IWTG: J.T. Miller scores twice as power play lifts Canucks over the Red Wings

Canucks 5 - 1 Red Wings

Pass it to Bulis

The Canucks wrapped up their first homestand of the season by getting a little testy, pesty, and zesty. I’m not sure exactly when the Detroit Red Wings became the type of team to provoke a rivalry by testing the boundaries of dirtiness, but I’m guessing it was around the time they became bad at hockey.

Much like Catherine Banning’s investigation into Thomas Crown, it was a surprisingly physical affair, with both sides getting their licks in. Just how surprisingly physical was it? Two of the primary combatants on the Canucks’ side of things were Elias Pettersson and Troy Stecher.

Pettersson arguably got the physicality started by running over Todd Bertuzzi’s nephew, Tyler Bertuzzi, midway through the first period and it steamrolled from there, with things really getting feisty when the Canucks took a big lead heading into the third period.

Anthony Mantha and Brandon Sutter got into an altercation at centre ice that featured an accidentally-on-purpose headbutt from Mantha that bore a passing resemblance to a giraffe fight. While that was happening, Adam Erne put Tyler Myers in a headlock, but Myers got the better of him, shoving Erne dismissively to the ice.

Later in the third, Tim Schaller sat down Dylan Larkin with a solid open-ice hit and the Red Wings responded with some scrummy behaviour along the boards. It was all capped off by a frustrated Erne throwing an elbow at Troy Stecher’s head away from the puck. Stecher had both words and hands for Erne afterwards, but the refs kicked both of them out of the game to keep things from escalating any further.

You better watch out: Stecher’s from Richmond. There’s a reason they call him Tony Stretcher.

Okay, it’s because someone messed up his name on the official game sheet for his first professional game with the Utica Comets, but we’ll pretend it’s because he sends guys out on a stretcher. Besides, Pettersson’s the one that came to the game looking mobbed up in his pinstripe suit

Apart from the post-whistle shenanigans, there was some between-whistle hockey being played: I witnessed both when I watched this game.

  • Things didn’t go as planned for Thatcher Demko in his first start of the season, as the Red Wings opened the scoring on the first shot of the game, 30 seconds after puck drop. It was a tough first shot to face, as Dylan Larkin, the Red Wings leading scorer last season, was sent in all alone. Not exactly much of a warm up: it’s like learning how to play dodgeball by starting off with wrenches.
  • The primary fault on the opening goal lies with Tanner Pearson, who left Larkin alone to jump out of the zone before the Canucks had possession of the puck. That is known, in technical terms, as a no-no. Pearson’s earned some leeway with his strong start to the season, so he can be forgiven this indisgression.
  • Pettersson’s hit that kicked off the physicality was, as is typically the case with anything Pettersson does on the ice, entirely practical. As much as Pettersson dazzles with his dangles, they’re always for a purpose. His hit was the same: Pettersson couldn’t reach Alex Edler’s pass on a power play zone entry, so he didn’t even try. Instead, he just steamrolled Bertuzzi, opening up a scoring opportunity for Brock Boeser.
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  • With Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller on the first power play unit and Adam Gaudette a healthy scratch, the Canucks had to turn to Brandon Sutter to centre the second power play unit. In 55 seconds of power play time with Sutter on the ice, the Canucks had just one shot attempt; it was blocked. This is what we in the business call “less than ideal.”
  • While this wasn’t Josh Leivo’s best game of the season — he shone more on a line with Bo Horvat last game than with Brandon Sutter this game — I wanted to highlight one play that shows why he’s so effective at driving puck possession. When you watch him play, you’ll start to notice that he rarely loses a puck battle along the boards. On this play, Leivo surprises defenceman Filip Hronek by going to the left side on the forecheck, away from the puck. This allows Leivo, to push Hronek off-balance, then pull the puck off the boards and move it to the point. It’s a subtle little play, but the kind that gets the attention of coaches and shows up in the underlying statistics over the course of the season.
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  • I don’t mean to slam Sutter with the above bullet points, just suggest that the power play and offence in general aren’t necessarily his strong suit. Sutter was effective on the penalty kill in this game, particularly on a third period Red Wings 5-on-3 and he did pick up an assist on the tying goal, though that was mainly Jake Virtanen’s doing, so he had a solid game and did what was asked of him.
  • On the 1-1 goal, Virtanen picked off a Mike Green pass in the defensive zone, then burned rubber up ice, gaining the Red Wings’ zone with a nifty give-and-go with Sutter. Then Virtanen spun with the puck and tried to find Sutter again, but the centre missed the pass. Fortunately, Stecher had jumped up in the play, took the pass, and rifled the puck top corner where Scrabble keeps the Triple Word Score.
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  • The Canucks power play was on fire in this game, with J.T. Miller stoking the flames. The Canucks went 3-for-5 with the man advantage, starting with a long wristshot by Edler that beat a screened Jonathan Bernier. Miller provided the screen in front and took advantage of his innate opacity to prevent Bernier from seeing the puck.
  • Pettersson made it 3-1 a couple minutes later through careful manipulation of the attention of Red Wings’ defenders. When he gained the Detroit zone, he sucked in three Red Wings defenders before hooking the puck to Brock Boeser and completely disappearing from sight. He was like Isaiah Mustafa in Old Spice commercials: Look at me, now look at Tyler Myers, now back to me; I’m scoring a goal on a rebound. Look again, the goal is now diamonds! I’m on a horse.
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  • Demko deserves a lot of credit for getting back on track after getting beaten on the first shot of the game. He slammed the door shut like Bob Loblaw closing a book: repeatedly. He stopped the next 26 shots he faced, which is good, because he only faced 26 more shots.
  • Edler and Miller teamed up again for a power play goal, but this time Miller did more than just stand in front of Bernier and look opaque. Miller made like a skeeball ramp and tipped Edler’s point shot up and over Bernier’s glove. You can tell Miller doesn’t play it safe when he plays skeeball: he goes for the big points in the top corner every time.
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  • The key to Miller’s tip-in goal isn’t just the tip itself: it’s his awareness of when to move down low to create a passing option and when to create a screen in front. He was decisive and direct, with no second-guessing, creating a passing option down low one moment and deflecting the puck in front of Bernier the next. I’m guessing he’ll be a staple of the first power play unit all season.
  • At one point in the third period, Bernier had to switch masks. It appeared that Pettersson broke, or at least dented, his first one with a wrist shot. At this point, I’d love to see a hardest shot competition with no slap shots, only wrist shots: I think Pettersson might win.
  • Miller capped off the Canucks scoring with yet another power play goal, this time from the high slot. He picked off a Pettersson pass that was pretty clearly headed towards Boeser on the opposite side. At the very least, that’s clearly where Bernier thought the puck was headed, so Miller had half the net available in which to deposit the puck.
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  • The best part of the 5-1 goal, apart from Miller’s savvy movement to create extra space for himself in the slot, was Horvat’s grimace as the net front screen. You could practically hear his thoughts: Not in the face, not in the face!
  • The three-game win streak is nice, but the best thing that came out of this game might have been the nickname for the first line coined by Jacob Calvert on Twitter.
  • The Lotto Line is an amazing nickname for the line of Boeser, Pettersson, and Miller for a couple reasons. Primarily, it’s because of their numbers: 6-40-9, ie. Lotto 6/49. As an added bonus, the first-round pick the Canucks traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Miller has the remote possibility of being a lottery pick if the Canucks miss the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. There you have it: The Lotto Line.