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IWTG: Jacob Markstrom leads Canucks over Predators

It was Legends Night at Rogers Arena on Monday night, as the Canucks brought out (most) of their players who already have their numbers retired in preparation for the Sedins being added to their number on Wednesday.
quinn hughes
Quinn Hughes had a three-point night Monday in the Canucks 6-2 win over the Nashville Predators, putting him in first place in the rookie scoring race. File photo Dan Toulgoet

It was Legends Night at Rogers Arena on Monday night, as the Canucks brought out (most) of their players who already have their numbers retired in preparation for the Sedins being added to their number on Wednesday.

I say most because only Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden, and Markus Naslund were actually in attendance. Pavel Bure sent a video apologizing for his absence, and wishing the fans, team, city and the Sedins the best. “I promise, I will see you again soon,” he added at the end, which sounded significant.

Meanwhile, it was the first time Linden was back in Rogers Arena since his acrimonious resignation as president, but the fans welcomed him back with open arms and boisterous cheers. There’s clearly still no love lost between Linden and the current management: during a first intermission interview, Linden gave credit to Judd Brackett for the Canucks drafting and praised Travis Green and the coaching staff, but made no mention of the management team, which didn’t go unnoticed by Canucks fans.

The biggest moment of the brief pre-game ceremony was the reveal of the new banners for Smyl, Linden, Naslund and Bure, with each banner in the main colours of the main jersey they wore in their playing days. The team had previously made all the banners the same green, blue and white of the current jerseys and it never felt quite right seeing their numbers in colours they never (or rarely) wore.

In a season where the team is embracing their “colourful past,” it was the right move. Now, if only they could change the colours of the seats, which were still all burgundy when I watched this game.

· With Daniel and Henrik in the building, it seemed like the Canucks on the ice were doing their best impressions of the Sedins, as adroitly pointed out by Grainne Downey on Twitter. They scored a goal off the cycle, off a slap pass, from a brother of another NHL player, off a very Daniel-esque jump in front of the goaltender, by banking the puck in off a teammate, and by sniping on the power play. If it wasn’t quite Wizardous Sedinery, it was at least Sorcerer’s Apprentice Sedinery.

· Brock Boeser was out with an upper body injury, so Zack MacEwen and Justin Bailey — both recent call-ups from the Utica Comets — got in the lineup, with Tim Schaller a healthy scratch. Instead of just plugging players into the vacated spots, head coach Travis Green did a thorough overhaul of the lines: J.T. Miller joined Bo Horvat and MacEwen; Elias Pettersson centred Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen; Brandon Sutter played on the wing with Adam Gaudette and Antoine Roussel; and Bailey was on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson.

· The new lines started clicking immediately like a geiger counter at a nuclear test site. The Canucks came out flying in the first period thanks to the new line combinations or, perhaps more likely, because they had lost four straight games and were eager to avoid making it five.

· MacEwen had a particularly strong game, playing in a matchup role on the Horvat line and making an impact with both his body and his shot. He connected with Troy Stecher and J.T. Miller on a nifty passing play to open the scoring after some extended possession in the Predators’ zone. Stecher fed MacEwen, who cycled it down low to Miller then got open for the return feed, firing it past Pekka Rinne.

· Bailey fit right in as well, impressing with his speed in limited minutes. He drew a crucial power play in the first period by keeping his feet moving until they were no longer available to him to keep his body up.

· The Canucks took a 2-0 lead on that power play thanks to some sneakery by Pettersson. Having already blasted a one-timer earlier, Pettersson wound up like he was taking another, but instead slapped a pass to Brandon Sutter, who was screening Rinne. It was a perfectly-placed pass, but Sutter deserves some credit: he definitely deftly deflected it behind his own back.

· Jordie “Brother of Jamie” Benn got his first goal as a Canuck a minute later. With Sutter once again screening Rinne, Benn sent a snap shot flying from the point. Like a millennial receiving a call from an unknown number, Rinne didn’t pick it up, and the puck beat him inside the near post.

· It seems like Elias Pettersson can do anything with a puck and that evidently includes picking up a primary assist with his butt. He took a Daniel Sedin leap as Alex Edler shot from the point and the puck went off Pettersson’s butt, and then deflected off Pearson and in. It was the best butt-related goal since Mike Smith scored on himself with the puck in his pants.

· That was it for Rinne, who was replaced by Juuse Saros. At the other end of the ice, Jacob Markstrom was putting on a clinic, specifically a clinic on what to do when your defence won’t stop giving up wide open backdoor chances. Canucks fans complain about Elias Pettersson not drawing penalties, but Markstrom was out there committing highway robbery every two minutes and no one called the police even once.



· It may seem odd to suggest that the Canucks' best player in a 6-2 win was the goaltender, but Markstrom was ridiculous, stopping a potential Predators comeback short before it could germinate. You've got to be careful: comebacks reproduce like Tribbles.

· It took two bad luck bounces for Markstrom to give up a pair of goals. Both Predators goals came off shots that hit someone in front and popped out to a Predator at the side of the net, making it exceptionally tough for Markstrom to track the puck and make the save. Pettersson will be kicking himself on the second goal too: he let Mikael Granlund get into an inside position like he was on Undercover Boss and beat him to the loose puck.

· Quinn Hughes restored the three-goal lead late in the second period. Sure, technically it was Miller’s goal, but you can’t tell me that Hughes didn’t shoot the puck at Miller in the first place, hoping for a deflection into the net. Miller won the faceoff in the Predator’s zone, and then bolted for the slot. That’s where Hughes spotted Miller like an owl, and banked the puck in off Miller’s shin pads.

· You could tell Markstrom was in the Predators heads, because Colton Sissons ran him over early in the third period, likely hoping to get Markstrom off his game. It didn’t work and the Canucks made him pay with another power play goal. Virtanen made it 6-2 with a lovely shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, beating Juuse right between the U’s.

· Quinn Hughes picked up his third assist of the game on Virtanen’s goal, giving him 44 points in 56 games and a two-point lead over Cale Makar in the rookie scoring race. He’s now on-pace for 64 points, which would shatter the franchise record for most points by a rookie defenceman and would actually set a new franchise record for most point in a season by any Canucks defenceman.

· You could tell Markstrom was feeling confident, because he threw in a little Sedinery himself: a blind, through the legs, backhand pass. The only difference is that if it was actually a Sedin pass, it would have been a saucer pass.

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