The Vancouver Canucks gave Anders Nilsson his first start of the season on Tuesday night, hoping to turn things around after kicking off the season with a disappointing 1-2-1 record.
The team in front of him could have been much better, but Nilsson himself earned his first shutout with the team in his first-ever Vancouver start – giving him, by the way, one more shutout as a Canuck than Jacob Markstrom has in his entire NHL career.
How bout dat?
After three straight losses, the Canucks went in to Tuesday night hoping that something, anything, would turn their luck around.
From a shot based perspective, they certainly didn’t give Nilsson much to work with. Right out of the gate, Ottawa managed to gain the upper hand in a dangerous way; they outshot Vancouver 17-4 by the end of the first frame, leaving Nilsson to handle the lion’s share of the work.
He didn’t hold the team in the game alone, though. With Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson on the ice by his right post during a scramble around the net 15 minutes into the game, Brock Boeser managed to scoop up the loose puck and fire on a wide-open net for his second goal of the season.
Vancouver would get back into the game in the final two periods, outshooting Ottawa 12-7 in the second frame and drawing even in shots with eight apiece during the third.
A goal in each period would leave the Senators going home empty-handed, though, and Nilsson would turn away all 32 shots he faced to ensure the win truly.
Props go to Alexander Burmistrov for scoring the second goal of the night on a tip-in from Boeser’s feed, but this truly was the former NCAA star’s night. A final goal from Thomas Vanek in the third period sealed the win, and Vancouver advanced to a 2-2-1 record on the year.
The Nilsson question has to be posed.
Last Friday, I went on Canucks Army radio to talk about the goaltending situation – and at the time, we hadn’t seen a start from Nilsson in Vancouver yet.
I thought (and still to a degree do) that the Canucks would be very happy with strong performances from Nilsson, but this is still Markstrom’s net to lose. He didn’t exactly come cheap, and the team has now moved multiple goaltenders out of the system to pave the way for him to get his shot at being a number one. They aren’t going to ride him for 70 games if he’s struggling, but he’ll have to actively give away the starting job with noticeably poor play in order for Nilsson to take away his future with the team.
That said, tonight was a nice example of what, exactly, Nilsson can be.
Markstrom has yet to record a single shutout at the NHL level – partly because, as discussed during the radio segment, he has a nasty habit of dragging his feet on getting set during the first few shots in the game. He’s allowed a lot of easy, somewhat-inexcusable goals in the early minutes of games as a result, and it’s frustrating to watch.
Nilsson struggled with the New York Islanders, the Edmonton Oilers, and the St. Louis Blues, but he did quite well last year with the Buffalo Sabres – and it’s no secret that if Vancouver does anything well, it’s coach goaltenders. At the very worst, he could be primed to earn a starting gig elsewhere finally; if he pushes, he could manage to oust Markstrom as a failed experiment for good.
It’s also worth pointing out that Burmistrov has seemed like an excellent pickup in his games so far this year.
Michael Del Zotto has been as expected, and Vanek – for better or for worse – has essentially done his job, as well. Burmistrov was an interesting case, though; he was brought in after all but losing the complete faith of Winnipeg’s brass last year. Although he got some redemption time with the Arizona Coyotes (and played perfectly well for them in the process), there was a bottleneck of replacement-level depth forwards in their system, so he was cut loose.
Maybe the Russian-born forward will never truly live up to the standards set when he was selected eighth overall in 2010, but he’s certainly doing a nice job of proving that he’s a strong supplemental roster piece. He was nothing but pleasant and positive during a tough year in Arizona last season, and having both his acceptable skill set and that kind of locker room presence could mean he’ll stick around for a while in Vancouver still.
Make no mistake; the Canucks, as a whole, could have easily seen that game go another way. Just in the first period alone, a slow start in net could have sunk them from the get-go.
There were some positives, though – and a win is a win, especially in a season with plenty of new faces looking to find their roles.