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IWTG: Canucks power play scores one, but penalty kill gives up two to the Canadiens

Canucks 1 - 3 Canadiens
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I have a friend who is a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. He grew up in BC, but somehow ended up a Canadiens fan, perhaps because he was an impressionable 7 years old when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993.

He claims, however, that he’s a fan of the Canadiens because they are winners. After all, they’ve won 23 Stanley Cups, the most in history. Nevermind that the vast majority of those were from before he was born; to him, being a Canadiens fan was associated himself with decades of winners.

It’s the same reason he loves the New York Yankees, in case you were wondering if he was that guy. He definitely is.

In any case, perhaps that explains the proliferation of Canadiens fans whenever Les Habitants make their annual trek to Vancouver. In a way, it’s hard to fault them. Sure, some of them may have moved from Quebec and brought their fandom with them, but others likely chose their fandom for themselves and chose to associate with the team with the most wins, not to mention the most recent Stanley Cup win by a Canadian team.

And yet, it feels like cheating. Choosing to cheer for a team because they make you happy and even when they’re bad, you can reflect on all the Cups they’ve won? That’s not sports. Sports is about feeling really terrible about your team all the time, with the barest hope of winning just making the sadness that much sharper.

Then, if there ever is the potential for the big win, the actual holy grail itself, the possibility of it leads to a manic euphoria that spills out into destructive tendencies when the win is swiped away at the last moment, the burning desire for victory leading to actual burning.

Or maybe that’s just what it’s like to be a Canucks fan and every other sports fan is a lot more well-adjusted. Who’s to say?

My friend was likely very happy with the Canadiens’ win when I watched this game.

  • Judging by social media, this game was a breaking point for a lot of fans, who were evidently hoping for a strong response after an ugly performance in Las Vegas on the weekend. The Canucks started the game strong, but petered out as the game progressed; by the time the Canadiens took a two-goal lead in the third period, the cheering of the Habs fans was the sound of inevitability.
  • It really did feel like the game was over when the Canadiens took a two-goal lead. The type of third-period lead that has been so surmountable for opponents this season felt completely insurmountable for the Canucks. It had fans throwing around the word “fire” on social media and not just the K-Pop stans.
  • Here’s the thing: were the Canucks really that bad? They out-shot the Canadiens 39-to-30 and, while they didn’t create a ton of Grade-A chances, the Canadiens are a pretty stingy team at even-strength, among the league leaders when it comes to fewest chances against. When they did get chances, Carey Price was like Rich Uncle Pennybags standing on a Monopoly board: on top of his game.
  • The Canucks even got the opening goal, with the second power play unit going to work on a penalty drawn by Jake Virtanen. Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo made like charcuterie and looked good on the boards, winning the puck back to Tyler Myers at the point. He set up Adam Gaudette in the left faceoff circle, who let fly with a deadly wrist shot that went off the near post and in past a stunned Price.
  • J.T. Miller had a couple great chances to extend the lead in the second period, but Price was right on top of him each time. First he robbed him off a Virtanen rebound by getting square like Spongebob’s pants, then he stuck with him on a breakaway set up by a Virtanen clearance off the glass. Maybe it was less that Price didn’t want Miller to score but that he didn’t want Virtanen picking up any assists.
  • Virtanen is getting a legitimate opportunity on the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller and he made the most of it in this game, using his speed effectively through the neutral zone and on the forecheck. He drew the penalty on Tomas Tatar by keeping his feet moving and should have drawn another in the second period on a great drive up the middle on the power play, but it went uncalled.
  • When Virtanen was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Canucks out-attempted the Canadiens 25-to-11 and out-shot them 17-to-5, best on the team, though he shares credit with his linemates. This is the type of game Virtanen needs to play on a regular basis and it was gratifying to see him follow through after getting promoted up the lineup.
  • The one frustrating element is that Virtanen’s excellent game still came with a couple glaring errors in judgement that make it difficult to give him unreserved praise. But we’ll get to those in a moment.
  • The Canadiens tied up the game after a turnover by Antoine Roussel led to a 3-on-2. The bigger problem was that Roussel looked dog-tired on the backcheck, providing little to no back pressure, making it tough to defend when Max Domi weaved across the blue line and slipped a neat pass through to Nick Cousins, whose quick shot was tres dangereux
  • The two teams traded disallowed goals after that, with Gaudette’s second goal called back for Leivo going offside, then a Joel Armia goal was disallowed after a review for goaltender interference. That was fortunate for the Canucks, not only because it was a marginal call, but also because it nullified a disasterpiece of defending by Myers, though it wasn’t all his fault. He turned the puck over at the blue line primarily because Virtanen blew the zone early instead of providing an outlet for the breakout.
  • That was the first frustrating moment for Virtanen. The second was his penalty, an undisciplined slash on a backcheck 22 seconds into the third period that got the final frame started off on the wrong foot. The Canucks can live with Virtanen taking penalties if they come as the result of hard-nosed physical play: the undisciplined penalties, however, have to stop.
  • The Canadiens scored on the power play thanks to another undisciplined moment: Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter bolting for the bench for a line change when they didn’t clear the puck the length of the ice. It was a poorly-timed change that left Tanner Pearson and Jay Beagle scrambling to get into position, resulting in another penalty and a wide open Tomas Tatar to score on the delayed call.
  • To top it off, the Canadiens added another goal on the second penalty. A cross-ice pass got knocked down in the slot, leaving Markstrom completely discombobulated when Armia completed the pass to Shea Weber at the back door, which was left wide open like it was a hot summer’s day.
  • One of the key responsibilities for the Canucks’ bottom-six forwards is to kill penalties. It’s the reason why they’ve overpaid certain forwards and why other players (such as those with so-called “soft skill”) aren’t in the lineup. That makes it extra frustrating when the penalty kill lets the team down, giving up two power play goals on two opportunities.
  • Pettersson came closest to scoring for the Canucks, taking a Brock Boeser pass off the rush and trying to rip a wrist shot on goal. The puck got deflected, then hit the crossbar, dropping down on end in the crease. Pettersson shot the puck so hard that it somehow had top spin, and started rolling towards the goal line, but Ben Chiarot got to it first, tucking it back under Price like a child that had kicked off their blanket in the middle of the night.
  • With the loss, the Canucks are now 11th in the Western Conference, just two points up on the San Jose Sharks. In their last 20 games, the Canucks have won just four games in regulation and they’ve gone 7-12-1. On the other hand, they’re just four points out of the last playoff spot and there’s a lot of hockey games left to be played this season. It would just be nice if all of those games were meaningful ones, because they’re a lot more fun to watch that way.