The Canucks came into their Saturday night show down looking to regain their footing after losing in overtime to a streaking Blackhawks squad. They looked to regain a place in the playoffs as they squared off for the fourth time this season with the West-leading Calgary Flames.
The Flames started arguably the best goalie in the league this year, David Rittich. The 26 year old Czech goaltender has taken over the starting role from Mike Smith in his third full season in North America. He faced off against Jacob Markstrom, who’d defend the net for Vancouver having lost four of his last five.
The Flames dropped their previous game to San Jose on Thursday night, where Rittich was pulled less than fifteen minutes into the game.
Against good teams, you always want to have a strong start. That’s exactly what Vancouver got when Bo Horvat potted his first goal in seven games and only his second in seventeen games going all the way back to December 20th against St. Louis. The Canucks had an offensive zone start at 0:40, which isn’t out of the ordinary, but it was fielded by a line of Goldobin-Horvat-Roussel, which certainly is. Roussel won the draw after Horvat was booted and slid the puck back to Tanev. The Canucks defenseman looked up to see Horvat making a beeline for the net and split traffic with the feed to the center on the doorstep. Horvat fired in his nineteenth goal of the season over the blocker to make things 1-0 early.
The Canucks are certainly looking for Horvat and the rest of their centers not named Elias Pettersson to get things going. This goal was only the fourth for a Vancouver center not on the first line since that December matchup against St. Louis. One for Sutter, Two for Horvat, and one for Beagle.
3:00 into the first Markstrom made one of the strangest saves we’ll see all year on Johnny Gaudreau. His shot was deflected in front causing Markstrom to make a jumping save on the shot. The puck bounced off his glove and fell to the ice in front of Monahan, who fired it on net. Markstrom did what I can only imagine is the goaltender equivalent of a burpee, dropping down to make the kick save on the Calgary pivot.
In what would become a recurring theme this evening, the other team would answer back to the goal rather quickly. Calgary, possessing the puck on a delayed penalty, had six men on the ice as Sean Monhan made the controlled entry. He dropped the puck off to Gaudreau just over the blue line and used his body to create space for the winger off of Troy Stecher. When Johnny Hockey’s shot went wide, Monahan was in behind Hutton and Granlund to retrieve the puck and dish it between the two Canucks to Elias Lindholm in front.
Lindholm didn’t even take time to dust off the puck before firing it five hole on Jacob Markstrom. The goaltender had the gap closed, but misread the shot given the rolling puck and lifted his leg to prevent a rising shot from creeping in over his leg pad, allowing the puck on the ice into the net. Lindholm’s 24th of the year pulled Calgary even, 1-1, with over 13 minutes to play in the first.
Vancouver would pick up a power play roughly two minutes later when Elias Pettersson drew a neutral zone tripping call. The first unit generated a Pettersson one-timer and slot-shots for both Leivo and Boeser, which were all impressively saved by David Rittich. Those three were joined by Horvat and, for the first time, Troy Stecher, who has continued to impress since being paired with Hutton. Those shots would end up being the only shots on the power play for the home team.
With 8:15 remaining, Boeser and Roussel turned a 2-on-2 into a short breakaway with a bit of give-and-go action, but the backhand shot was right into the waiting glove of Rittich, who wouldn’t waste another opportunity to shake the leather a bit.
Goldobin had a fantastic sequence on the next shift, starting with a feed after a pump fake back to the point for a Pouliot one-timer. When the puck was recovered behind the net and fed around the boards, Goldobin worked his way into position to receive a pass at the high slot. He walked around a straight-legged Mikael Backlund, who half-heartedly swung his stick at the puck, and fired a well placed shot on net, but again Rittich made the save. Goldobin then beat a crouching Travis Hamonic to his own rebound and fired another hard wrist shot off the Calgary net-minder.
Vancouver would keep the pressure up for a third consecutive shift as the top line took the ice on an on-the-fly change. Josh Leivo scored five-hole as Brock Boeser slipped between Giordano and Brodie drawing attention away from the former Maple Leaf winger. He was able to use this distraction from Boeser, after making the controlled entry, to change the angle on his shot and fire the puck below the Calgary goaltender, putting the Canucks up 2-1.
There was significant lauding over the pass to Leivo from Pettersson in the neutral zone leading to the goal, check out the filthy backhander for yourself:
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 10, 2019
Continuing the trend tonight, the Flames answered back less than 45 seconds later on another floating puck. This goal can largely be attributed to a failure to exit the zone by Alex Biega. He (should have) received a pass from Leivo to make the controlled exit, but the puck ricocheted off his stick to the far boards. Instead of making a play on the puck (which he could have) he inexplicably only goes for the hit on Jankowski. The problem is, this was well after Jankowski pushed the puck forward to James Neal who through a fluttering puck at Jake Markstrom. Sam Bennett happened to be standing on the door step when Markstrom couldn’t quite knock it down and he batted the bobbling puck out of the air into the net, tying things up 2-2.
