Last week, Canucks head coach Travis Green fired some shots across the bow of some of the players on the fringes of the roster when he was asked about Adam Gaudette.
“What I like about Adam is he’s trying to make the team,” said Green. “Other guys should take notice...There’s a lot of competition for spots and time’s running out, so guys need to make sure they play well next week.”
On Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators, Gaudette once again tried to make the team. He and Sven Baertschi made a connection and found some chemistry, setting each other up for a goal each, while he added a drawn penalty on a drive to the net. He stood out for all the right reasons in his bid to make it tough for the Canucks to send him down to Utica.
The biggest issue for Gaudette is that he’s exempt from waivers, which makes it a lot easier to send him down to the AHL, with a mind to call him up once injuries inevitably strike.
What about the players called out by Green? Did they take notice?
Though Green didn’t name any names, you could guess that he was talking about guys like Nikolay Goldobin and Zack MacEwen — one trying to keep his spot and the other trying to earn his first one — and they both responded. Goldobin was noticeable offensively, creating several clean zone entries and scoring chances with his slick stickhandling, finishing with six shot attempts, three of them on net.
MacEwen made his presence known in another way, throwing a couple big hits in one shift in the first period, ending the shift with a fight against Mark Borowiecki. It used to be that you could expect to see multiple fights every preseason game, as fringe players tried to earn a spot on the fourth line, but as the emphasis on fighting in the regular season has decreased, so have the fights in the preseason.
The question remains, did any of those three players do enough to secure a spot on the roster? The answer to that question was still unknown after I watched this game.
- I’ll be perfectly honest: I don’t see Gaudette making the team out of camp, even as he’s done basically everything he can to make the team. Given the holes that remain in his defensive game, I can’t see the Canucks waiving a veteran to make room for him. And, from an asset management viewpoint, it makes more sense to start him in the AHL and tell him to keep a bag packed so he’s ready to fly back to Vancouver at a moment’s notice.
- Baertschi would like to remind you that he is a top-six forward with great hand-eye coordination and playmaking skill. Like any good storyteller, he decided to show, not tell, so he neatly knocked down a breakout pass by Ron Hainsey. Then, like a minx, he got saucy, flipping a saucer pass to Gaudette, who ripped a one-timer off the bounce past Craig Anderson.
- Gaudette has already become known for his exuberant goal celebrations, this time busting out the Cam Newton Superman celebration, miming ripping open his shirt like Clark Kent to reveal the red, yellow, and blue “S” underneath. If all goes well, he’ll have to get really creative and come up with many more unique celebrations this season, until he starts dragging a basketball hoop onto the ice and slam dunking the puck.
- Gaudette returned the favour to Baertschi later in the first period. Once again, it was Baertschi creating the turnover, this time picking off a cross-ice pass from Brady Tkachuk. Gaudette moved in with the puck, then sold the fake shot harder than Jordan Belfort selling penny stocks. Everyone bit on the fake: the defenceman, the goaltender, even the cameraman. Then Gaudette dropped the puck to Baertschi for the one-timer finish on the rolling puck.
- "I knew Sven was there and I knew he was on his one-timer side," said Gaudette, "so I figured I had a better chance of creating a little deception and getting the goalie moving just an inch and he'd be able to one time that."
- Goldobin showed some flash and dash in this game with a couple nice rushes up ice, but just couldn’t find the back of the net. On one rush, he made the $8 million man, Thomas Chabot, look a little silly, putting the puck under Chabot’s stick and bursting around him, but couldn’t elevate the backhand as Chabot recovered to check his stick.
- “I don’t need [Goldobin] to dominate a game,” said Green, then gave some insight into what he’s looking for from the winger: “He’s working harder, but he’s got to come up with some pucks.” That suggests he’s looking for Goldobin to win races to loose pucks and win puck battles.
- I thought Tim Schaller quietly had a strong game, which he needed to, as he’s another player potentially on the outside looking in. Schaller did what Green was looking for from Goldobin: he won puck battles, kept plays alive in the offensive zone, and defended effectively. I still don’t see how he can make the opening night roster, but he showed the attention to details that Green has so often emphasized.
- Things got sloppy after the first period and the Senators stormed back in a big way, scoring six unanswered goals. Thatcher Demko didn’t look good on a couple goals against and wasn’t happy with his performance after the game, but there were also a lot of defensive miscues that provided some absolution for his sins.
- On the first Ottawa goal, a weird bounce on a Bo Horvat backcheck gave Connor Brown a clean look from the slot. Then a puck went in off Tkachuk’s skate as he outbattled J.T. Miller in the crease for the 2-2 goal. A giveaway in the neutral zone by Jalen Chatfield led to a 3-on-1 for the third goal, making it 3-2 heading into the third period. It's hard to blame Demko for any of those, even if you might want him to bail out his teammates with a miracle now and then.
- On the fourth goal, Demko had to deal with Tkachuk going through his eyeline like Shane Hurlbut, allowing Chabot to beat him cleanly from the point. Then Horvat passed the puck to no one at the blue line on the power play, giving Artem Anisimov a shorthanded breakaway for the 5-2 goal. Finally to add insult to injury, the Senators scored a sixth goal with three seconds left when Demko was unable to cover up a point shot.
- Tkachuk had himself a game, tallying two goals and two assists, echoing Elias Pettersson’s four-point night against the Senators on Monday. Pettersson was completely unnoticeable on Wednesday, but, in his defence, he wasn’t on the ice.
- Bo Horvat had a quiet game while somehow still playing over 20 minutes and firing five shots on goal. His linemate, J.T. Miller, was more noticeable, with a game-high seven shots on goal and the two combined to go 15-for-22 on faceoffs. I'm not sure Tanner Pearson is the right third wheel for Miller and Horvat's blossoming connection, but something tells me the Canucks are into something good with those two together.