Happy Birthday, Elias Pettersson.
The Canucks superstar centre turned 21 on Tuesday, which boggles the mind. Prior to reaching his 21st birthday, Pettersson had already become one of the best players in the NHL, tied for 10th in NHL scoring with none other than Alex Ovechkin.
It’s wild to think that Pettersson isn’t even in his prime yet. This is the pre-prime Pettersson. He’s the beta test that is already one of the best video games you’ve ever played. He’s the leaked demo that immediately goes on all your playlists. He’s the movie trailer that gets nominated for an Oscar.
Okay, maybe that’s a tad hyperbolic, but it’s tough to avoid when the best player on the Canucks couldn’t even drink in 77.4% of the cities he plays in during the NHL season. At least, up until Tuesday’s game against the Nashville Predators.
How did Pettersson celebrate his birthday? By busting a couple slumps like they were pinatas.
The Canucks were in a mini slump, losing four straight games. Pettersson himself was in a mini slump, with no goals in four games. He even gets some credit for busting Tanner Pearson’s 14-game goal drought, as Pettersson drew the penalty that led to Pearson’s goal on the power play.
I busted a slump as well: it had been two whole days since I last had the opportunity to use the phrase, “I watched this game.”
- The win was tinged by injury. Early in the first period, Brandon Sutter went to chase a dump in and pulled up lame, clearly in discomfort as he coasted to the bench. He went to the dressing room, then came out briefly to test his legs before angrily slamming his stick into the boards and exiting the game. Since it didn’t appear to be a contact injury and Sutter is coming off a sports hernia surgery, there’s clear cause for concern.
- Since Jay Beagle was also out for this game with an undisclosed injury or illness or other circumstance (it was very undisclosed), that left a void at centre on the penalty kill. Bo Horvat stepped in and took on the bulk of the PK duties, leading all Canucks forwards with 2:24 shorthanded. Combined with the extra minutes at even strength and his time on the first power play unit, Horvat had a whopping 27:06 in total ice time. That’s a career high for Horvat by over a minute.
- Josh Leivo got a big opportunity in this game on the top line with Pettersson and Boeser. The end result? Like Joe Pesci’s luggage, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Leivo had a great chance at the end of the first period when he stole a puck and he executed a nice give-and-go with Pettersson early in the second for another, but he couldn’t finish either chance. He also had a couple turnovers where he lost the handle on the puck. I like Leivo, but I’m definitely not sold on him on the top line.
- Quinn Hughes has tremendous vision, but maybe he has a bit of a blindspot on his right side, as he completely missed an opportunity to send Pettersson in on a breakaway. Instead, he dumped in the puck for a line change and Pettersson was not happy about it, slamming his stick on the ice. That’s four goalless games’ worth of frustration in in that stick slam.
- Pearson busted his slump early in the second period with a fantastic rush on the power play. He took the pass from Adam Gaudette, used the threat of a drop pass to Sven Baertschi on the boards to step inside on Ryan Ellis at the blue line, then made like How Ridiculous and threw a dart past Pekka Rinne.
- That was the first goal from the second power play unit since Quinn Hughes scored one in the third game of the season, and that hardly counts since Hughes clearly should have been on the first power play unit at the time.
- This was a weird game for the power play. It was perfect, going 3-for-3, but it was also simultaneously bad, as they struggled to get shots on goal and were caught standing still a little too much. The power play didn’t look dangerous, but then they scored on three of their four shots, so I guess looks don’t matter after all, Karen. Maybe you should have gone to the sock hop with me in eighth grade.
- Thatcher Demko was stupendous in this game, making 34 saves on 37 shots. He was particularly good in the second period, when the Predators were all over the Canucks like some sort of synonym for a carnivorous beast. The Predators fired 19 shots on goal in the second period alone, but Demko stood tall and, when the occasion called for it, butterflied wide.
- To get an idea of how much Demko was bailing out his teammates, take his third period save on Kyle Turris. Roman Josi walked right around Tim Schaller at the blue line, then danced around Loui Eriksson down low before centring to Turris. Alex Edler, meanwhile, was somehow facing the complete wrong direction while Turris got a point blank chance behind him. Clearly, Edler failed a Spot check.
- Demko couldn’t stop the entire barrage of shots. Aiding and abetting the Predators were Pettersson and Leivo, neither of whom read the play and picked up the extra Predators going to the net, leaving Edler outnumbered when Demko kicked out a rebound off a shot by Matt Duchene. Calle Jarnkrok pounced on the rebound like some sort of animal on its prey — I swear the word will come to me — and the Predators tied the game 1-1.
- Bill Murray was at the game, which is neat. I like to imagine he didn’t intend to go to the game, but, like many Bill Murray stories, he randomly ran into a group of strangers that happened to have an extra ticket and went along for the ride.
- Heading into the third period, this was still a tight 1-1 game, but the final frame got wacky, probably because of the presence of Bill Murray. I don’t know who else to blame.
- Pettersson got the Canucks’ second power play goal with a little luck and a lot of skill. Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis donated to the Pettersson’s cause, hitting him with his clearance attempt. The puck bounced down to Pettersson’s feet and he quickly gathered it onto his stick and went water bottle hunting, whipping the puck over Rinne, off the crossbar, and in.
- A couple minutes later, the Predators responded. With two Predators in front of Demko, Tyler Myers inexplicably started skating into the corner, where there was no Predator and no puck, just a referee. That left Edler marking two players and he tied up neither of their sticks, so both Mikael Granlund and Filip Forsberg attempted to tip in Mattias Ekholm’s shot, with Granlund getting the goal.
- It wasn’t 2-2 for long. Minutes later, the Canucks re-took the lead on the power play. Ellis blocked Leivo’s initial shot, then Pearson sent the rebound through the crease. When Baertschi tried to tuck the puck in, his stick was checked by Jarnkrok, but Adam Gaudette was first to the loose puck, hitting the net like a bad tennis player.
- Less than a minute later, Pettersson gave the Canucks their first two-goal lead since November 2nd. Leivo gained the offensive zone and dropped the puck to Boeser, whose shot was blocked. The bounces that had been going against the Canucks in recent games seemed to be back on their side, as the puck deflected right to Pettersson to deposit in the open net, as Rinne had come out to challenge Boeser’s original shot.
- The Predators made it a one-goal game again with a power play goal of their own. With no Sutter or Beagle, Travis Green turned to Horvat to close out the game. Forsberg made it 4-3 with 5:34 remaining in the game. Of that final 5:34, Horvat had 4:46 in ice time. There was just 48 seconds where Horvat wasn’t on the ice to close out the game and 12 of those seconds came after Pearson scored an empty net goal to restore the two-goal lead.
- With all those minutes, you better believe that Horvat had a chance to get off the schneid with a 5-on-5 goal, but the favourable bounces all belonged to Pettersson. Late in the third, Horvat was on a 3-on-1 with Jake Virtanen carrying the puck. Virtanen, with no passing lane, shot for a rebound, and the puck caromed off Horvat’s leg and went just wide.
Considering Horvat had just talked about getting a goal off a shin pad, it seemed particularly cruel of the hockey gods not to give the guy a break in a game where he played over 27 minutes. Instead, he ended up with no points in the 5-3 win.