With 6:02 to go, Virtanen put a heavy hit on Johnny Gaudreau against the boards. The Flames took exception and so did the referees, citing Shotgun Jake for cross-checking. Calgary would fail to capitalize on the power play due to some great work from Markstrom and an interference penalty on Mark Giordano on Jay Beagle. The penalty taken by the Flames captain led to a minute of 4-on-4 play and a minute of Canucks power play. The top unit took 35 seconds to finally get set up, but weren’t able to generate any real chances in the 25 remaining seconds.
Repeat this minute-long sequence three more times in your head and then add a monster save from Jake Markstrom on a Johnny Gaudreau breakaway to get an idea of how the period ended.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 10, 2019
We started the second like the first, all knotted up, albeit, this time at 2. The Canucks and Flames traded chances for the first three minutes, culminating with a strong drive to the net for Derek Ryan. Markstrom was able to get it covered, but things seemed to be really coming apart for the Pouliot-Biega pairing.
Calgary would follow this sequence by rolling their top line. Gaudreau was able to get a Crosby-esque goal line shot off on Markstrom and made a slick feed to Lindholm who fired the puck on net uncontested from the lower left circle. Markstrom, again, was there with the glove to make a big stop for the Canucks.
Starting at the roughly 5:00 minute mark of the second, Calgary would make an exceptional push against the Canucks. First the Backlund line, followed by the Jankowski line, the Flames capitalized on four defensive or neutral zone turnovers from Vancouver. Both teams deployed their top lines that each were able to generate a legitimate scoring chance.
The Canucks registered their first shot of the period as the Horvat line was able to get the home team their first sustained zone time with 11:40 to go in the second. By the mid way point in the period, the Canucks were being outshot 27-12.
The broadcast gave a lot of credit to what is very apparently a talented Flames squad, but the Canucks made unforced error after unforced error to allow Calgary to dominate so heavily in the second. The shot tide to this point certainly highlights the lop-sided nature of the second.
The Flames would break through the Markstrom Wall at 13:19. Biega and Pouliot failed to exit the zone at 12:25, turning the puck over at the blue line to Derek Ryan who shuffled the puck over to Mangiapane entering with speed. After the Flames outworked the Canucks on their shift for another 25 or so seconds, it looked like Biega was going to be able to exit, especially so since the Flames player bearing down on him had no stick. But, alas, he fired the puck, again, to Derek Ryan. Ryan, now with a 3-on-2 against gassed defenders, dropped it back to Hanifin at the top of the left circle who went cross-seam to Mangiapane for the kneeling one-timer. Markstrom made it across the crease, but the laser from the Flames second-year forward beat him high glove.
If that paragraph seems long, it reads faster than the amount of time the Flames had the Canucks third pairing in their own zone.
Again, the opposing team would counter quickly with the Canucks tying things up at 3 only 1:50 later. After a brief scuffle between the squads, the Canucks and Flames went 4-on-4. Troy Stecher broke up an entry from Johnny Gaudreau 1-on-1 and the Canucks countered with a controlled entry from Elias Pettersson. The center skated the puck past the Flames defense, behind the net. As he approached the top of the near circle he found Boeser with a cross-seam pass. Boeser loaded up a cannon of a wrist shot from the center of far circle past Rittich low glove.
Calgary took an interference penalty with 2:13 to go in the second as James Neal collided with Granlund in the neutral zone. The top unit in their first set generated a Pettersson one-timer, but Leivo in front wasn’t able to get a stick on the misfire. Stecher made a strong keep-in on the second wave for this unit, but the Canucks weren’t able to capitalize.
The power play ended as Virtanen took an offensive zone penalty with 47 seconds to go in the second. This continued the odd trend of goals after goals and penalties after penalties.
The period closed with the Flames (more than) doubling up the Canucks in shots on goal 33-16.
The third period started off tied 3-3, with the Flames on the power play. The good news for the home team is the best chance with the man advantage came for Tyler Motte on a short breakaway and tight angle shot.
The Canucks celebrated this penalty kill by taking another less than a minute later. Brock Boeser tripped up Derek Ryan in the offensive zone as the former Hurricane fell easily while they competed for a loose puck.
Markstrom made a number of good saves on this PK and essentially killed the thing off by himself. The first came on a Monahan-tipped Lindholm point shot. Then the Canucks goaltender swallowed up the rebound, taking it away from Tkachuk who was standing in the crease. Markstrom followed this up by saving a deflection in close when Lindholm made a one-time slap pass to Tkachuk on the doorstep off a cross-seam feed.
