The Vancouver Canucks were looking for a little redemption, and maybe a little payback, as they visited the Shark Tank in San Jose on Saturday night. For those with short term memory loss, these teams last met just one week ago at Rogers Arena. The home team was soundly embarrassed, and not just by the score, but by the fact that they found themselves in the position of being forced to play a 19-year-old OHL goaltender against their better judgement. A 19-year-old goaltender who promptly got destroyed by one of the best offences in the NHL.
That aside, the Canucks entered this game just a single point out of the last wild card spot in the Pacific Division; the Sharks 3rd overall in the Western Conference. By the end of the game, San Jose would move up to 2nd overall in the west, while the Canucks would see St. Louis, Arizona, and Las Vegas all earn points in the standings around them.
Lineups provided by Jeff Paterson via Twitter:
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) February 17, 2019
Side note: Interesting that Antoine Roussel joins Jay Beagle and Bo Horvat as an alternate captain with Tanev out of the lineup. It’s nice to see the impact Roussel is having on the team be recognized like that.
There was good news and bad news in how the Canucks started this game.
Obviously not interested in experiencing a repeat of last week’s embarrassing loss, the good news was that the Canucks looked motivated and energetic right out of the gate. They spent most of the first few minutes of the game pressing the Sharks hard in the attacking zone.
Adam Gaudette in particular had a moment where he used a sudden burst of speed to complete an offensive zone entry, before setting up Tyler Motte for a scoring chance. It didn’t work, but it sure looked good.
The bad news was that Sharks fans wouldn’t have to wait very long for their team to put the puck in the back of the net. Derrick Pouliot took the first penalty of the game at 2:03 by accidentally sending the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt. The Sharks have the NHL’s 6th best power play, and their first unit would pounce early with a good series of chances coming from multiple players. Timo Meier would finish off a tic-tac-toe play from Evander Kane and Erik Karlsson at the 3:45 mark:
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) February 17, 2019
The Canucks continued to play well in spite of being down 1-0 to start the game. Their effort would pay off just 57 seconds later, as Roussel suddenly found himself on a breakaway after taking a long pass from Alex Biega:
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 17, 2019
This was Roussel’s 7th goal this season, and he’s only four points short of tying his career high of 29.
The Frenchman has been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise this season, but it was especially nice to see him show why he was chosen to wear a letter so quickly on the ice. Antoine Roussel is most definitely a leader on this team, and I would argue that he even finds himself in the same conversation as Horvat when we talk about the players who represent the emotional heartbeat of the Canucks. Roussel isn’t an engine the way Horvat is, and he obviously doesn’t score at anywhere near the same level, but he plays a crucial role in keeping the team’s energy and focus levels as high as possible at all times.
Soon after the goal, Horvat had a great personal effort entering the Sharks zone. He skated in aggressively on Erik Karlsson, made a little outside-inside move with the puck, and was tripped up and taken down by Karlsson’s stick. This gave Vancouver their first power play of the game and sent one of San Jose’s best defencemen to the penalty box.
Unfortunately, nothing would come from the man-advantage (in fact, the Canucks wouldn’t force Martin Jones to make a single save), but I continue to really like Stecher playing a role on the power play. He doesn’t have a booming shot, but he walks the line better than almost anyone else they have to throw out there, and he helps to keep the puck moving from Pettersson on the half-wall to Boeser at the top of the circle on the far side.
Also notable was Zack MacEwen being rewarded with power play time, lining up with Gaudette and Eriksson on the 2nd unit.
A little after the halfway mark of the period, a dangerous situation arose when the Canucks became almost helplessly trapped in their own end. It started off well enough, with Markstrom making a big right pad kick save on a shot by Evander Kane, but the Canucks on the ice were quickly fatiguing under Shark pressure. Josh Leivo blocked a shot with his foot at one point, and though he tried his best to stay in the play, he was obviously in a ton of pain and desperate to get back to the bench. As often happens when you’re tired and under pressure, someone took a dumb penalty. Biega blatantly cross-checked Joonas Donskoi behind the Canucks net, sending San Jose to the power play. The Canucks would go on to kill the 18th of their last 19 penalties, but not without needing yet another right pad kick save by Markstrom to save a cross ice pass deflection by Kevin Lebanc.
More good news for Canucks fans, as the team once again started strong at the beginning of the middle frame. The Canucks obviously felt much better about their game overall compared to last week, and it was awesome to see them keep their foot on the gas and not simply quit in the face of a clearly superior opponent. By this point in that last game against the Sharks, it was already over. Here in San Jose, they had earned themselves a 1-1 tie going into the first intermission and a chance to earn back a little bit of lost respect.
A good start by the Canucks was accompanied by a Meier penalty at 2:34 for goaltender interference. Pavelski was net front when Meier suddenly crashed in from behind while being pursued by Gaudette. When Vancouver gave up control of the puck on the power play, Pettersson made an excellent diving play while back-checking to break up a shorthanded scoring attempt by Kane.
Once back in control, the top unit looked threatening several times. EP40 made a series of great passes looking to set guys up, while Boeser worked on getting shots through to Jones. Nikolay Goldobin had an excellent chance in close with a backhanded shot that had the San Jose goalie beat, but rang annoyingly off the crossbar.
This great effort was, unfortunately, immediately followed by a terrible pass by Goldobin to a completely out-of-reach Ben Hutton. The puck was collected by Meier as he burst out of the penalty box and centred a pass to an open Marcus Sorensen that was luckily too hot for him to handle.
