hand on the molly-guard encasing the panic button, ready to lift the guard and press the button at a moment's notice, just in case.

In all honesty, the Canucks looked pretty sharp against the Avalanche, primarily because of their slick retro flying skate jerseys. It was the first time this season they’ve busted out the retro look and the sleek black sweater with the red and yellow trim looked fantastic, even if it was a little incongruous with the blue and green logo at centre ice.

It even fit with the opponent, as the Avalanche’s current jerseys look nearly identical to the ones they wore in their first couple seasons, when the Canucks were still wearing the flying skate.

Beyond their fashion sense, the Canucks played pretty well too, even if they had some defensive miscues, and their last minute comeback was thrilling. It just would have been far better if it wasn't necessary. The Canucks did nothing for my anxiety when I watched this game. 

  • The Lotto Line of Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and J.T. Miller was reunited and they utterly dominated puck possession, but the line of Sven Baertschi, Adam Gaudette, and Josh Leivo was just as good and provided two of the Canucks’ four goals, albeit on the power play.
  • Meanwhile, Bo Horvat’s line with Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen was hard-matched against the Avalanche’s top line and kept them off the scoresheet. Er, at least they did when they were matched up at 5-on-5. Just ignore the three points Nathan MacKinnon racked up in other situations.
  • Thatcher Demko didn’t have his best performance of the season, but he deserves credit for some magnificent saves that kept the Canucks in this game. He made a difficult toe save on an Erik Johnson backhand look a lot easier than it was, robbed Joonas Donskoi with his left arm, and turned aside Nazem Kadri with his left pad. How good was that last save? As spotted by the CBC crew at the intermission, MacKinnon started to celebrate Kadri’s goal at the blue line before Demko made the stop.
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  • Pettersson’s zone starts have been hilariously skewed, but the absence of Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle could mean a few more. Or not, given his one defensive zone start in this game immediately resulted in a goal against. It was only his third defensive zone start of the season.
  • The goal wasn’t really Pettersson’s fault. Miller lost the faceoff and Pettersson went to his man, Johnson, who took an innocent-looking shot from the right boards. Unfortunately, it was not-so-innocently tipped by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare off the post and in. It was a very guilty tip, like anonymously ratting out a family member to the police and feeling shameful about it for years
  • The Canucks responded on one of their plentiful power plays. Josh Leivo gained the zone down the right wing and swung down low while Tanner Pearson and Sven Baertschi crashed the net. That provided a distraction for the penalty kill, leaving Leivo ample room to slip a superb pass to Adam Gaudette in the slot. Gaudette had the entire net open with goaltender Antoine Bibeau expecting Leivo to shoot; unlike Bibeau, Gaudette made no mistake.
  • On three of the Avalanche’s five goals, Demko got beat shortside past his blocker. I don’t know if that’s the book on Demko that the Avalanche had from scouting him, but it seems notable. Of course, when two of those three goals are off the stick of MacKinnon, it’s forgivable. The Avalanche’s leading scorer ripped a one-timer on the power play past Demko to make it 2-1 midway through the second period.
  • A few minutes later it was 3-1, with another short side goal for the Avalanche from the left faceoff dot. It came off a gorgeous stretch pass from Cale Makar, sending Nazem Kadri in alone down the left wing, though Troy Stecher cut off his path to the middle of the ice. Evidently, like an extremist politician, he didn’t need the middle. Kadri ripped a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that went by the blocker like Jadeveon Clowney.
  • With offensive-minded forwards like Sven Baertschi and Adam Gaudette in place of Brandon Sutter, the second power play unit has suddenly come alive. With the first unit struggling, the second unit got a little more ice time and made the most of it. With mere seconds left in the second period, Baertschi hoisted the puck to the front of the net, looking for Tanner Pearson. Nikita Zadorov kicked the pass away, but put it right on the tape of Gaudette, who went to one knee and proposed a goal to the net with a ring (off the post). She said yes!
