The Canucks opened tonight’s game against the Islanders having dropped their last two games and four of their last five as they try and hang in the playoff picture via the wild card. Given that these losses have come against division rivals they find themselves on the outside, looking up at Arizona not to mention the entire Central.
Unsurprisingly, Markstrom drew the start for the home team against Lehner and the Islanders. New York dropped their last game in a shootout to Edmonton. For those of you who live under a rock, the Trotz-led Islanders and Lehner have been one of the leagues biggest surprises this year. They lost a considerable amount of talent in the offseason and basically rolled two fourth lines to start the season and well, it works?
They’re certainly not trying to win any awards in shot share, but they’ve done a fairly decent job of keeping allowed shots to the outside as Robin Lehner’s only seeing 2.33xG per game.
Why does this matter? Well, we know this Vancouver squad – especially with the additions of Gaudette, McEwen, and even Spooner – can shoot the puck. The question is, will they be able to get in close and capitalize if and when they do so?
The first notable sight in the game was Matt Barzal centering Kuhnhackl and Komarov. This is a telling example of how dedicated Trotz is to having balanced, defensively sound lines.
After both teams traded chances in the first few minutes, Casey Cizikas opened the scoring at 4:48. He flipped a bouncing puck from a Johnny Boychuk shot off the end boards up and over Markstrom.
Boychuk's shot bounces off the end boards back to the side of the net where Casey Cizikas is able to chip it by Jacob Markstrom. #Isles take a 1-0 lead on the #Canucks early. pic.twitter.com/JzfeBCUctd
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 24, 2019
The Islanders drew a penalty with fourteen minutes to go in the first when Loui Eriksson took an offensive zone holding penalty. He got beat in a puck battle on the boards and made a bad play to send the Canucks to the PK.
The Canucks had the better of the chances on the PK starting with Jay Beagle’s breakaway 30 seconds in. He approached the net with considerable speed, had Lehner beat, but couldn’t get the puck up and over the leg pad on net. This was likely due to a stick in the hands. We saw the impact of the system Trotz has so successfully implemented with the boys of Barclays as the Granlund brought the puck in on the rush only to have the centering pass end up on the stick of a back-checking forward right where you’d think your attacker would be.
With 10:45 to go, Barzal flew past a Vancouver defender, but had little support for when Jake Markstrom came out of the net to challenge him.
Following this sequence, the Canucks had their first extended shift in the visitor’s zone. Roussel made the controlled entry with a nice play at the line. They worked the puck around the boards to Biega who had his point shot tipped in front, but directly into Lehner’s leg pad. Granlund tried to bury the rebound, but couldn’t get the puck through traffic. The Islanders failed to clear giving the Granlund and Gaudette another opportunity working behind the net. This promising shift would end with Biega hap-haphazardly throwing a puck to an Islanders forward instead of his D partner along the blue line.
The Canucks had their next good scoring opportunity with seven minutes to play in the first. Stecher threw the puck on net from the blue line and Lehner had trouble holding on to it, but Horvat’s between-the-legs backhand pass on the rebound went no where. Horvat would follow this with an offensive zone penalty when he tripped up the Islanders’ defenseman Pelech in on the rush.
The Canucks would never make it to the PK, as Pulock would score on the delayed penalty after nearly a minute of possession with the sixth man in the offensive zone. Pulock fired a laser one-timer into the high glove side from Ovi’s office. Barzal had done an excellent job working the puck left-to-right at from the point to generate the opportunity. The Canucks, late on their shift, seemed entirely content with letting the visiting team pass the puck around and around until they finally decided to pull the trigger.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 24, 2019
Markstrom made an impressive sprawling save with a minute or so left to keep things 2-0 as we headed to the second period.
The second period opened with what nearly 90 seconds of zone time from the Islanders. Thankfully, the Canucks ran what appeared to be a set play off the Gaudette face-off win to get the change after the ensuing icing. The Pettersson line would follow, but had nothing going.
The Horvat line followed that group, with Leivo getting robbed on a shot from the doorstep when Lehner threw out the two-pad stack. Goldobin, Leivo, and Horvat weren’t able to convert on scoring chances they had when they pinned the Islanders in for sixty more seconds of offensive zone time.
The Canucks continued to pour on as the Beagle line drew a penalty. With the short change, Travis Green was able to then swap in the Pettersson line. They had nearly 90 seconds with the extra man before the referees arm got tired and play was blown dead as Devon Toews tapped the puck.
The home team opened the Power Play with 13:30 to go in the second and notably Hutton on the spot Stecher had been occupying. He nearly scored in the opening seconds, firing a point shot past Lehner, off the post, off Lehner, and along the goal line only to be cleared by Scott Mayfield.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 24, 2019
Mayfield wouldn’t be so lucky when he went to clear the puck with 25 seconds to go on the PK as he threw a puck into the stands, taking a delay of game penalty.
The short 5-on-3 would prove to be no more fruitful than the prior PP. The Canucks then struggled to gain entry into the zone. Valtteri Filppula forced a turnover in the neutral zone and gained a breakaway, but Markstrom challenged the shooter into a poor shot and made the save.
With nine minutes to go, Tyler Motte brought the puck in on the rush. Lehner, continuing to struggle with rebounds, allowed him to get his own rebound, but he fired it off the post.
