The Vancouver Canucks have all hands on deck of late, as everyone keeps finding ways to pitch in for wins. Jannik Hansen recently went on a tear, the Sedins killed the Caps, and tonight the 3rd line of Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, and Linden Vey stole the show – with a little help from Eddie Lack – as Vancouver convincingly brushed aside a very strong Pittsburgh Penguins team by a 3-0 score.
Read past the jump for a full recap of tonight’s win.
Despite playing as good a game as you can against the Pittsburgh Penguins – and Vancouver as a team were fantastic tonight – there were a couple of instances where an inch or two difference here of there could have taken this game in an entirely different direction. One of those instances came right off the bat when Luca Sbisa did a very Luca Sbisa thing and delivered a fresh baked pizza right to the Penguins. Fortunately, nothing came of this early mistake.
The play seemed fairly confined to the neutral zone for a time after that, but then the Canucks took over, led in large part by their surprising 3rd line. After a strong forecheck from Shawn Matthias easily brushed Olli Maatta aside and iced Christian Ehrhoff, the resurgent winger fired a centering pass to Brad Richardson who managed to squeeze a low shot past Thomas Greiss for the 1-0 goal:
It’s been quite the turn around for the much maligned on this blog group of Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, and Linden Vey. They were god awful to start the year, especially in terms of controlling the run of play at 5-on-5, but they’ve been turning that around of late. Not only that, but thanks partly to some favourable variance, their improved play is showing up on the scoresheet.
He’s on a PDO high right now, but Shawn Matthias *is* playing some legitimately good hockey right now pic.twitter.com/ESIm9FkTKV
— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) December 5, 2014
It still remains to be seen whether the three guys who have been among Vancouver’s worst 5-on-5 players can keep this great play up long term, especially since Matthias in particular hasn’t ever demonstrated that he can be a plus-possession player at the NHL level, but if they can continue to be an effective 3rd unit, that’s fantastic news for Vancouver.
The Penguins were-oh-so-close to tying the game at 1-1 after Alex Edler took a slashing penalty for breaking his stick on Evgeni Malkin. On the ensuing Penguins powerplay, the puck squirted free to Sidney Crosby, who literally had the entire net to shoot at. Like just sitting there. Wide open. Nothing blocking it. And he shanked it off the far post, keeping the game at 1-0. The numbers won’t say that Vancouver was necessarily lucky to win this game since they out-played Pittsburgh, but they sure benefited from some good bounces along the way.
I can’t emphasize how fantastic the third line was tonight. During another strong shift in the dying moments of the first period, Brad Richardson had three whacks at a puck lying in the slot mere feet from Thomas Greiss, but he couldn’t jam one through. Then, early in the second period, a nifty Linden Vey pass was redirected by Matthias off the post, keeping the game at 1-0 still. Vancouver was flat-out dominant for the early 2nd ant late 1st, as they didn’t allow the Penguins to attempt their 10th shot of the game until a minute in to the frame, and didn’t allow an 11th attempt for another 10 or so minutes after that.
The Canucks would eventually turn their pressure into a second goal as another strong forecheck and a low to high pass from the Richardson-Matthias combo paid dividends:
As the Penguins tried to get the puck deep into the Canucks’ zone after an icing call, Ryan Stanton stepped up and crushed Patric Hornqvist, breaking up the play. Brad Richardson played the chip-and-chase perfectly, out-battling Simon Despres behind the net, and passed off to a wide open Shawn Matthias, who made no mistake. It was a really good play by all Vancouver players involved, but at the same time you can’t not comment on just how brutal a change that was for Pittsburgh.
Shortly thereafter, it looked as if Bo Horvat would get an opportunity to pounce on a loose puck and get a breakaway, but he was lit up by Blake Comeau with a textbook bodycheck:
GIF: Pens player breaks stick on shot, takes down Canucks player, no penalty http://t.co/5vkHF7ku5A
— Steph (@myregularface) December 5, 2014
It looked for a moment like it could be interference, but Horvat had enough control of the puck that this was a good non-call to my eyes. To make matters worse, Vancouver took a too many men call in the ensuing confusion.
Brad Richardson’s night to remember continued on the penalty kill though, as he pounced on a Thomas Greiss miscue to put Vancouver ahead 3-0:
There’s a bit of good fortune here on the Canucks part once again, as Jannik Hansen appeared to have knocked the stick out of Greiss’ hands before centering to Richardson. But you have to be good to be lucky, and Richardson sure was good tonight.
After dominating the first two frames, Vancouver predictably sat back in the 3rd and let Eddie Lack put an exclamation point on the night by stopping Sidney Crosby on a breakaway midway through the period. The Penguins would come no closer to scoring, as Lack stopped all 21 shots he faced, and made his mom look like a prophet:
— Mia Läck (@mammamialack) December 4, 2014
Canucks win 3-0.
Courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the best teams in the eastern conference. Their score adjusted Corsi on the year is 53.4%, just fractions of a percent behind conference leading Tampa Bay. They have the East’s second best goal differential too, and trail only the resurgent New York Islanders in the Metropolitan division. They are a really, really good team.
And the Canucks pretty much just rolled them.
Now, we can’t dismiss the possibility that Vancouver caught the Pens on an uncharacteristically poor night, but this is a very impressive road win nonetheless. The Canucks dominated the middle portion of the game, and score-effected their way through the 3rd for as tidy a win as you’re going to get in the NHL.
The 3rd line, as you may have guessed from the scoring and whatnot, was all-world tonight. Brad Richardson (+15/-3) and Shawn Matthias (+17/-4) both led Vancouver with a Corsi% north of 80%, shredding their main matchup of Andrew Ebbett and Steve Downie. They were also very effective in their short time against Sidney Crosby too, with Matthias going +5/-2 in three minutes head-to-head.
On the other side of the ledger, the fourth line had another tough night at the office as Bo Horvat and Derek Dorsett saw a pretty favourable deployment, both in terms of zone starts and competition, but were brutalized by Zach Sill and Craig Adams. Both Horvat and Dorsett were +0/-10 Corsi against Sill and +0/-8 Corsi against Adams, despite a 100% and 86% OZ start rate respectively. Pretty ghastly stuff. Horvat will deservedly get some slack as he adjusts and learns the NHL game, but this is a worrying trend starting to develop. Hopefully this is just a funk, and he (and Hansen and Dorsett by extension) can pull out of it.
Vancouver now has some impressive wins against some legitimately great teams in their back pocket, and are pacing all the other weirdly inept Pacific division teams in score-adjusted Fenwick and they just keep winning games and all the lines are scoring and they’ll be hard pressed to miss the playoffs at this point and they may win a round and if they win one they may win two since L.A. and San Jose don’t look great and if you win two you can win three and if you win three–
Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The success so far this season has been absolutely fantastic, but as we learned last January, it can all go south in a hurry. All Vancouver can do is keep busting out the ol’ cliches about taking things one game at a time, and just trying to win the next game on the schedule.
That next game on the schedule just so happens to be on Hockey Night in Canada against the Toronto Maple Leafs this Saturday. HNiC games are always a hell of a time, and this one should be no different. It’s always special when Vancouver beats Toronto in their own back yard.