  • Gaudette is flying high. Since his stint with the Utica Comets in October, Gaudette has 7 points in 8 games and his ice time has climbed to match his production. It was an even 14 minutes for number 88 after 14:31 last game, which is significant since he played under 10 minutes in two games earlier in the month. At this point, how could the Canucks send him down to the AHL again?
  • The Avalanche regained the two-goal lead early in the third period thanks to a janky defensive read by Alex Edler. Pearson stumbled behind the net, giving MacKinnon room to pick a passing lane. In front of the net, Edler drifted into the slot as his check, Andre Burakovsky, moved in that direction. Unfortunately, Edler completely missed when Burakovsky jumped towards the net, where MacKinnon found him with a crisp pass that he one-timed home.
  • Edler gets some forgiveness, because MacKinnon is ridiculously good and has a tendency to make other players look silly. It was an extremely nice pass.
  • Here’s where the game got outrageous. Down by two, the Canucks pulled Demko with nearly four minutes left. A comeback seemed unlikely, but the Avalanche had Antoine Bibeau in net, who hadn’t started an NHL game since 2016 and had started just one AHL game this season. Sure, the Canucks had made him look pretty good to that point, but there’s always a chance.
  • The Canucks’ third goal, however, felt wrong. As Matt Calvert slid to block Pettersson’s shot, the slick Swede delayed, hoping for a clear lane. Instead, Calvert spun around and took Pettersson’s shot off the side of his head. Calvert tried to get up, but fell back to his knees, clearly dazed. The referees let the play continue and the Canucks scored.
  • Technically, the refs don’t need to blow the whistle until the injured player’s team gains control of the puck, but there is leeway for the referees in case of a serious injury. Personally, I’m inclined to believe a point blank shot from Pettersson to the side of the head is enough to cause a serious injury and the Avalanche were clearly furious.
  • The controversy overshadowed the goal itself: Quinn Hughes sent a fantastic backdoor pass to Edler, and it was a tap-in for Eagle. You could tell none of the Canucks wanted to even celebrate the goal. Heck, Pettersson had pretty much stopped playing after his shot hit Calvert.
  • The goal, however, did set up a thrilling finish. With one minute left and Demko once again out of the net for the extra attacker, Pettersson did something unusual: he threw a change-up. In baseball, they call it an eephus pitch, which can be 40 mph slower than a fastball, hopefully completely bamboozling the hitter.
  • Pettersson sent his eephus shot towards Bibeau’s blocker. Because of the lack of speed, Bibeau couldn’t punch the puck away into the corner like he would a harder shot, and Boeser was able to knock down the rebound and chip it in the open net. Was that Pettersson’s intent? It’s more likely he was looking for a deflection in front, but when it works, you always claim it was on purpose.
  • The tying goal set up 3-on-3 overtime, where Travis Green countered the Avalanche sending out MacKinnon, Makar, and J.T. Compher with Horvat, Miller, and Chris Tanev. Would it have been better to go power vs power, with Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes? Perhaps, but again, Green gets some forgiveness because MacKinnon is ridiculous and sometimes you have to focus on stopping one guy.
  • The Canucks maybe should have focused a little harder. In man-on-man coverage, Tanev was shadowing MacKinnon, but gave him a bit too much room to build up speed entering the neutral zone. Then, Compher ran a little subtle interference, blocking Tanev’s most efficient lane to skate back. Miller recognized the danger and switched off Compher to try to check MacKinnon, but a moment too late, and MacKinnon blew past him before ripping a snap shot past Demko’s blocker on the short side. Miller and Tanev: it's MacKinnon, you're forgiven.
  • Honestly, given the shady circumstances of the Canucks’ third goal, it seemed somewhat karmic that the Avalanche still got the win. The Canucks, meanwhile, played well enough to at least get a point, so that felt right as well. Now it’s up to the Canucks to do more than just earn a point, but once again start winning more often than they lose.