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Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames Post-Game Recap: Diving Lessons with Mike Smith

Warm Up

The Vancouver Canucks came into tonight’s matchup looking to turn a streak of 3 wins in a row into one of 4 in a row for the first time since the end of March… last year.

Storylines for each team included players making returns from injury. James Neal slotted back into the Flames lineup after missing 17 games with a lower body injury, whereas Travis Green decided not to make any changes to his winning roster in spite of the announcement that Sven Baertschi was available to play.

Having allowed 2 goals or less in 3 straight games, Mike Smith was given the start for Calgary in his first back-to-back start in a month. At the other end of the ice, Jacob Markstrom tied a career-high by making his 57th start of the year for Vancouver.

As usual, Jeff Paterson provided tonight’s rosters via Twitter:

1st Period

Leivo, Pettersson, and Boeser started the game off with an excellent first shift. Leivo was able to use his speed to carry the puck into the offensive zone while his line mates sought out open ice. After Calgary retook the puck and carried it back towards Jacob Markstrom, the trio executed a series of strong defensive plays that denied the Flames a decent scoring chance and allowed Pettersson to set Boeser off on a breakaway. He managed to let loose a wicked wrist shot, but Smith was ready to make his first big save of the game.

Even though nothing came from any of it, the shift set the tone for how the rest of the period, and much of the game, began to unfold. There was a high pace of play, with the first whistle not coming until the first 5 minutes of the game had already come and gone.

The shot clock wasn’t necessarily on fire, but both teams looked prepared to bring energy and effort to the game. Calgary’s motivation came from wanting to create separation between themselves and San Jose in the standings, so that they draw Colorado in the first round of the playoffs instead of Vegas. The Canucks, meanwhile, have convinced themselves that this recent winning streak, coupled with an upcoming schedule that features relatively weaker opponents, is an opportunity to claw their way back into the playoff conversation at all.

The bottom line is that both teams obviously felt they had something important to fight for, but it would be the Calgary Flames who would be the first to light the lamp this evening:

Horvat wins the draw to Markstrom’s left. The play stays alive on the half-wall as both teams struggle to gain possession. The puck breaks free and finds itself on the stick of Garnet Hathaway. Hathaway makes a short pass to Derek Ryan, who circles around behind the net before setting up Mark Giordano for his 16th goal and 70th point of the year.

It was Giordano’s 12th career goal against Vancouver, the most he has scored against any one team in the NHL.

After the goal, there was an immediate reapplication of pressure by Calgary. The Flames, outscored league-wide only by the stupidly good Tampa Bay Lightning, were trying to take advantage of the moment to go in for the kill. Whenever one team is pressing another this hard, the defending team is always at risk of taking dumb penalties, and that’s exactly what happened when Alex Edler was called for tripping at 14:31.

The Flames’ first unit had no trouble setting up in the Vancouver zone. Johnny Gaudreau looked particularly dangerous, managing to put a couple of sharp wrist shots on net. Their passing was mostly perfect until Jay Beagle managed to steal the puck and chip it ahead to send himself and Alex Biega towards the Calgary net on a 2-on-1:

Beagle did a great job of getting the puck over to Biega, who tried his best to get a shot off as high as he could, but it wasn’t enough to beat Mike Smith.

The Canucks did a great job killing the rest of the penalty, and Jake Virtanen had a great shift near the end of the frame where he used his speed to easily skate the puck into the Calgary end and cause a bit of havoc. He may not have been able to finish the job, but he still managed to generate 3 solid shots on net in quick succession.

2nd Period

Calgary carried their 1-0 lead into the next period, as well as a 12-6 lead in total shots.

Bo Horvat made one of his classic bull rushes up the right wing, and helped to set up Tanner Pearson for a pair of great chances. The Canucks were visibly trying to up their game and create more scoring chances for themselves.

It was around this point where the effort level of both teams began to spill over into more… antagonizing behaviour on both sides. Around three and a half minutes into the period, Virtanen found himself getting caught up in a scrum with four Flames, including Mike Smith.

Action after whistles increased. With the tension in scrums boiling over, Tyler Motte and Travis Hamonic both found themselves receiving minor penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct at 7:46.

With 4-on-4 for two minutes, the Flames took advantage early and looked as if they had the puck on a string with all of the available open ice. Vancouver was able to get a bit of momentum going their way as soon as Pettersson and Boeser replaced Horvat and Leivo on the ice, but it didn’t lead to much more than a chance or two before the penalties to both teams expired.

With Vancouver slowly catching up to Calgary’s shot lead, there was a bit of drama at about the halfway point:

As all smaller players must learn to do if they want to be successful playing hockey at this level, Gaudreau manages to avoid hits from larger players by “rolling” off of them as they make contact.

