It was a definite improvement over whatever the hell Friday was, but then again, most everything would be. The Vancouver Canucks first game home from a short road swing resulted in a 4-2 win over a pretty good Washington Capitals side, as three quick second period markers and some good discipline prevented the Caps from really getting a foothold in this game.
Oh, and Luca Sbisa scored the game winning goal. It’s not every day that you can write that sentence. Read past the jump for a full recap.
Vancouver looked much better in the early going than they did in their blowout loss to the Avalanche just two days ago. They pressured the Caps early in the period, generating a number of scoring chances, notably by Radim Vrbata who missed a backhander, Linden Vey who was stopped in close by Justin Peters, and Jannik Hansen who couldn’t re-direct an Alex Edler slap pass home. Peters was perfect in the first, as he kept the game tied at 0-0 entering the first intermission.
The second period almost started in a disastrous way, as Eric Fehr was sprung on a breakaway right off the opening faceoff, but Ryan Miller turned him aside. The Caps would continue to pressure Vancouver though, as a defensive zone turnover fell to rookie centre Andre Burakovsky, who set up Marcus Johansson for the 1-0 goal. This lead would be short lived however, as Vancouver continued to chip away at Justin Peters, before the dam finally burst with 14:00 to go in the second period.
First, Henrik Sedin shoveled a puck past Peters from an awkward angle on the power play to tie the game 1-1:
Then Nick Bonino fired a laser of a shot off the post and in on a 2-on-1 to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead:
And finally, Luca Sbisa’s(!) point shot found it’s way into the back of the Caps net just 25 seconds later, giving Vancouver a 3-1 lead that they would not give up:
Liam O’Brien would manage to cut into the Canucks’ lead as he caught Kevin Bieksa sleeping and snuck into the slot to redirect a puck past Ryan Miller, but that was as close as the Caps would come. Miller would close out the game with a couple of nice stops to preserve the lead, including his nicest ones off Troy Brouwer and John Carlson, and Radim Vrbata would add the rare powerplay empty net goal to seal the 4-2 Canucks win.
Chart courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Canucks came out strong in the first period and generated a bunch of shots and chances early at even strength, but Washington made it a much more even game in the second and third periods. Where the Canucks really excelled was staying disciplined and not allowing Washington to have much powerplay time. The Caps had just two powerplays, limiting Alex Ovechkin to just under two and a half minutes of time at 5v4.
As far as individuals go, the Sedins saw heavy usage against the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr line in the defensive zone, and it resulted in a rare off night for them, as each member of that line had a Corsi% below 45%. Still, the twins and Vrbata were very good on the powerplay, manufacturing two goals, though one was into an empty net.
Interestingly enough, their ~45% offensive zone start percentages were still among the highest on the Canucks. As a team, Washington seems to excel at generating offensive zone faceoffs – as evidenced by their relative lack of guys who start mostly in the defensive zone – so this isn’t really surprising.
The fourth line of Jannik Hansen, Linden Vey, and Derek Dorsett was also very prominent tonight, as they generated a number of prominent chances and also led Vancouver in the puck possession department. Luca Sbisa, who was beyond awful on Friday, had himself a solid bounce-back night tonight too. The defender scored his first goal as a Canuck, saw a 48% Corsi despite a sub-30% OZ start%, and avoided any massive brain cramps (though the first Caps goal is debatable, I’d put that one more on Weber than Sbisa. There was also that pinch that took out Shawn Matthias and led to a Caps odd-man rush, but hey, baby steps, right?).
Though nearly any effort would have been an improvement over Friday, it’s nice to see the Canucks bounce back and get right back in the W column. Vancouver’s next opponent is the Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner-less Carolina Hurricanes, who look to be early contenders for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
Despite their lousy record, the ‘Canes have actually been a just slightly worse puck possession team than the Canucks have been, but they’re also one of the few teams being submarined by worse even strength goaltending than Vancouver has seen. The big difference being that while Miller and Lack have been inconsistently bad, Ward and Khudobin have been consistently awful. And unlike Vancouver, Carolina can’t even outscore their goaltending woes. They’re no good, but they probably won’t be a bottom-5 team by the end of the year.
Oh, and one fun fact before we leave you: Roberto Luongo is currently 3rd in the NHL in even strength save percentage at 0.963, and Cory Schneider is 12th at 0.940. Miller and Lack? 25th and 42nd out of 43 qualified goalies. This stat means absolutely nothing right now and I expect both Vancouver goalies to climb much closer to both former Vancouver goalies before too long, but it’s still funny nonetheless.