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Quinn Hughes maroons the Islanders in OT, Canucks extend winning streak

Games like this will close the gap for Quinn Hughes in the race for the Calder Trophy
quinn hughes
Canuck Quinn Hughes has put up eight points in his last eight games. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Just over a week ago, the mid-season awards came out from the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, and it wasn’t good news for Quinn Hughes, who finished a distant second in the voting for the Calder Trophy given to the NHL’s rookie of the year.

“It was a landslide,” said Frank Seravelli, president of the PHWA. “Makar was the most lopsided award winner. He generated 101 first place votes out of 117 ballots.”

It’s understandable: Makar is having a fantastic rookie season, racking up points at a pace we haven’t seen since the ’80s from a rookie defenceman. Even keeping in mind his softer usage and likely unsustainable on-ice percentages, it’s hard for the voters in the PHWA to ignore that kind of production.

My conclusion last week: “If the Canucks want to have back-to-back Calder winners, Hughes will need to amp up his point production in the second half of the season.”

What has Hughes done? Put up eight points in his last eight games, including back-to-back two-point games, passing Makar for sole position of first in the rookie scoring race.

Sure, it might be temporary, as Hughes and the Canucks played in the early afternoon in New York, with Makar and the Colorado Avalanche still to play later on Saturday. Sure, Hughes has played 10 more games than Makar, because of an injury Makar suffered in December.

But all Hughes really needed to do was catch people’s attention, get them talking about him more, until they notice how Hughes plays a more important role with the Canucks than Makar does with the Avalanche; until they notice how Hughes regularly faces tougher competition than Makar; until they notice that Hughes is a well-rounded defenceman equally adept in the defensive zone as the offensive zone.

It’s games like this one that will close the gap for Hughes in the Calder race. I know because I watched this game.

  • Hughes arguably deserved more than just his two goals in this game. He made a fantastic play on the opening goal, but didn’t get credit for an assist. Thomas Kuhnhackl had to give his stick to Derick Brassard, who lost his off the faceoff, and Hughes attacked the stickless forward, drawing him into a collision with Michael Dal Colle, who was supposed to be checking Chris Tanev. It was a brilliant bit of sneakiness.
     
  • Tanev, with acres of room, beat a screened Thomas Greiss, but hit the post. The puck clanged off the post, went off Greiss’s pad and stick, then Brassard’s skate and came out to J.T. Miller, who elevated the puck like he added fresh white truffle shavings to it. Apparently, the puck’s pin-balling path negated the contributions of Tanev and Hughes, as the NHL called the goal “unassisted.” 
     
  • This was a tough game for Tyler Myers, whose pairing with Oscar Fantenberg got eaten alive. The Canucks were out-attempted 27-to-10 and out-shot 17-to-eight with Myers on the ice five-on-five. One of those shots was the tying goal, where Myers completely lost track of Dal Colle on the rush, standing still as Josh Bailey’s pass went behind him to Dal Colle at the backdoor for the tap-in.
     
  • For some reason, despite all his struggles, Myers led the Canucks in ice time. It’s hard to complain too much about the result — the Canucks won, after all — but it just seemed so clear that he was struggling all game. Meanwhile, Troy Stecher looked great all game, but had the lowest ice time among Canucks defencemen.
     
  • Jake Virtanen played most of the game on the top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, but Brock Boeser took a few shifts with them as well, and he proved the catalyst for the 2-1 goal. Boeser won the puck along the boards, then fed Tanev at the point, who relayed to Hughes. As Hughes jumped down the boards, Boeser charged to the net, taking defenceman Scott Mayfield with him. Hughes’s centering pass banked in off Mayfield, so he could move on up the rookie scoring race.
     
  • With Tyler Motte out four to six weeks with a shoulder injury, his good buddy Tim Schaller got into his first game since Jan. 14. Schalotov immediately made an impact. On a delayed penalty drawn by Adam Gaudette, Brandon Sutter threw a shot on goal that Greiss kicked out into the slot. Schaller was in the pocket like he was playing bass for Vulfpeck, backhanding the rebound home.
     
  • Jordan Eberle responded for the Islanders two minutes later. Miller let Eberle go by him, expecting Oscar Fantenberg to pick him up, but Fantenberg evidently missed that memo. You see, we’re putting defencemen on all forwards before they go to the net. If Fantenberg could just go ahead and do that from now on, that would be great. 
     
  • A highlight of the game was the two entire sections of the arena that were filled with fans of the referees. Approximately 200 fans dressed as referees were there to celebrate “Referee Appreciation Night,” an event evidently in its fourth year. Perhaps that’s why the Islanders got the only two power plays of the game.
  • Chris Tanev had a superb game offensively. A highlight was when he casually kept a perfect gap on the speedy Mathew Barzal, divesting him of the puck with practiced ease. As an added bonus, Sportsnet hit the one-on-one battle with the iso-cam, giving fans of good defence a close-up view.

 

 

 

  • One of the concerns about the Canucks current hot streak is that they keep getting out-shot. Fortunately, their goaltenders have been up to the task. Jacob Markstrom had a solid outing, even with the three goals against. He made 34 saves and looked clinical doing it, inhaling pucks like Kirby, thereby gaining the puck’s powers. 
     
  • One of the most frustrating moments of the game came with six minutes left. The Islanders were pouring on the pressure — they had 17 shots on goal in the third period — but the first line finally got some offensive zone time to relieve the pressure. That possession ended when Myers sized up his options from the point and chose to send a weak wrist shot directly into the shin pads of Matt Martin, effectively ending the momentary shift in momentum.
     
  • The Insurance Line of Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat and Loui Eriksson has been pretty much automatic since they were put together: if they’re on the ice against an empty net, not only will they prevent the other team from scoring, they’re going to put the puck in the empty net. They had to come up short eventually, however, and the Islanders got the best of them.
     
  • It took some bad luck on the part of Tanner Pearson: Ryan Pulock’s point shot deflected off Pearson’s stick and went directly to where Brock Nelson was waiting at the side of the net, and he gave it the full Nelson treatment, shoveling it in from the doorstep.
     
  • That set up some overtime heroics for Quinn Hughes. He took the puck from Elias Pettersson and started dancing around the offensive zone. When his initial path to the net was cut off, he rotated around to the high slot, opened up his skates into a spread eagle on his inside edges, and whipped a wrist shot top shelf where Lester Nygaard hides the shotgun.
     
  • The overtime win gives the Canucks a five-game winning streak, their second-longest streak of the season. They’ve also won 14 of their last 17 games, because their longest winning streak of the season wasn’t that long ago. This amazing run has the Canucks unexpectedly in second-place in the Western Conference, albeit with more games played than the three teams behind them. At this point, the Canucks could play .500 hockey and still finish with 94 points, which should be enough to comfortably make the playoffs in the West. 

 

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