In this instance, Horvat made the decision to follow through on a hit, and Gaudreau’s “roll” backwards ended up bringing his stick into contact with Horvat’s face, as well as his own. Unfortunately, he took the worst of the impact and crumpled to the ice in front of the Flames’ bench. Clearly dazed, Gaudreau managed to make his way off the ice and back to the visitor’s dressing room to be checked out.

Incensed, the Flames began to challenge Horvat one by one in response. The cooler, if not larger, head prevailed, however, and he luckily understood that taking the bait was a bad idea that would only put the Canucks at a disadvantage in a game they were already behind in.

Gaudreau soon returned, no worse for wear, but the aggression in the game felt amplified by the event. Perhaps spurred on because of it, Calgary managed to increase their lead to 2-0 after an ugly turnover by Luke Schenn:

I have no idea whether Schenn was trying to make a pass to someone or if he was just trying to clear the puck. Either way, he put it right on the tape of Giordano’s stick, who then made an excellent centering pass to Hathaway. A couple of ugly bounces later, the puck was through the legs of Jacob Markstrom and in the back of the net.

As tensions continued to rise, fans were treated to a brief “Lund-Bowl” when Markus Granlund made a bit of a late hit on Mikael Backlund. Backlund immediately returned the favour, and both were sent to the penalty box with minors for Boarding and Cross Checking. The period would end with 1:24 left in 4-on-4 play.

3rd Period

Even at 4-on-4, Johnny Gaudreau couldn’t help taking a dumb penalty for tripping Virtanen just 29 seconds into the period. The rare appearance of 4-on-3 hockey didn’t last long, though, as Brock Boeser finally got himself on the scoreboard after arguably being Vancouver’s best skater of the night up to that point:

Boeser takes a short drop-pass from Edler and rifles a shot over Smith’s left pad for his 25th of the year.

2-1 Flames with the vast majority of the 3rd period left to go.

The Canucks began to make their big push of the game at this point, looking for that tying goal. Bo Horvat managed to generate a 2-on-1 chance with Tyler Motte. Schenn even managed to make the highlights with an awesome hit on Hathaway:

Talk about hitting a wall. Honestly, Schenn makes the odd bone-headed decision, and he’s certainly not very mobile, but I don’t hate the idea of seeing him and Biega alternating as the team’s 3rd and 4th right side defenceman next year, with the spot obviously going to whoever’s playing better at the time.

The Flames’ 4th line continued to demonstrate why they’re one of the best in the league when Andrew Mangiapane (I’m going to admit right here, right now, that I had to google who this guy was) made it  3-1 Calgary:

With Hathaway banging bodies and creating havoc, he was able to get the puck back to Giordano at the blue line. The Flames captain calmly keeps the puck in play and makes an excellent pass directly to Mangiapane, who smashed it home with a one-timer from 20 feet out.

Jake Virtanen was particularly to blame for this goal, as he clearly had the opportunity to finish his check and interupt what Giordano was doing with the puck. For whatever reason, he decided to let up and simply skated by. I can’t explain it, but it’s not a good look for a player who was otherwise having himself a pretty decent night.

Following the goal, fans were treated to even more 4-on-4 hockey when a Pettersson penalty for hooking was followed 20 seconds later by a Giordano call for interference. Boeser and Horvat both had strong scoring chances before a poorly timed Leivo backpass put the puck on Tkachuk’s stick and set him off on a breakaway:

A strong save by Markstrom as the tempo of the game noticeably began to increase again.

Bo Horvat, who easily could have scored half a dozen goals in this game, was denied once again with an open net in front of him. The play became more frantic as the remaining time slowly but surely disappeared. The Canucks were playing as if this one game really did make or break their playoff chances. Markstrom made another pair of great saves on Tkachuck and Sean Monahan.

With 3 minutes left in the game, Travis Green made the decision to pull Markstrom. What came next was, in my opinion, the best part of the entire game:

That’s right. That’s Alex Edler laying a hit on Mike Smith that, apparently, sent him flying forward.

We don’t need to spend too much time debating whether this was a real dive or not. Between Smith’s bird-in-full-flight impression and Edler’s confused reaction, it’s pretty obvious that Smith was trying to sell this thing for whatever reason.

Even Markstrom was enjoying the show:

Either way, I could watch that gif over and over again, all freakin’ day long.

So good.

That mostly humourous incident did not do a heck of a lot to better relations between the two teams. As if they needed more fuel added to the fire, both teams looked to be on the verge of breaking out in a full on brouhaha.

Smith even looked like he wanted a piece of the action until a referee “politely suggested” that he return to his crease. Edler took a penalty for goaltender interference and, with 1:36 remaining in the game, it appeared as if a win was finally out of reach.

