The Canucks squeaked out a win over the Senators in OT last night as Elias Pettersson netted his first hat-trick, as I’m sure you’ve heard. It’s been a big 24 hours for the young Swede, as the rookie was also named to his first All-Star game today. EP and the Canucks travelled to Montreal today to take on a team that might be one of the league’s biggest surprises this year.
For Montreal, Shea Weber is 2nd in all situation TOI since December 1, having taken over the top pairing role from Jeff Petry. Petry, who played well in Weber’s absence, has thrived in a reduced role, leading all D-men in goals in December.
Thomas Tatar has been especially and surprisingly productive for the Canadiens, given his 60CF% while carrying a 48% offensive zone start rate.
Notably returning for the Canucks was Brandon Sutter, who slotted into the third line between Granlund and Virtanen. He replaced Josh Leivo, who left 10 minutes into last night’s game, suffering from back spasms. Leivo was placed on the IR to make room on the roster.
Michael Del Zotto also found his way into the lineup tonight for the first time since December 4th, replacing Derrick Pouliot. Del Zotto has played 21 games for Vancouver so far this year, carrying a CF% of 53.4 and a SCF% of 52 at 5-on-5.
Jacob Markstrom drew the start against surprising 2019 All-Star Carey Price.
The returning Sutter and his linemates took their first shift a minute in against Montreal’s prolific Domi, Byron, Drouin line a minute into the game. While they pinned the puck in Montreal’s zone for a bit, Byron was able to move through the zone with speed and earned an uncontested high danger scoring chance off against Markstrom.
As the game began to open up, Elias Pettersson anticipated and picked off a pass from Jordie Benn to Brett Kulak. Pettersson earned himself a breakaway skating effortlessly away from the defenseman and made move to cleanly beat Carey Price only to put the shot wide, crashing into the left post.
Aside from a few one-and-done rushes from Pettersson and Boeser, Montreal controlled the play for the first six minutes of the game until they took a hooking penalty at 6:03 to send the Canucks to their first Power Play. Tatar took a hooking call on Pettersson who made a slick past through a crouching Weber to Sven Baertschi. Baertschi was sitting on the doorstep but was unable to get his stick squarely on the puck to get the shot off.
Vancouver’s top unit had no problem getting their power play set up off the opening face-off, but struggled to get shots through and onto the net. The second unit took the last 25 seconds of the power play but was unable to ever get set up.
Jordie Benn opened the scoring with a slap shot from the slot at 11:50. Joel Armia, another off-season acquisition for Montreal, this time from Winnipeg, worked over and stole the puck from Stecher. He then fed the puck up the boards to Kotkaniemi who threaded a pass under Baertschi’s stick to Benn. Benn used Pettersson as a screen and the puck may have grazed #40 as Markstrom looked surprised by the shot.
The Canucks took an unnecessary, off-puck penalty at 13:06, leading to a number of good attempts for Montreal and an even better save from Markstrom while the Canadiens had six men on the ice for the delayed call. Schaller hooked Drouin as he entered the offensive zone leading to the extended opportunity with the extra man. This, however, was the most threatening portion of Montreal’s power play, as they were missing Brendan Gallagher, who left after blocking a shot from Hutton at 11:10.
Montreal seemed content to let the Canucks work the puck around the outside during the few times the Cancuks were able to set up in the offensive zone. Gallagher would return around the 18 minutes mark for Montreal.
Vancouver finished without a shot on goal in the final 11:46.
Both teams got off to a rather uneventful start in the second period. Montreal had a number of decent attempts but had trouble putting the puck on the net. The Canucks had their first shot since 8:14 into the first period 3:18 into the second as Gudbrandson fired a harmless slapper off Price’s legs.
Jay Beagle had a prime one-time opportunity a minute later from inside of the right circle in the slot as Schaller fed him the puck from the corner. Price, unfortunately, was already on top of his crease and made a tidy five-hole save.
Elias Petterrsson got tangled up with Jasperi Kotkaniemi with 14:25 remaining in the second. It appeared Pettersson and Kotkaniemi were exchanging pleasantries when a light hook from the young Finn led to the two getting tangled up. Kotkaniemi’s unpenalized (correctly, according to Travis Green) interference with Pettersson led to the first time All-Star folding one knee awkwardly as he hit the ice. He remained down and was tended to by a trainer for a few minutes before skating and walking off under his own power.
Green: Two guys get tangled. I’ve watched it a lot of times. It’s not a dirty play by their player at all. He gets hooked a little bit. Petey actually pushes back on him a bit in a reverse hit… two young guys fall to the ice. It’s not a penalty. #Canucks pic.twitter.com/HRwrXupwMx
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) January 4, 2019
Horvat won the face-off stemming from back-to-back Canadiens’ icings, but as Tanev fed the puck back to Boeser, Drouin read the play. The Canadiens winger pressured Boeser, knocking the puck off his stick. Boeser, stuck in no-mans-land, allowed Domi to get the puck up ice to Drouin on the breakaway and the former Lightning player beat Markstrom cleanly on the blocker side 8:24 into the second period.
