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Photo Credit: @Canucks Twitter

Vancouver Canucks vs Toronto Maple Leafs Postgame Recap: Right Start-Time, Wrong Result

The Warmup

The Toronto Maple Leafs visit Vancouver once per year, but it’s one that fans always circle on the calendar – for some reason. There’s really no logical explanation for the pseudo-rivalry between the two fanbases, but rivalries are almost always built on emotion, and there’s plenty of reason to hate the Leafs.

They dominate media coverage in Canada, look down on other northern franchises, and have a nasty habit of making the Boston Bruins look good. The Leafs are also typically granted their preferred start-time of 4:00PM PST even when they visit the west coast – but not for Tuesday’s matchup with the Canucks. Tonight, the Leafs would have to stay up past their bedtime.

For their part, the Canucks had little time for interprovincial hard feelings and were looking to make it three straight wins since Antoine Roussel returned to the lineup.

Speaking of lineups, they were provided by the CanucksPR account in graphical format, but they didn’t feature much in the way of change:

One notable exception was the return of Jacob Markstrom from personal leave to the Vancouver crease, as he stared down Frederik Andersen at the other end of the ice.

1st Period

The Canucks began Tuesday night’s game with something they haven’t really had all season – some consistency up front. After a strong performance against the Sabres, Josh Leivo and Tanner Pearson remained on Bo Horvat’s wings. The Lotto Line remained intact, as did the newfangled offense-driving third line of Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette, and Jake Virtanen.

Even the fourth unit of Tim Schaller, Jay Beagle, and Micheal Ferland had the look of a line that could muster up some chemistry.

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This amount of consistency in the forward corps appeared to greatly confuse the Sportsnet broadcast crew:

The early goings of the game didn’t really live up to the hype, with both teams trading middling chances and mostly batting the puck back and forth in the neutral zone. Brock Boeser did his best to bust things open with a breakaway chance, but Frederik Andersen stood tall both on the original shot and Boeser’s several attempts to jam in the nonexistent rebound thereafter.

When play resumed following the subsequent TV timeout, William Nylander earned an opportunity of his own with a hot shot, but Jacob Markstrom quite literally shrugged it aside.

Perhaps sensing a lack of energy in Rogers Arena, Micheal Ferland hammered Alexander Kerfoot on the forecheck – spilling him to the ice and earning a raucous cheer from the portion of the crowd actually cheering for the home team.

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It would be the Maple Leafs, however, who would pick up the first powerplay of the night after Antoine Roussel took a half-hearted late run at Mitch Marner.

The man advantage did produce one instance in which Auston Matthews deked Jordie Benn out of his shorts, but otherwise the Leafs looked fairly impotent – until a jam play that nearly worked just as the penalty expired. Markstrom and Jay Beagle combined to turn it aside.

Looking to make a mark against his former team, Josh Leivo did well to push the puck into the zone and then drive toward the net – where he just missed a return pass from Bo Horvat and a chance to open up the scoring. Before the game, Leivo had commented on the “toxic environment” he had escaped in Toronto with his trade to Vancouver – adding a layer of importance to the matchup for the Canucks’ newly-minted second liner.

Aside from those sparse chances, the first 20 minutes were of the sort that the play of Oscar Fantenberg started to stand out:

Elsewhere, Quinn Hughes almost certainly convinced viewers at home that they had momentarily leaned on their fast-forward buttons:

The only real sustained pressure from the Canucks came once again from the second line – and it resulted in Leivo drawing an interference call and giving Vancouver a powerplay with 1:37 left in the period. The PP1 unit generated a handful of good looks on Andersen, but he kicked them all out in turn – and the home team skated off for the intermission with just 23 seconds remaining on their man advantage.

Intermission Highlight

The PWHPA and the Dream Gap Tour getting a well-deserved intermission spotlight.

Natalie Spooner made a direct and compelling case for the plight of women’s pro hockey in North America, and it’s one that is hard to refute – though this author is sure that the stinkier corners of online hockey fandom will do their level best.