Before the final buzzer sounded, however, there was a terrifying incident when Troy Stecher took a puck to the face from a vulnerable position at point blank range after blocking a shot:

Truly horrifying to witness, and Stecher is unbelievably lucky that all he ended up having to show for it was a fat lip. The Canucks defence may need to be totally rebuilt, but Stecher is one player who is a lock in my mind to be a part of this group moving forward. He isn’t just a hometown kid. The guy is an absolute warrior. That’s the kind of player you win with.

Summary

The Canucks actually didn’t do too badly in this one, stats wise. They dominated in faceoffs, scored a power play goal, killed 4 penalties, and dramatically outhit the Flames. They played with a serious amount of effort and jump all night long.

So what was the problem?

Well, the Canucks just aren’t there yet, for one thing. The Calgary Flames have been one of the best teams in the league this season by far. They’re deep. They’re fast. They score at will. They’re going to finish the year with five players at over 70 points on the season, and one of them has the Norris Trophy basically locked up at this point. The Canucks just don’t have the horses to compete with that, even at their best.

And they certainly were at their best. Horvat was playing like a man possessed, doing absolutely everything but score. Boeser continued his impressive point streak and was rifling the puck at Smith from everywhere on the ice all night. Most of the rest of the team had at least a few moments where they really stood out in a positive way. They just can’t compete with a real contender yet.

Games like this are crucial, because they demonstrate to the players, coaches, management, ownership, and even the fans just how far the team still has to go before they can realistically call themselves a contender. It’s a reminder of just how much work is left to be done, but teams like Calgary are also a reminder of what hockey fans in Vancouver have to look forward to if the rebuild is done properly.

Personally, the Flames have always been my favourite opponent for the Canucks to play. It’s encouraging to see signs of life in that rivalry, since it’s been so dormant for the last few years now. Both teams have exciting, young core players that look like they’re going to be seeing a lot of each other over the next decade or so. I can’t wait to see where this goes next.

The next time you can catch your Vancouver Canucks in action again is tomorrow night at 7:00 PST. Former head coach John Tortorella and his Columbus Blue Jackets are in town and are desperate to make the playoffs. Should be a good one!

  • Luke Schenn kinda reminds me of a less skilled and slower Byfuglien. He’s got some smarts and hockey IQ, but really is slow. Smart outlets, good slap passes (although no one else on the team has cued into that yet by the looks of it), hits like (maybe better than) Jake and still a huge upgrade on Guddy.
    I liked this game. As an echo to our guys in the rink, I was emotionally invested. Calgary is the better team, but our guys didn’t back away, and THATS what I want to see in these rebuilding seasons, not a revolving door of flippant hot doggers and guys doing by themselves and playing for themselves. I want to buy into a team, and a team plays for each other and I think they did that tonight. I am at peace with this loss. Marky is really growing on me, and probably deserves an “A” on his jersy next year.
    Also, how do you know Smith dived, or at least set up that whole event? He sold it with pity to the ref rather than blowing his lid (well, his helmet DID blow off, but y’know what I mean).

  • I know it’s been highlighted a lot by the media, but what the fork was Virtanen doing on that fly by on Girodano? Guys know in a beer league not to do that. No toolbox with that kid.

    • Really bad play by Virtanen. I’ve seen him knock the Dman into the neutral zone multiple times on similar plays. He knows better. Looks like he wanted to steal the puck for a breakaway rather than make the play his team needed him to make. Not sure what Granlund was doing but it looks like it was his man who put the puck in the net.

      • I’ve been down on Virtanen in the past, and initially was all over that miss on Giordano, but watching it more closely giordano made a great head fake to the middle and unfortunately JV bit. That’s a Norris defenseman making a great play, and JV’s error was going all in. If he slows down and doesn’t over commit , he probably adjusts and makes the check. He played a good game tonight, I think he’s progressing and will learn from that.

  • If Green is even handed with his “tough love” approach then Schenn, Virtanen and Leivo should watch the Blue Jackets game from the press box for their glaring defensive lapses. Teves, Goldy and Sven should draw in.

    • Coaches generally aren’t even handed in how they handle players. Typically proven vets get an easier time. Young guys learning and earning their way most often get subject to some tough love. That likely rules out schenn in this case.

  • time to seriously think about moving vertanen. he does some good stuff but is missing a few critical brain cells. a 2nd and a prospect perhaps? jump on it!

    • I would hate to see Virtanen moved. Yes he missed a check in his own end last night but he is usually quite good defensively and in particular through the neutral zone.

      Jake isn’t the sure fire top six winger everyone hoped he would be but he is a very effective bottom six player who can move up the line-up when needed. A line with Gaudette and Roussel is a quick and dangerous 3rd line. Jake disrupts the opposition with speed and physicality. He leads the team in takeaways, is 2nd in hits and 3rd in SOG (TSN). I see him being a cost effective part of this team for a few years yet.