The Canucks struggled to get anything going through the first half of the second. They had an odd-man rush and a couple of distant slapshots, but unfortunately, these led to next to zero sustained pressure. Vancouver looked especially flat after the departure of Elias Pettersson, a feeling they shared with those watching the game back home.
As we moved into the back half of the second it appeared as though Carey Price and the rest of the Canadiens were happy to let Baertschi, Virtanen, Gudbrandson, et al. fire away from the blue line into his waiting glove.
This continued even as Horvat and Eriksson had a two-on-one. Bo fired the puck right into Price’s glove as Mike Reilly took the pass away from #53. Horvat made up for this lob as he nearly beat Price from the slot on the turnover from Armia in a prime location with 2:43 remaining in the second.
Joel Armia puts a prime chance on the stick of Bo Horvat, and Carey Price bails him out with the glove pic.twitter.com/jM9G95X54Y
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 4, 2019
Carey Price certainly did his part to keep the Canucks to one-and-done opportunities.
In terms of shot attempts, neither team effectively pulled away from the other in the second period, as the Montreal finished with a slight 1.2% lead in CF% with 50.6 versus the Canucks 49.4. However, those final in-close opportunities for Horvat, Sutter, and Del Zotto helped Vancouver pull away in xG by the end of the second, 1.81 to Montreal’s 1.56.
With Elias Pettersson’s absence confirmed to start the third, the Canucks should have picked up where they left off at the end of the second. Vancouver unfortunately, lines at this point having been run through the blender, struggled to get going again in the third.
Their first push to climb back from a two-goal deficit came when Danualt took a tripping penalty at 3:10 in the third. Boeser nearly beat Price blocker side, but instead knocked the stick out of his hand.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) January 4, 2019
With Pettersson absent, Boeser double shifted on the power play. The young forward would end up finishing with eight minutes of time with the extra man. Their first power play of the third would fizzle out with 23 seconds left as Baertschi took an interference penalty on the draw. Travis Green offered his comments suggesting the call was a “joke.”
Max Domi finally reached peak-Domi and took an offensive zone penalty on the power play, cross-checking Markus Granlund into the boards. This 4-on-4 matchup opened up play a bit, but the Canucks continued to struggle to get anything going. The dysfunction was especially palpable when Hutton, with all the open space 4-on-4, allows, somehow collided with Stecher in the offensive zone.
The referees finally discovered their whistles as Granlund picked up what can only be described as a “soft” interference penalty on Kotkaniemi with 11:20 to go.
In a bright spot in an otherwise dull period, Markstrom made a beautiful save on a Domi-Drouin 2-on-1. He continued to keep the Canucks in the game when they otherwise were not.
A Michael Chaput penalty led to another near-miss for Boeser, this time beating Price’s glove but off the inside post. Sutter provided a nice screen in front, which is something the Canucks should look forward to with his return from injury.
The Canucks failed to score on their fifth power play of the night as the Canucks received a gift in the form of a too-many-men penalty against Montreal when both teams botched their changes. The barrage of fruitless outside shots continued.
Vancouver played the final 2:30 or so with a sixth man, but all the Canucks got from that was a Sutter shot in close off the leg pad of Carey Price and a Granlund shot right into his chest protector.
It’s a tired narrative, but the Canucks looked flat before they lost Elias Pettersson, and especially so after he departed. While Horvat, Boeser, and Sutter tried to put the team on their back, it was flashbacks to last season as the Canucks did not have the depth to keep up with Montreal.
You have to believe Travis Green didn’t anticipate needing nearly twenty minutes of Brandon Sutter on his first night back since October, but the pivot stepped up on both the power play and penalty kill, logging 4:00 and 1:56 respectively as part of his 19:10 total TOI. Unfortunately, time-on-ice was all he contributed.
We all certainly hope the Pettersson injury is minimal, but for a team that’s still a contender in a relatively soft division, a lengthy absence would exacerbate a lack of scoring depth and could be a sour note on an otherwise exciting season.
The Hutton-Gudbrandson pairing struggled in comparison to their peers, allowing absurd shot rates in heavy time against Montreal’s top three lines.
Michael Del Zotto looked serviceable in his first game back in thirteen. The defenseman logged 12:07, primarily against the Canadiens’ third (Kotkaniemi) and fourth (Chaput) lines and the Weber-Mete pairing.
Markstrom played well, but in a surprise to all of us coming into the game, Carey Price was the best All-Star on the ice tonight. After pitching a shutout against a depleted Vancouver squad, maybe he deserves the All-Star nod for Montreal after all?