The much-ballyhooed Hughes-a-palooza didn’t exactly live up to the hype.
Sure, in one sense, it literally did, as Jack Hughes scored his first NHL goal and it stood up as the game-winner. He fired the first shot in what is sure to be a career-long battle between the two Hughes brothers, with youngest brother Luke making it a three-way war in a few years, like Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.
The game itself, however, was rocky, and not in the sense of a thrilling match between a championship contender and an unknown journeyman. It was rocky in the sense that it was shaky and awkward and kind of tough to watch at times.
Part of the problem was that the game was continually interrupted by penalties, with the two teams combining for 11 power plays. That in itself wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, apart from disrupting the rhythm of the game to a certain extent, except the Canucks’ power play once again struggled. The Canucks six power plays too often just killed the momentum for two minutes.
It was noticeable enough in the first period, however, that the Canucks made a change that could prove to be a sea change for the power play: they moved Quinn Hughes to the first power play unit.
The first unit with Hughes immediately looked far more dangerous, with some fantastic puck movement and scoring chance creation, even if it still didn’t produce a goal and had some trouble getting set up during the third period. If they stick together, hopefully Hughes and the rest of the first unit can iron out their zone entries.
Of course, Travis Green and Newell Brown could immediately put Alex Edler back on the first unit tomorrow morning. If they do, I’ll be as disappointed as I was when I watched this game.
- The Canucks deserved a better fate out of this game. They outchanced the Devils at 5-on-5, kept their feet moving to draw penalties, and got some great goaltending from Thatcher Demko. They just couldn’t buy a goal, as Mackenzie Blackwood shut them out for the second time in his career. The Canucks are like a grapevine infested with candidatus phytoplasma solani: dominated by blackwood.
- To be fair to the Canucks, they did open the scoring. Tim Schaller set up Jay Beagle for a great chance in front, but Blackwood made the pad save. In the ensuing scramble for the rebound, the puck came loose to Tyler Motte, who banked it off Schaller’s skate and in. Unfortunately, referee Trevor Hanson blew the play dead, ruling that Blackwood had the puck covered and Beagle poked it out from under his glove.
- Was it the right call? Maybe. Blackwood briefly had his glove on the puck, but it wasn't black-and-whitewood. Definitely a greywood area.
- In contrast to the Canucks’ power play, the Devils’ power play looked like a werewolf bar mitzvah: both spooky and scary. A big part of that was Taylor Hall, who was constantly in motion on the left side, making it tough for the Canucks’ penalty killers to close down passing lanes.
- Jack Hughes’ first career goal came from a superb pass by Hall that slid past both Beagle and Schaller in the slot. Hughes corralled the pass and shot in one fluid motion, giving Demko no chance to get across in time to make the save. Jack’s goal timed him with Quinn for most career goals and earned him his parents’ love until the Canucks and Devils play again on November 10th.
- Jack may have gotten a goal, but Quinn did embarrass his younger brother on a zone exit in the third period, so who really won Hughes-a-palooza? Checkmate, Devils.
- The Canucks had some great chances to tie the game in the second period beyond their multiple power plays. Edler got a breakaway out of the penalty box after a successful penalty kill, but was stopped by Blackwood and put the rebound through the crease. Then Elias Pettersson had a golden opportunity all alone on top of the crease and rung the puck off the crossbar.
- It was a frustrating game for Pettersson, who seems just a hair’s breadth away from being fully in sync. He led the Canucks with 12 shot attempts, but just two of those attempts registered as shots on goal. It looks like a classic case of trying for a perfect shot when sometimes you just need to make like Sandra Bullock and hit the net.
- Keep in mind, Pettersson still has 6 points in 7 games. Let’s keep things in perspective; he’s only in a slump compared to the 10 goals he scored in 10 games to start his rookie season.
- J.T. Miller continues to absolutely dominate possession when he’s on the ice at 5-on-5. The Canucks out-attempted the Devils 20-to-2 when Miller was on the ice, with shots on goal 6-to-0. Considering how much the Canucks struggled in puck possession over the past few years, Miller has been very refreshing to start the season.
- The most controversial moment of the game was undoubtedly Edler’s hit on Blake Coleman. While on the power play, Edler went back for a puck and Coleman came in on the forecheck. As Coleman reached for the puck, Edler leaned in to take the body. As a result, Edler’s elbow caught Coleman in the head and the Devils forward went down hard.
- Some might call for supplementary discipline, but I don’t see it. Coleman changed his body position immediately prior to the hit and Edler didn’t chicken-wing his elbow out like Shane Doan's signature move. It seems unfortunate rather than intentional, worth of the two-minute penalty but nothing more. That didn’t stop Coleman’s teammates from dogpiling Edler after the whistle, ultimately evening out the penalties.
- The third period was the most frustrating part of the game. The Devils shut things down to protect the one-goal lead and the Canucks couldn’t break through their defensive wall. The Canucks had just five shots on goal in the third period and just one shot, a 59-foot wrist shot from Edler, in the final five minutes. There’s a reason why the NHL’s nine-minute highlight video from this game devoted just 40 seconds to the third period. Nothing happened.
To emphasize how much nothing happened in the third, one of the things that did happen, didn’t happen. Travis Zajac cross-checked Pettersson from behind into the boards as time expired and got a cross-checking penalty, but since the horn sounded before the Devils touched the puck, the Canucks never actually got a power play, even though it was counted as one in the stats. In other words, the power play went from 0-for-6 to 0-for-7 as the game ended, just to add insult to injury.