Biega made some adjustments to his earlier and was at least attempting to play the puck, but unfortunately ended up only playing James Neal’s face with his stick, earning him a trip to the dentist. This resulted in a four minute double minor assessed to Vancouver with 12:30 to play.
— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) February 10, 2019
In truth, the four minute PK looked less threatening than the stretch in the second. Markstrom was nothing short of exceptional. He tracked the puck extremely well and moved quickly and confidently to challenge shooters. This was the best and perhaps only four minutes of defense the Canucks played against the Flames.
At 13:00, Antoine Roussel drew a holding call, sending the Canucks out on another power play. Their best chance was a Boeser one-timer from Ovi’s office on a feed from Stecher. Mikael Backlund had a breakaway for the dangerous Flames PK, but Markstrom challenged the shooter and mad yet another big save.
Shortly after the penalty was killed off, Derek Ryan, from the near wall, found Johnny Gaudreau moving through the high slot with speed. Markstrom slid over and got the glove up on a nearly invisible wrist shot. Gaudreau had moved the puck to Ryan in the neutral zone, but two Canucks followed him to the wall, leaving no one in the slot, save for Markstrom.
The Flames and Canucks exchanged chances for the last three minutes, with the Canucks chances being notably less terrifying than their opponents.
Regulation finished with a run of extended zone time for Calgary before the Canucks were able to clear the zone as time expired, The top team in the Western Conference had set a season high for shots on goal at this point, leading 47-24.
While Calgary absolutely dominated the second and third periods, Vancouver looked like they hit the reset button. They came out flying like they opened the game.
Horvat started things with and end-to-end sprint, but fired high.
Pettersson and Boeser generated a chance in close for Hutton who couldn’t convert.
Virtanen made a controlled entry with 3 minutes to play, but fanned on the shot.
Boeser beat Monhan 1-on-1 all the way to the net, but wasn’t able to get a shot off on the backhand.
Boeser and Pettersson had a 2-on-1 with 1:45 to go, but Pettersson had the puck hop over his stick on the one-timer.
Calgary countered with a Giordano break that hit the post. This led to a break for Boeser who drew a Giordano slash.
On the power play, Stecher worked the puck in to Horvat in front and he beat Rittich only to put the backhand shot off the post.
Things seemed to continue in Vancouver’s favor as they forced a shootout. They certainly had the hotter of the game’s goaltenders.
Elias Pettersson scored on a wrist shot high glove side in the first frame for Vancouver and Markstrom shut out all three Flames he faced to seal the win. What a beauty.
MARKY 😱 pic.twitter.com/ekUDXY5P2W
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 10, 2019
The commentators called the Sutter line a “hard match” for Bill Peters against the Monahan line.
There were no hard matches for Vancouver against the Monahan line.
To be fair, I’m not sure there’s many hard matches for this line in the entire league. The Canucks also (clearly) struggled against Calgary’s top pair, but again, this has been the case for the majority of the league. Brodie has been exceptional and Giordano should probably be leading most Norris discussions.
On the one hand, it’s nice to see the team respond after giving up goals. On the other, you’d like to see them not give up those goals, preferably by preventing some of those shots or maybe just getting the puck out of their own zone every once in a while.
Some Canucks fans got what they wished when Pouliot-Gudbranson got split up. Unfortuately, we all now have to reap what they sowed and watch Pouliot-Biega. I’m not sure you can justify rolling this pairing over at least on of the guys in Utica while Edler is out.
Beyond being defensively challenged, the Canucks struggled mightily tonight making good decisions and crisp passes. It seemed like they often were trying to open up the game with low percentage plays. Furthermore, there was little support of the puck carrier both in the defensive zone and the neutral zone.
Markstrom deserves both points for this win as the team failed to play anything resembling defense for the majority of the game. I mean the guy prevented between two and three expected goals for Vancouver in a case where the numbers and the eye test are very much aligned.
Anytime you take a point when you’re this thoroughly dominated it’s a good thing, but to get the second point in a game against a division rival? well, buy yourself a lotto ticket. The Canucks got away with one tonight.
Overall, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. This team can play better and you’d hope, a bit more consistently.
Most likely, though? The roller coaster games continue. Grab your Tums and Pepto, it’s going to be a fun spring.
Hopefully, some adjustments.
The Canucks take on a San Jose squad that’s every bit as talented as this Calgary group on Monday night in Vancouver.
The offensively gifted Sharks haven’t lost since before the All-Star break and should prove to be a formidable test for a currently defensively challenged group in Vancouver.