This road trip couldn’t have gone much better for the Canucks. Any time you can take three out of four games on the road, you have to be satisfied. There were some bumps along the way — some wrinkles to iron out, rough edges to sand smooth, and snags to...well, unsnag — you can’t argue with the results.
The team was looking forward to playing more games after a soft start to the schedule and they made the most of the opportunity.
This type of success on an early road trip can do wonders for a team’s confidence, particularly when they can overcome some obstacles along the way, like missing their number one goaltender for a week or coming from behind in two of their wins. The latter can be an object lesson for future inspiring intermission speeches: this is a team that knows they can erase a two-goal deficit heading into the third period.
It might be more reassuring if the Canucks had played more than two games against teams that made the playoffs last season, but if you’re going to be a playoff team, these are the teams you should beat — the games you should win. It would be really weird to criticize the Canucks for winning games just because some of the teams they’re beating are, generally speaking, bad.
Also, you still have to play the games. It turns out the league don’t just let you say, “We’re better than them, we win.” Which is good, because if they didn’t play the games, I wouldn’t be able to watch them, and then I’d be lying when I told you, “I watched this game.”
- The Canucks weren’t great in the first two periods of this game, but hoo boy, that third period! It was actually pretty impressive that arguably their best period on the entire road trip was the final period of their third game in four nights. It was like Dragonball Z, where Goku spent two episodes getting his butt kicked around a planet before finally going Super Saiyan and wiping the floor with the guy.
- Really, the Goku analogue in this metaphor was Bo Horvat, who seemed to power-up in the second intermission and took the lead in the third period, scoring his first career hattrick. I’m surprised his hair didn’t turn bright yellow in the third period.
- If not for some bad luck, the Canucks could have gotten on the board a lot earlier, as Jay Beagle and Elias Pettersson both hit posts on good chances in the first couple minutes. Jake Virtanen hit another post in the third period, as the Canucks were hitting bars like a bachelor party.
- The Canucks penalty kill has been stupendous this season, if perhaps a little over-reliant on their goaltending. It faltered against the Red Wings, however, though they weren’t typical power play goals. One was scored 5-on-3 and another at 4-on-3, so their record at 5-on-4 is still stellar.
- The Red Wings opened the scoring on one of the dozen power plays granted to the two teams, as Anthony Mantha blasted a one-timer past Jacob Markstrom on the two-man advantage. Chris Tanev managed to break up the Red Wings’ passing play behind the net with an aggressive read, but Edler didn’t reciprocate Tanev’s aggressiveness and Tyler Bertuzzi beat him to the puck to keep the play alive and relay the puck to Mantha.
- I enjoyed this very avant-garde directing decision from the Sportsnet broadcast, cutting directly from a chaotic faceoff to the shovels of the ice crew, deconstructing the normal facade of the viewing experience vis-à-vis the screen, and exploring the underlying working class structures that enable that experience. It was a revelatory choice that raises questions that haunt me still.
- Defending a 4-on-3 isn’t much different from a 5-on-3, as there’s just way too much space on the ice to cover. After chasing the puck-carrier behind the net, Tanev rushed back to his assigned spot in the penalty-killing triangle. Unfortunately, this meant cutting right in front of Edler, preventing him from getting out to challenge Dennis Cholowski, whose shot deflected in off Edler’s stick.
- The only two goals Markstrom allowed were on unusual power plays for the Red Wings. At even-strength and 5-on-4, Markstrom was perfect and he made a total of 31 saves. He made some spectacular saves, none better than his left pad save on Mantha late in the second period. Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou made back-to-back royal road passes to set up the Mantha one-timer, but Markstrom tracked the puck perfectly and lunged across to make the stop.
- The save was nice; the royal road passes through Tyler Motte and Jay Beagle at the top of the Canucks’ penalty killing diamond were considerably less nice. That’s one of those wrinkles that needs a full steam press; the whole point of those two being in the lineup is to kill penalties and that passing lane cannot be that wide open.
- The most positive development during the road trip was arguably moving Quinn Hughes to the first power play unit. It’s still a work-in-progress, as was obvious from their four power plays in the first two periods. They particularly need to work on their zone entries with Hughes on the top unit, as there’s still some confusion; at one point Hughes ran right into J.T. Miller, resulting in a shorthanded opportunity for the Red Wings.
- The power play clicked in the third period, however, with point shots from Hughes leading to both goals. A rotation moved Elias Pettersson into the slot, where he pounced on a blocked shot and poked it on net. Bo Horvat took it from there, pulling the puck to his backhand and tucking it around Jimmy Howard like a swaddling blanket: Howard was completely helpless, but it kept him from waking himself up with his startle reflex.
- Shortly after, the Red Wings gave the Canucks another power play, which was very generous of them. Horvat scored again, this time tipping a Hughes point shot under Howard’s glove. One thing to watch: both power play goals came after Miller rotated to the right half-boards, where he could make better use of his playmaking ability. It’s an example of the Canucks putting more bodies in motion on the power play, which is refreshing compared to the more static power plays we’ve seen in recent years.
- It looked like Horvat had his hattrick goal 12 minutes into the third period, but instead it was the first of the season for Shotgun Jake Virtanen, which must have been a relief for his fans, who had to go through an entire election cycle completely sober. Josh Leivo made a great play at the blue line and along the boards to gain the zone and free up the puck for Virtanen, whose centring pass to Horvat deflected in off Filip Hronek’s skate.
- Elias Pettersson 5-on-5 Defensive Zone Start Watch: nope. Still zero defensive zone starts for Pettersson at 5-on-5 this season. He did, however, make some sterling defensive plays in this game, including a perfectly-timed dive to pick off a backdoor pass to Tyler Bertuzzi to maintain the one-goal lead with six minutes left.
- One of the nice things about having someone like Pettersson on the ice to defend a one-goal lead is that he can help turn them into two-goal leads. Pettersson carried the puck out in transition, dropped it off to Tim Schaller, then drove to the net, tying up Mike Green’s stick along the way. That gave Schaller all day to load up his shot, and he beat Howard through the wickets.
- Pettersson didn't seem to fully believe that Schaller scored a goal, which is understandable: Schalatov had just three goals all last season. Just in case, Pettersson pounced on the puck after it bounced out of the net, firing it back in, then looking around in confusion because he couldn't find where everyone else was already celebrating the goal with Schaller. Really, it was the smart thing to do: always make sure the puck is 100% in the net before celebrating.
- Horvat added the empty-net exclamation point, completing his hattrick with a long-distance dagger. After some good work along the board by Miller in his own end, he threw the puck across to Horvat, who spun and hit the centre of the net. Best part of the goal, however, was that he wound up directly in front of his own bench, within bopping distance of Tanev, who gave him a quick pat on the head before anyone on the ice could even get to him to celebrate.
- Don’t read Troy Stecher’s lips in the above gif if you are sensitive to swear words. But if you dig cussing, read away.