Another step closer to the coveted 82-0 season that has eluded this franchise all these years. It wasn’t easy, but the Canucks persevered through a boring and less than fortuitous first half en route to an exciting 5-4 victory in the shootout.
The aforementioned boredom reared its ugly head before the puck had even dropped. The Canucks made their introductions, from the training staff all the way to Top Sixtito. There’s been considerable changes made to this roster and this was about as good an introduction to the new faces as could be forced upon this markets faithful.
A delayed puck drop did little to alleviate this lull. The Canucks stepped out of the gate flat and listless. An opportunistic Oilers squad with an extended history of disdain for Vancouver hopped on this opportunity to the eventual tune of a 4-2 lead. PDO is a fickle mistress and the Canucks had clearly been neglecting her calls for the better part of this week. Score effects? That’s another story.
Being let down by the Canucks is nothing new. Hell, it might as well be this city’s creed. It was still a little disheartening to see Vancouver be so accommodating of an Edmonton club that was reeling from a 5-2 loss at the hands of their Provincial rival, the Calgary Flames, just a few nights prior. Letting them hang around would be undesirable unto itself, but handing them the possession lead for as long as they did is a cardinal sin.
This courtesy with the puck and unwillingness on Ryan Miller’s part to make a save set the Canucks back early, and jeopardized their chances of victory entirely. It took a strong second half from the Canucks biggest signing this off-season to right this ship. After the Oilers scored their fourth goal, less than ten minutes into the second period, Miller shut the door. I’d hardly espouse blame on more than one of these goals, but this was tilting dangerously close to blowout start territory for Miller. Not how he envisioned making his mark on Rogers Arena in his first appearance as a Canuck.
About those goals, though. The first one was an excellent shot by sort-of ex-Canucks defenceman, Brad Hunt. The Canucks #shouldof signed Hunt, because he’s from Maple Ridge and we all know that the proximity between birthplace and arena dictates ability.
Despite his status as an un-drafted free agent, the Canucks did sign him to play in their farm system with the Chicago Wolves. During his brief tenure with the Wolves, five games and two-seasons from 2011-2013, Hunt spent some time under the tutelage of the current Oilers GM and former Wolves coach, Craig MacTavish. That connection landed Hunt a contract with the Oilers and he’s since used that shot to his advantage to earn a roster spot. Essentially, he is this year’s Antoine Roussel.
Just minutes later, in the most validating of fashions, Teddy Purcell set up Mark Arcobello for a crease side tap-in. It was the exact kind of primary assist that I had so vehemently argued Purcell had in his arsenal. The hobbled Bieksa was left helpless on the play, being walked around by Purcell to set up Arcobello. That was the centers man though, and I can’t help but feel that as such he is responsible for the mansion sized gap in coverage that facilitated that goal.
The first period wasn’t entirely fruitless for the Canucks. Henrik Sedin split the lead in half with less than ten seconds to go in the period, tipping in a low shot from brother Daniel, high over a well positioned Viktor Fasth for Vancouver’s first goal. It wasn’t anything special, but it was something.
Then, Luca Sbisa things happened. Despite having a tolerable first game, Sbisa had no such luck in the second. A neutral zone turnover to Nail Yakupov wound up in the back of the Canucks net before Sbisa had a chance to even turn and face him. Yakupov turned the jets on and Sbisa hadn’t the speed or gap control to match. It wasn’t an impossible shot to stop and Miller isn’t getting off scotch free here, but the problem being it shouldn’t have ever made it on net.
Score effects and bounces started to tilt the needle slightly in Vancouver’s favour at this point. On what should have been whistled down as a hand pass in the offensive zone by Alex Burrows, quickly turned into a tipped-shot goal by second-line center, Nick Bonino. There is no way this goal should have counted. Now’s a good time to buy a lottery ticket if you’re a member of the Canucks organization. In general, all I’ve ever asked for is fairness from the officials and decision makers in Toronto and by the zebras. That the Canucks are actually starting to come out on top in these decisions is both refreshing and confusing.
Which leads us to the Canucks next goal against. Dan Hamhuis was on the receiving end of a nasty high-stick, one which made him bleed his own blood. Nobody makes Dan Hamhuis bleed his own blood… Nobody! The ensuing double-minor seemed as good a moment as any for the Canucks to finish the comeback and knot things up at three. Instead, Jesse Joensu capitalized on a Canucks turnover and snapped a backhander past an out-sprawled Miller.
The Canucks responded as well as anyone could have hoped. They enacted an exclusivity pact between themselves and the puck, keeping Miller’s workload to a minimum and Fasth’s manic. Shortly thereafter, this paid off in the form of a vintage piece of Sedinery.
After more intense pressure in the 3rd period, Linden Vey potted the game tying goal, his first as a Canuck. It came during a power play, with less than 15 minutes in the third on what I’d call a fire drill in the Oilers zone. Ugly ones count the same, or so they say.
The Canucks didn’t necessarily let up after getting the tying goal, but they did take their foot off the pedal to some extent. The Oilers didn’t drive play to the extent that they did early in the game, but they were chomping at the bit on a few occasions in the Canucks zone and Miller had to be at his best during this time. White knuckle hockey, I tells yeah. Interspersed between all this amazing hockey, was a fight between the unlikeliest of combatants. You guessed Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, didn’t you?
The game would go all the way to a shootout, where newly acquired shootout specialists Nick Bonino and Radim Vrbata would miss their attempts, but Ryan Miller would turn aside all three Oilers shooters, setting the stage for Chris Higgins to give Vancouver a come-from-behind 5-4 win:
Score effects are a beautiful thing. You’ll note that right at about the time the Canucks were trailing the Oilers by a score of 4-2, they started to turn things around. In a big way, I might add. The ten or so minutes between shot-attempts for the Oilers is particularly telling.
The Canucks as a whole were a roughly 56% possession team, which seems a little misleading to me. Vancouver displayed superhuman selfishness with the puck and refused to share it with the
younger kids Oilers for extended amounts of time.
Leading the Canucks in this category would be none other than Alexander Edler, who had a sky-high Corsi% of 73 (!!!). Not far behind Edler in the 60% range are another six Canucks, including Luca Sbisa. Quite impressively, the Canucks limited the Oilers to only five players who even broke even in terms of puck possession.
Much like the Canucks’ first effort of the season, this one was far from perfect. It’s encouraging that the Canucks could play half of the game in a state of comatose and still keep their heads well above water in puck possession. Context is key though and it’s hard to paint a picture of how dominant this club really is when we’ve just finished bullying basement dwellers.
The Canucks now enter a six day lull in their schedule between this and their next game. They have no shortage of flaws to iron out, but by that same token they’ve just as many positives to build upon. For now, it’s a perfect storm.