      A trade of every player can be considered but I don’t think the potential return for Jake is near the value he brings to the team.

      • Ar the time of his draft Craig Button said Jake would be a third line NHL winger, bang on. He also called Boeser a steal at 23, and Petterson a superstar at 5. Who does Craig have on his list this year?

        • Button also ranked superstar Matt Tkachuk at 5 and had Juolevi at 9, saying that Chuckey was “NHL ready and would make an instant impact”.

          Bang on – the Tkachuk, Pastrnak and Larkin misses alone have set this franchise back a decade.

          • I can agree with you on Tkachuk (he is a very good point producer) but not the other two since multiple other teams passed on them as well.

          • So what – Benning is a so-called ‘draft guru’ and knew we were desperate for help at centre with Kesler telling everyone he was leaving and Sedin rapidly aging with no one in situ to take the torch. Detroit saw it in Larkin, why didn’t the guru?

            What is even worse though is that Benning was working for the Bruins ahead if the 2014 draft so would’ve KNOWN above every other GM just how good Pastrnak was… yet he passed and let Boston have him anyway. Brutal. Unacceptable – but do keep lickin those Dim Jim windows if it makes you feel better about accepting failure.

  • “I’m not a patient person. We expect to win because we hate losing. I can’t watch losing hockey. I can’t.” – Jim Benning

    “This is year 2 and by our 4th (2017-18) or 5th (2018-19) I hope and expect that we are right there with the elite teams in the league” – Jim Benning

    See ya later Dim Jim…the Flames have turned it around in ONE season and look like a legit contender. Exactly what you promised for us.

    Tired of your lies and LOSING. Too bad you guys aren’t, right?

  • Do not trade Jake he is doing more good than bad, yes he could have dealt with Girodano but it was more than just Jake that missed on their coverage. Jake is just starting to come into his own and feeling more and more comfortable laying out solid hits.
    The game was a good team performance when you look at the Canucks lineup most would have expected the Flames to roll over them. Brock and Bo had great games and Petey was solid as well. Edler needs to be resigned to give him away or lose him this summer would be devastating as he is truly a leader on the back end.
    The playoffs are getting a little more out of reach we will see tonight the game the team brings as they put it all out on the ice last night and will be tired. Likely will see a couple lineup changes perhaps bringing in Teves and Sven.

  • “…Calgary are also a reminder of what hockey fans in Vancouver have to look forward to if the rebuild is done properly.”

    Nice backhanded dig at Benning. Rebuilding properly? Everyone can anchor their d-corp with a Norris caliber defenceman found through free agency. If this was a “proper” rebuild, Giordano would have been traded a decade ago because Canucks Army say he’s 10 years past his prime for a defenceman.

    How about finding a Hobey Baker winner in the middle rounds? Oops, Benning already did that.

    And about that 2014 draft? It’s soooo obvious that the Canucks can’t win because they drafted Virtanen. Because Bennett is exceeding expectations in so many ways after being drafted ahead of Virtanen in 2014.

    • More cheese with your ignorant whine. No surprise that you are living in such apathetic denial with statements like this though…

      “I’d send a message by making Bachman our backup even though he hasn’t played a minute of preseason.” – Forever 1915

    • Not sure it was meant as a dig at Benning.

      The Flames have made the playoffs two of the last nine years, not counting this season. In those two years, they won one round int total. They are not an example of a well-run hockey club. Chaters may have simply meant this is what he hopes the Canucks will look like in a few years.

      • One of the words I disagree with is the word “properly”. It implies that the author has a monopoly on the truth and nobody can have that. Moreover, if they had a “proper” rebuild, did they tank for it? How about solving the goaltender situation? They haven’t had a legit starter since Kiprusoff retired. Demko is ready to start as an NHL backup whereas Mason McDonald, drafted ahead of Demko, is a bust.

      • The rebuild is on year 5 and they made it to the playoffs twice during the rebuild. Including once to the second round after beating Vancouver. That’s a pretty good rebuild having only one pick in the top 5 those years who was Bennett

          • Sounds like Gillis and Sutter left their franchises in the same shape:

            Sutter was dismissed from his post in December 2010 and replaced by assistant GM Jay Feaster, who was tasked with succeeding where Sutter failed: getting the Flames to post-season success.
            With an even-older roster than Sutter had to start with and fewer young assets, Feaster didn’t have a ton of success either.

            Feaster’s efforts to fill the roster with functional players was stymied by Sutter’s tendency to trade away picks and prospects during his tenure.
            The lack of internal depth options meant they had to trade their own draft picks to grab inexpensive depth players, leading to pick-for-player trades.
            The Hockey Writers

            Sutter’s draft record from 2003-2009 in Calgary was probably more successful than Gillis’ but that is damning with faint praise.
            http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/draft/teams/dr00005090.html