makstrom is better when the canucks don't score
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) March 18, 2018
Final Score: San Jose Sharks 5, Vancouver Canucks 3
Coming into the game, the Vancouver Canucks quite literally had nowhere to go but up.
According to Friend Of The Site Kevin Woodley (my boss over at InGoal Magazine), the Canucks set a 32-year-strong scoreless record back in 1984, going 223:10 without finding the back of the net before beating that in 2016 with 228:10 of goal-less ice time.
This past week, the team came obnoxiously close to beating that record AGAIN, hitting 227:57 before stopping 13 seconds shy of the current record in the first period of Saturday night’s game.
It was hardly a surprise to see the team finally end their scoreless drought; for the first time in ages, they came out of the gate looking like the dominant team by a wide margin.
Where they’d looked ineffective and lethargic during their Southwest road trip, they put up 10 shot attempts in the first six minutes of play – and then, just a few minutes later, Nikolay Goldobin finally broke the spell. While Evander Kane sat in the box, Virtanen moved into the San Jose offensive zone, banked the puck around behind the net, and then watched as Reid Boucher wove back behind the net a second time to put the puck out in front for Derrick Pouliot – who passed out to Goldobin on the left wing and watched as the forward ripped one high blocker side past a screen on Aaron Dell to open scoring:
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 18, 2018
The Canucks would try to keep up the pressure, but things would head downhill quickly in the second half of the period; both Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc would find the back of the net, scoring the equalizer and the go-ahead just over a minute apart to leave Vancouver trailing after 20.
For a team that seemed to be ready for a 2015 Buffalo-esque tank job just a few nights ago, Vancouver did an admirable job of staying in it through the next 20 minutes of play, outshooting San Jose 12-11 in all situations and drawing three penalties – a stark contrast from their own three consecutive calls following Goldobin’s tally in the first.
They started off the period letting the game get further out of hand, allowing Timo Meier to earn his 19th of the season just 1:47 into the second with a slight deflection off of his back on a Brenden Dillon shot from the blue line.
The Canucks would battle to get back into it, though, scoring another two goals before the period was over to enter the final frame tied at three goals apiece – and doing so both times on the man advantage, going three for four on the power play throughout the night.
First, they would see Bo Horvat cash in for his own 19th of the season. Aaron Dell would come out in an attempt to bat away a centering shot by Sam Gagner, but Horvat’s position right on his doorstep would make for an easy deflection past Dell’s left pad for goal number two.
Finally, the Canucks would earn a power play tally on a powerful shot from the point by Alex Edler, who earned goal number three of the season after Gagner fed him a perfect one-timer.
Then, the third period saw it all relatively fall apart.
For the first time all game, the Canucks would get outshot in a period, watching San Jose put up 11 recorded SOG to Vancouver’s 10 during the final 20 minutes.
Neither team would get another chance to deepen the game’s special teams wounds, but Meier’s second goal of the game (and 20th on the season) would pull San Jose ahead by one with just over six minutes left to play after using Del Zotto as a screen for his shot just outside the hashmarks.
Tomas Hertl would cash in on the empty net with just under :30 seconds left in the game, and that would be all she wrote.
The Sharks really kicked things up a notch down the back stretch of the second period shot attempt-wise, but a huge amount of credit goes to the Canucks for coming out strong and maintaining the shot attempt advantage through the entire night.
Sometimes, Vancouver looks like a mess right out of the gate, and other times they almost seem to completely implode in the countdown to the final buzzer. Tonight, they failed to hold off their opponents in the final minutes, but put up an admirable effort in the process. This game – scoring, shooting, playmaking – looked like night and day compared to their games earlier in the week, from start to finish.
- On the plus side, the Buffalo Sabres pulled off a win over the Chicago Blackhawks tonight – which is both hilarious from the ‘Chicago free-fall’ standpoint and good for Vancouver’s chances at finishing dead last in the NHL this year. They’re now just one point back of the Canucks and their six straight losses, and both Arizona and Buffalo have been playing well enough down this back stretch that they just may accidentally play themselves right out of the Dahlin sweepstakes.
- Of course, Arizona also lost their game on Saturday night, after dominating their first half against the Minnesota Wild. Arizona playing very well (but continuing to lose) is a worst-case scenario for Vancouver; if the Coyotes look like they’re on the cusp of being Wild Card contenders, but somehow land Rasmun Dahlin as well, they immediately become a threat (with an added option of then shopping Oliver Ekman-Larsson for a top scoring forward, to boot). Ideally, they manage to keep up their 100-point pace through the rest of 2018, playing themselves right out of a top-3 pick and leaving this draft year’s best rebuild pieces for the teams with rabid fanbases desperately in need of reassurance.
- The joke about Markstrom playing better when his team isn’t scoring any goals made me laugh for about half a second, then stop. Thinking back, there have been plenty of games where the Canucks just couldn’t put together their offensive effort, but Markstrom absolutely stood on his head… and then, he has nights like tonight, where he just can’t seem to get it done. Is it because the team can only play one thing at a time – offense or defense – or a mental focus issue with Markstrom himself, where the no-chances, must-stop-pucks mindset only really shows up when he knows the team will sink without him? At the start of the season, I mentioned that Markstrom needed to show, finally, that he had the consistency and reliability to his game that was deserving of a starting gig. When these kinds of jokes aren’t actually all that funny, it’s pretty clear that that’s not the case. The team still has him under contract for the next two years, but this year has definitely proven that Thatcher Demko sorely needs to pan out at the NHL level.
- The lack of an even-strength goal is concerning for a team that didn’t find the back of the net once in three straight games, since it speaks of a potential continued problem when the opposition doesn’t take a ton of penalties. On the bright side, though, the power play was buzzing – and in what essentially amounts to a lost season en route to full-scale rebuild, the little things make all the difference in the world.
- Speaking of the little things, Sam Gagner had six shots on goal and two assists on the night. He thrived in the game, generating offense both through scoring chances and with well-positioned plays for other Canucks on the ice. He remains inconsistent at best, and it would take quite a few of his infamous eight-point games to sniff the 18 goals he put up last year; at this point, he appears to be a player whose only semblance of consistency comes when he’s played with higher point-generators in a playoff lineup like the one in Columbus. It is possible, though, to look at this as a bright point; when he plays like that, it’s easy to remember why the Canucks picked him up in the first place.
- Finally, a huge stick tap to the fans in attendance tonight. I was in an entirely different arena, covering the Coyotes-Wild game, but all I saw on Twitter was how loud the building got towards the end. It hasn’t been an easy year to cheer, so it’s nice to see you guys get a chance to get loud – even if things didn’t quite end with a win. (although, in the long haul, one loss closer to Dahlin is a win… is it not?)