A minute later the Islanders got away with too many men as they botched a change while having possession near the boards in the neutral zone. Call or not, the Canucks continued to press the Islanders, drawing an icing with 6:30 to go. Gaudette won the ensuing face-off, but again, a great opportunity was missed because no one was home in front of the net.
At the 15:45 mark in the second, the Beagle line started an impressive shift in the offensive zone. Sautner and Gudbranson aided the fourth line tremendously with some crisp passing at the point. This culminated with a point shot from Sautner with no one in front able to clean up the rebound and the Islanders taking another icing penalty. This opportunity was spoiled when Boeser made a behind-the-back pass to no man’s land.
Barzal took a high stick on Pettersson with 2:44 to play. Their best opportunity came on a deflected Pettersson pass/shot, but unfortunately for the Canucks, Lehner happened to be in the right spot to make the save.
The Canucks would end the Power Play having doubled up the Islanders in shots 30-14, with nothing to show for it. A shame, really, as it was one of their most dominant periods of the year against a strong Islanders squad.
The Canucks opened the third hoping to finally cash in on a dominant second period and close the gap with the Islanders.
Unfortunately, the Islanders would land an absolute dagger off a counter from a missed Jay Beagle shot. Two minutes and thirty seconds into the third period Filppula, Bailey, and Beauvillier went tic-tac-toe through the Canucks defense and ultimately past Markstrom for the goal.
This goal really let the air out of the tires of a previously energetic Vancouver squad. By the ten minute mark, they’d only amassed two (2) shots on goal in the third. They flat-lined.
Maybe it seems like I’ve mailed things in here for the third period, but honestly, this was about as exciting and event filled to read as it was to watch.
With 4:22 to go Vancouver went on another Power Play, hoping to at least break their scoreless streak if nothing else. After failing to generate anything on their first PP possession, they pulled the goalie to get the 6-on-4 with 1:07 left with Anders Lee in the box. They made a nice entry after losing the face-off, but nothing came of it.
With the goaltender pulled, the Islanders continued to fail to challenge Lehner, taking shots from a distance without breaking the goaltender’s line-of-sight.
The final nail in the coffin was the empty net goal from Cal Clutterbuck with 75 seconds remaining.
We knew going into the game the Canucks would likely out-shoot the Islanders. That’s exactly what happened. They dominated a good Islanders squad in the second:
While I’d like to celebrate Biega and Pouliot being in the “good” section of the chart. It’s always scary to have a defensive pairing that doesn’t take a single defensive zone start. They were highly sheltered, which likely led to less-than-optimal deployment of other pairings (looking at you, Sautner-Gudbranson).
It was apparent tonight that a big part of the Islanders’ success isn’t just the way they pack it in defensively, but also their exceptional support of the puck carrier. Frequently, when Vancouver would apply pressure, the player on the puck would look up to see one or more teammates available nearby. The juxtaposition provided in tonight’s showcase highlights a key area where the Canucks, from the top of the lineup to the bottom, could stand to improve if they intend to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Their best sequences are certainly the result of tight support of the puck carrier and some of their more egregious plays and turnovers are the direct result of the lack thereof.
Robin Lehner seemed to struggle holding onto the puck and controlling his rebounds tonight, but the Canucks were unable to capitalize. It was frustrating to watch so many point shots generate juicy rebounds only to be scooped up by and Islanders defenseman with nary a Canuck in sight. The home team tonight appeared unwilling or unable to battle to get to the front of the net. This doomed the Canucks to one-and-dones off the rush or shots from the point. It appears as though there’s no “next man in” once the player in front of the net is pushed out or steps away to play the puck.
The Spooner deployment has drawn some criticism given his performance this year with the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers. While he trailed all forwards in TOI, it’s apparent that Travis Green is trying to get the former Bruin into a role aligned to his strengths. His best performances with Boston came with extremely favorable offensive zone deployments, paired with a playmaker in Krejci and a mobile shooter like Jake DeBrusk or a Power Forward like Backes or Jimmy Hayes.
I think anyone who has watched either the Rangers or Oilers this year might conclude that maybe the decline in output is related to the quality of the input (teammates) in those scenarios.
Given the success he had in these situations and the current deployment strategy of the Pettersson-Boeser line, you’d think he’d find some success in that role. In his defense, he’s in his age 26 season and only one season removed from being a 2 P/60 player. I think it’s likely we see this again, as the significantly heavier defensive zone deployments the Horvat line takes makes that a non-starter.
The Canucks have now dropped eight of their last ten games. It’s beginning to look like the string of recent injuries is dragging this team further and further away from a bonafide playoff run.
Optimistically, the West, behind Vegas is open for the taking. Arizona has been equally unlucky in terms of injuries. The Wild have traded away one of their best players in Nino Niederreiter and are in a free fall. You have to wonder if this recent win streak by Chicago is sustainable. After looking like a playoff squad when they knocked the Blues of their win streak, the Stars hoped to turn things around before being shut out today.
All this to say, “Hey, why not us?”
The Canucks look to get back on track Monday night in Vancouver against an Anaheim squad that can’t make up their minds on if they’re better with or without their prospects. You have to wonder if Miller, who has been the subject of rumors of late, will be making that start. Hopefully, the Canucks get some good news on Edler or another forward in the meantime.