2nd Period

The scant remaining seconds in the Vancouver powerplay quickly expired, and it didn’t take the visitors long to turn the tide as the middle frame began. The Leafs took advantage of a weird play in which a deflected point shot fell flat behind the net at John Tavares’ feet, allowing him to set-up Auston Matthews for an easy tap-in past an unsuspecting Jacob Markstrom.

A frustratingly loud cheer erupted as the 1-0 goal was announced over the PA system.

The Canucks nearly tied it up a few shifts later when – guess who – Josh Leivo tipped an Oscar Fantenberg shot from the high slot that almost fooled Frederik Andersen. Leivo, noticeable on each of his shifts thus far, seemed on the cusp of something big.

A missed call on a Leaf slashing the stick out of Oscar Fantenberg’s hands led to an overly extended segment of Toronto pressure, but the Canucks did well to limit chances and eventually get the puck out of the zone. Tanner Pearson had to pick up Fantenberg’s discarded stick to get the job done.

For their part, the Canucks also managed a couple stints of sustained pressure in the first half of the second period – but only when Quinn Hughes was on the ice.

As the period approached its halfway mark, Micheal Ferland disappeared from the Canucks’ bench with an apparent injury – something that didn’t bode well for a player who had just returned from a concussion. On the very next shift, Quinn Hughes went down with an apparent injury of his own – but got up under his own steam, finished the shift, and stayed on the bench.

Three successive shifts from the Canucks in the Toronto zone – including more dogged puck pursuit from Leivo – provided several tests for Andersen, but he had all the answers for the time being.

The Leafs turned the puck back up ice for two solid opportunities of their own just before the period’s final commercial break – but it wasn’t anything that Markstrom couldn’t handle with relative ease. As the two teams started to trade chances, the game certainly couldn’t be accused of being boring – but the Vancouver fans in attendance still seemed a little hesitant to display any exuberance.

Brock Boeser pulled up with an apparent LBI late in the second after an attempted hit, but stayed on the bench after slowly making it there. This led to a scrambly section of gameplay in which the Leafs twice tipped the puck on net from in close and then Tim Schaller fumbled a clear-cut breakaway. At the end of it all, Boeser returned to the ice for his next shift and earned an open shot on Andersen – truly a bizarre sequence.

After Tyler Myers got away with obvious interference on Mitch Marner, the Leafs winger still got the puck in deep and eventually worked it to Cody Ceci at the point. His blast was deftly tipped off the ice and past Markstrom by John Tavares to give the visitors a 2-0 lead with just 20 seconds remaining in the period.

Boeser very nearly made the most of that limited time with a last-second shot on Andersen, but the Leafs netminder shunted it aside and the Canucks skated off after 40 minutes with a two-goal deficit.

Intermission Lowlight

This troubling, but not unexpected, news:

3rd Period

The Lotto Line came out flying in the early going of the third period, generating what seemed like Brock Boeser’s fifteenth chance of the game and Frederik Andersen’s thirtieth tough-shot-turned-easy-save. That appeared to be the narrative of a night in which the Leafs netminder had been the most impressive player on either end of the ice.

And it was a plot point that would be repeated minutes later as Boeser skated in on a clean breakaway from the blueline and fired a wrister that Andersen coolly snagged with his glove –  drawing bipartisan appreciation from the crowd.

Tanner Pearson took a hooking penalty on John Tavares heading into the period’s first TV timeout, giving the Leafs their second powerplay of the game and a real chance to seal their victory. Surprisingly, it was the Canucks’ own Jay Beagle who produced the best scoring chance of those two minutes with a madcap shorthanded rush up ice that almost culminated in a wraparound rebound.

As the final frame approached its halfway mark, coach Travis Green started to jumble his lines, looking for a spark. He first tried a stacked top line of Bo Horvat with Boeser and Elias Pettersson, and that put JT Miller out there with Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen. Then, the experiment was over and the Lotto Line was reunited – resulting in Boeser’s third unsuccessful breakaway attempt on Andersen.

Then, the Josh Leivo narrative dam finally burst.

