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IWTG: Connor Hellebuyck steals goals and the show in Jets win over Canucks

Canucks 1 - 4 Jets
IWTG Banner - 2019-20

November was always going to be a tough month for the Canucks. It always is.

Over the last four seasons, the Canucks’ record in November is 19-29-9, a pace of just 68 points over 82 games. In other words, they’ve performed like a last-place team in the month of November.

This season’s edition of November is particularly tough, featuring 15 games in 30 days, giving the team little time to res, as well as tougher opponents compared to October’s easier schedule. But this season’s edition of the Canucks is also a lot tougher, with a high-powered offence, improved defence, and a one-two punch of solid goaltending. If any Canucks team could disrupt the November narrative, this one could.

They started off strong, with points in three straight games: a resounding win over the San Jose Sharks and two hard-fought overtime losses to the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. Now, perhaps, the cracks are starting to show, as they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, then dropped this game to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.

There’s no need to panic — the Canucks didn’t play poorly in either game despite the combined 9-3 score for the opposition — and there’s plenty of time left in November to bounce back. There are also some mitigating circumstances that might ease your mind if you find yourself getting too concerned.

This was the Canucks’ seventh game in 12 nights, each of them in a different city. It was the second night of back-to-backs after their top players logged big minutes trying to mount a comeback the previous night. It’s only natural that fatigue would play a factor.

Still, November won’t get any easier, with four games in seven days next week and a tough road trip through Dallas, Nashville, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Edmonton to end the month. Fortunately, as Axl Rose once said, “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain.”

The Canucks got drenched in the cold November rain when I watched this game.

  • Sven Baertschi finally made his return to the Canucks lineup in place of Adam Gaudette, and he looked like, well, an NHL forward. He had a game-high 67.9% corsi — the Canucks out-attempted the Jets 19-9 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 — and high-danger scoring chances were 7-0 for the Canucks with Baertschi on the ice at 5-on-5. I believe it was the venerable philosopher Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist that said, “Hate to say I told you so.”
  • Back in the 2015-16 preseason, I remember thinking the line of Baertschi, Horvat, and Virtanen was the future of the Canucks. They led the Canucks’ forwards in scoring that preseason, along with Jared McCann, and looked like an ideal line: Baertschi was the playmaker, Virtanen the sniper, and Horvat the gritty two-way centre, who also dabbled in making plays and scoring goals. It never quite worked out, but they were reunited to start this game.
  • Right after I talked up Alex Edler and Tyler Myers as one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL, they go out and are at least partially responsible for all three goals the Jets scored on Thatcher Demko. All you readers that won’t me to write more positive things about the Canucks, be careful what you wish for. Apparently I’m a jinx.
  • Edler had a particularly rough game and you have to wonder if him averaging 27:44 per game in ice time in November heading into this game might have something to do with it. Everything just seemed a little off for him, like the time he sent himself flying into his own bench trying to hit Mathieu Perreault. Maybe he was just tired and really wanted a line change.
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  • Apart from one error that led to a Jets goal, Myers had a solid game, covering up for a few different Edler errors. He used his biggest attribute — his bigness — to block passing lanes, laying out his body to take away vast swathes of ice from the Jets. With his 6’8” frame, plus his arms, plus his Willie Mitchell-esque stick, he gave the Jets nowhere to go.
  • Here are a couple Tyler-Myers-is-tall highlights. He bailed out Edler after a turnover at the blue line by first blocking the passing lane with his lengthy body, then spinning his stick around to block the pass. Then he bailed out Edler again after an ill-advised pinch, stymying a 3-on-1 with his sizable frame.
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  • The Canucks opened the scoring thanks to some fantastic work by Brock Boeser, who has been the team’s best forward over the last couple games. He leaned into an attempted check by Neal Pionk, knocking the defenceman off stride, then spun off him to find Troy Stecher cross ice. Stecher spotted J.T. Miller lurking at the top of the crease and sent a perfect pass to Miller, who made like bringing up Hillary Clinton’s emails in an online political debate: perfect deflection
  • Chris Tanev left Thursday’s game and didn’t return, but was back in the lineup against the Jets. The hockey gods — thinking, Didn’t we just injure this guy? — struck again, as Tanev was hobbled by a shot by Patrik Laine on the power play, but stayed in the play, hopping around on one foot. He left the game, but returned for the second period and immediately blocked another shot on his next shift. He just can’t help himself.
  • Tanev, typically, downplayed it.
  • Tanev managed to get to the bench after his initial shot block, but the Jets tied the game shortly after on the same power play. Edler casually vacated the front of the net, backing up like Miss Vanjie to allow Jack Roslovic to walk right in and get not just one shot on Demko, but also the rebound, chipping it up and in. It was a disasterpiece of defending
  • Edler didn’t look much better on the 2-1 goal. After Tanner Pearson lost the puck in the neutral zone, the Jets countered. Kyle Connor took the initial shot and Edler simply watched as Mark Scheifele took the rebound, deked to the forehand, and tucked it in. It didn’t help that Pearson and Jake Virtanen were all-too casual on the backcheck, leaving it a 3-on-2 rush instead of a 3-on-3.
  • Other than that backcheck, Virtanen had a solid game, buzzing around the offensive zone like “Flight of the Bumblebee” played on a bass. He had four shots on goal, including a great chance in the final minute of the second period that Connor Hellebuyck turned aside. His best chance came in the third period, when he picked off a pass from Nathan Beaulieu in the Jets’ zone and nearly scored glove side, but Hellebuyck kept his left pad up to make the save instead of dropping all the way into his butterfly.
  • The PITB Transformative Moment of this game (since “TSN Turning Point” doesn’t apply to the Sportsnet broadcast) was a ridiculous save by Hellebuyck on Bo Horvat. Josh Leivo made like his favourite player and made a Datsyukian steal, picking the pocket of Andrew Copp, then poked the puck to Horvat alone in front. He deked around Hellebuyck, but the goaltender reached his glove back to the goal line and robbed him.
  • Off the ensuing faceoff, Connor stole the puck from a too-casual Myers at the blue line and burst the other way on a breakaway. He backed up Demko with his speed, then showed some quick hands while slowing down, giving him plenty of room to roof the puck. The combination of Hellebuyck’s save and Connor’s goal ended the game right then and there, except for the remaining six minutes of hockey that they were legally required to play.
  • Maybe they should have just skipped the last six minutes. With an empty net, Quinn Hughes gave the puck away in the defensive zone, then ran into Edler. With Hughes and Edler both on the ice, it was the second 3-on-0 in as many nights and the Jets passed it back and forth to ensure that everyone got a point before Adam Lowry put it in the empty net for his first goal of the season.
  • Loui Eriksson had a team-low 7:44 in ice time in this game, as he was benched for the entire third period. The Canucks were out-attempted 9-2 by the Jets when he was on the ice at 5-on-5 and, like Edler, he was standing around for Roslovic’s 1-1 goal and had just one shift after that. At this point, it’s not just that Eriksson isn’t playing well compared to his contract; he’s not playing well, period.