A moment to talk about Elias Pettersson:
Dekey Pete is at it again. pic.twitter.com/WeSQ2CrEWh
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) February 17, 2019
One of the biggest takeaways from this game is that, if you were somehow unaware, Pettersson’s game is not simply limited to offensive production. He would go on to finish the game with a single assist, but it was his defensive play that was truly exceptional tonight. Always the first guy back when the puck is being carried in by the opposition, Pettersson was a defensive force in this game.
So much so in fact, that comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk were made at least once by the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast crew. I counted at least a dozen moments where Pettersson imposed his will on the flow of the game by impeding San Jose’s ability to execute passes, to make plays, or to enter the attacking zone altogether in some instances.
Rarely in hockey is defensive play a treat to watch, but EP40 is a rare kind of player.
Jacob Markstrom was taking a noticeable amount of physical punishment in this game, and it continued when Timo Meier skated wide around Troy Stecher and cut in towards the net at the last minute. The result was a bowled over Markstrom, who was slow to get up, and no penalty on the play. Roussel intentionally/unintentionally “fell” on Meier in response, and Travis Green had a long conversation with the officials about how he felt his goaltender had yet again been interfered with.
A poor pass in the San Jose end by Motte to Granlund became a turnover when Erik Karlsson intercepted the puck and sent it back the other way, along with four other Sharks at speed. Markstrom was quickly boxed in and had no chance to stop the Sharks from taking a 2-1 lead, as Logan Couture became the 2nd Shark of the night to score his 21st goal of the year:
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) February 17, 2019
Before the puck could even be dropped on the following face-off, Zack MacEwen decided that this would be a good moment to further endear himself to Canucks fans (not to mention management and the coaching staff) by fighting Barclay Goodrow:
— Dan Riccio (@DanRiccio650) February 17, 2019
Fighting in the NHL these days isn’t what it used to be, but this was a pretty epic tilt. It goes without saying that MacEwen is obviously highly motivated to prove that he, like Adam Gaudette, deserves consideration for a more permanent spot on the big club’s roster. If his goal is to make himself indispensable, he’s definitely off to a good start.
The 2nd period ended much like the 1st: with each team trading penalties at 14:30 and 16:07. Joe Thornton made a series of slick passes on the attack before breaking his stick, and Markus Granlund had an exciting chance in close on Martin Jones. It was, unfortunately, the only time Granlund would be noticeable in the entire game. Stecher, on the other hand, did nothing but continue his outstanding play.
Both teams traded chances throughout the final period of the game. The Canucks gave the Sharks everything they had, trying to push and push and wear them down to eke out a victory, someway somehow.
At one point early in the period, Vancouver led 32-19 on the shot clock, and at 4:31, Brock Boeser became the third player of the game to score his 21st goal of the season by tying the game at 2-2:
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 17, 2019
Pouliot flipped the puck in from centre ice. Pettersson retrieved the puck by the boards in the corder and snuck it behind when challenged for a Boeser heading in the opposite direction around the back of the net. Martin Jones looking the wrong way. Boeser turned, waited, picked his spot, and whiffed on the shot he intended to make. It didn’t matter, however, as the puck still found it’s way past Jones for the equalizing goal. Boeser officially took 118 games to score 100 points in the NHL, 2nd in the Canucks record books only to Pavel Bure, who took 96 games to score his first 100 points.
Past the halfway point, the game’s momentum began to turn again. The Canucks continued to push for every last inch of ice they were capable of, but the Sharks simply have another gear that Vancouver lacks. They locked things down and went to work, producing Pavelski’s 31st goal of the year on a terrible play by Biega:
— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) February 17, 2019
Biega gloved down a long, high dump in by Marc-Eduard Vlasic. It was snapped ahead by Meier and corralled by Markstrom behind his own net. Two Sharks were bearing down on him at high speed; one pressuring from each side of the net. Markstrom was able to get the puck past Pavelski on his right to Biega, who failed on a clearing attempt and turned the puck back over to “Little Joe”. It was passed from Pavelski to Couture to Meier, whose shot was denied just before Pavelski banged home the rebound for his 13th multi-point game of the season. Biega was seen smashing his stick behind the net in frustration, but I think it would be unfortunate for Biega to take too much of the blame here considering how well he was playing in the rest of the game.
The period ended with Jacob Markstrom being pulled with 1:54 left in the game in a last ditch effort to force overtime, but this game was fated to end 3-2 for the home team.
The frantic, scrambling feel of this game did wonders for it’s entertainment value, and it continued right up to the final buzzer.
These guys play each other with so much emotion that you have to wonder where it comes from. Left over resentment from the Jannik Hansen trade? Maybe. Probably not. The sadist in me almost couldn’t help but think about how much fun a playoff series between these two teams could be. Almost.
Canuck standouts? Brock Boeser played 24:05, had 1 goal, 5 shots on goal, and was the only Canuck to finish +2. Elias Pettersson had a monster defensive game. Antoine Roussel continues to be a difference maker. Troy Stecher played 28:13, and Ben Hutton wasn’t too far behind with 26:54 in ice time. Jacob Markstrom also continues to be a revelation in net.
Despite the final result, the bottom line is that this game was a far better effort by the Canucks than last week’s embarrassing disaster. They were fighting and pushing for the entire game. To their credit, this game was far closer in reality than any of the stats would suggest it should have been. After weathering an initial surge, the Canucks actually outshot the Sharks for the rest of the game.
The San Jose Sharks are simply a class well above where the Vancouver Canucks are skill wise, and their record and play prove it. They are a well-oiled machine. With this win, the Sharks improved to 12-0-1 in their last 13 games against Vancouver.
Next up on the schedule, the Canucks play host to the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena on Thursday, February 21st.