Back on a line with Horvat and Tanner Pearson, Leivo drove hard to the net and batted in a puck that Pearson had knocked loose from Andersen’s pads – cutting his old team’s lead in half and exploding into exhilarated celebration. The entire sequence began with a well-aimed Quinn Hughes point shot.

It was a big goal for both Leivo and his new club, who now trailed by a score of 2-1 with 8:46 left on the clock – plenty of time for another heroic moment.

Captain Horvat took aim at exactly that with yet another clear-cut breakaway – the third faced by Andersen in this period alone – but he was unable to convert. As coach Green began to roll his top two lines, the Lotto Line put on a fancy display of passing that kept Andersen on his toes and resulted in a couple shots on net – but Andersen wasn’t giving it up that easy on this night.

With a little over five minutes remaining, Tavares gave his goaltender the assurance he so desperately deserved with a blocker-side wrister on a Justin Holl set-up that fooled Markstrom. It was Tavares’ second goal of the game and it did a lot to put a damper on any momentum the Canucks had built with their embattled supporters in Rogers Arena.

With the scoreboard reading 3-1 Leafs, all eyes turned to Markstrom to see just how early he’d make his exit from the Canucks’ crease.

That moment came with approximately 2:40 left in the period, and Green loaded up with a six-man unit of Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, Miller, Hughes, and Leivo – clear recognition of the excellent performance Leivo had put forth. Unfortunately, this only led to a humourous sequence in which the Canucks slid to block two empty net attempts before a third by Zach Hyman on a JT Miller turnover found the mark – resulting in a final score of 4-1 in favour of Toronto, and a fitting end to a frustrating night for the hometown crew.

A near-scrap between Jay Beagle and Kasperi Kapanen at least gave Vancouver fans something to cheer about as time expired – but that’s a pretty small something.

The Wrap-Up

As far as 4-1 losses go, this one wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. One of those goals was an empty-netter, and Frederik Andersen had to absolutely stand on his head to keep the Canucks at a single goal. The guy faced four clean breakaways, after all, and anyone who does that probably deserves a victory. The Canucks played well enough to create those chances, even if they didn’t convert on them.

With that being said, Vancouver can’t blame the entirety of their defeat on Andersen. Though they generated plenty of offensive opportunities, they also gave up a ton at the other end of the ice and occasionally looked dazzled by some of the Leafs’ high-profile forwards – most notably John Tavares. Regardless of Andersen’s brilliance, the Leafs still made much better use of their chances than the Canucks did – and the home team was firmly outgunned in this one.

To add injury to insult, Vancouver also lost Micheal Ferland to what could be an uncertain future.

On a positive note, several individual Canucks had strong games, as we’ll get to in the next section. There’s definitely a handful of reasons for optimism coming out of the team’s overall performance – but a three-game win streak would have been nicer.

Fancy Stats At A Glance

Gameflow from Canucks vs Toronto December 10, 2019 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Heatmap from Canucks vs Toronto December 10, 2019 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Top Performers

Josh Leivo

Leivo skated into Tuesday’s game with something to prove – and he played like it. Leivo was all over the ice, driving the play up ice and relentlessly pursuing the puck whenever his team didn’t have it. Leivo was rewarded with a well-timed goal for his effort, but he deserved even more vindication than he got – especially given that he ended the night with a rating of -3.

Quinn Hughes

The Canucks are simply a different team when Hughes is on the ice. He singlehandedly improves Vancouver’s possession rates and the amount of shots they direct at the net, and he consistently does so without being a defensive liability. Hughes was integral in the Canucks’ only goal of the game despite not earning an assist.

Brock Boeser

Boeser did everything but score in this game. He recorded eight shots on goal, three of which were on breakaways – and he fired an equal amount wide of the net. It was ultimately a frustrating night for Boeser, but still one in which he performed well.

Next Game

The Canucks conclude their five-game homestand on Thursday, December 12 with a matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes. The start-time is 7:00PM PST and the broadcast will be carried by Sportsnet.