There wasn’t a member of the fanbase that wasn’t disappointed with the Vancouver Canucks’ 3-0 play-in opening loss to the Minnesota Wild on August 2, 2020. But the condensed nature of the NHL’s return-to-play schedule means that an opportunity for redemption is only a few scant hours away, and there’s plenty of reason to believe it will soon be a reality.
1. First Postseason Jitters
Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Jacob Markstrom, Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Motte each made their postseason debuts on Sunday night. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s more than a third of the Canucks’ lineup, both of their superstars, and four of their top five players in general.
Contrast that with the Minnesota Wild, for whom Brad Hunt and Luke Kunin were the only playoff newbies.
There’s no doubt that had at least some impact on Vancouver’s performance last night, and probably a whole lot more than that when it came to the individual performances of certain players. The good news is you’ve only got to go through first game jitters once.
2. No Team Was Feeling The Impact Of The Hiatus More Than Vancouver
Sunday night was Jacob Markstrom’s second start since February 22.
It was also Brock Boeser’s third game since February 8.
Chris Tanev spent much of the break rehabbing an injury suffered in the last game of the regular season.
On the Minnesota side, Carson Soucy had been out since late February with an injury and Eric Staal had just suffered a day-to-day malady when the league went on hiatus in March.
If rust is a factor at all for the play-ins, and it almost certainly is, then it’s probably working against the Canucks in the early going of their series against the Wild — especially since it’s affecting their MVP, a top-line winger, and their most important right-handed defender.
Having had enough time to get all three players healthy no doubt benefitted the Canucks in the long run — but in the short-term — they may have needed a game or two to get back up to speed. Markstrom, traditionally a slow starter throughout his career, will need to shake off some rust soon.
3. The Canucks Don’t Like Getting Shut Out
The Canucks were shut out four times during the 2019/20 regular season, and the ways in which they responded to those shutouts are pretty encouraging when it comes to predicting how they will respond in game two.
Game two of the regular season, coincidentally enough, featured a demoralizing 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Calgary Flames. Four nights later, for the home opener, Bo Horvat was named captain and the Canucks won 8-2, launching a four-game win streak.
That ended on October 19 with a hard-fought 1-0 defeat by the New Jersey Devils, which itself was followed by a five-game point streak.
On January 14, Vancouver dropped a 4-0 decision to the Winnipeg Jets. Two nights later, they beat the Arizona Coyotes to the tune of 3-1 and then went on a five-game winning streak before losing in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The very next game after that, on February 4 in Boston, saw the Canucks earn their second 4-0 shutout loss of the year. This time around, they didn’t immediately transition into a streak — in fact, they lost the next game 4-2 to, fittingly enough, the Minnesota Wild — but they did make a statement when the Bruins came to Vancouver a couple of weeks later. The Canucks won that one 9-3, easily their most satisfying and dominant victory of the season.
4. Elias Pettersson Doesn’t Like Getting Shut Out, Either
The Canucks’ superstar, Elias Pettersson, also has a habit of making a statement after getting shutout. Pettersson went pointless in two consecutive games on only four occasions in 2019/20, only once since the calendar flipped to 2020, and never for three consecutive games.
Even better? Pettersson’s average this season after going pointless for one or two games is an astonishing 1.64 points-per-game.
Pettersson had a strong performance in Game One, and the odds of him staying off the scoresheet in game two are slim.
5. Vancouver Matched Minnesota At 5v5…
Though the Canucks were beaten 3-0, they didn’t give up any goals at 5v5, with two of Minnesota’s goals coming on the powerplay and the other one into an empty net.
That’s not to say that Vancouver dominated at 5v5. They still lost the even-strength possession game — by a hair — and produced fewer chances and far fewer high-danger chances than the Wild.
If you take out the abysmal, penalty-plagued third period, however, the Canucks and Wild were pretty much dead-even across the board — and that could be a better indicator of how the series as a whole will play out. Which would be good news for Vancouver, because…
6. The Power Plays Will Even Out
Vancouver’s powerplay, ranked fourth in the NHL, was their strongest feature during the regular season. Through one exhibition and one play-in game, that powerplay has received a grand total of three opportunities — and they’ve gone 0-for-3.
That’s not exactly encouraging, but there’s ample reason to believe it will turn around in more ways than one.
Clocking in at 24.3% efficiency in the regular season, it’s safe to say that the Canucks’ power play is due for a successful conversion. They’re also due to receive more opportunities, given that Vancouver drew an average of four penalties against per game this year — also fourth in the league.
There won’t be many — if any — more nights like Sunday and its four-to-one powerplay disparity.
7. Alex Stalock Gives Out Some Juicy Rebounds, And The Canucks Have The Personnel To Cash In On Them
If you noticed anything about Minnesota goaltender Alex Stalock the other night — other than how easy the Canucks made his life in the third period — it was probably his tendency to let out some extremely juicy rebounds on shots that otherwise looked rather harmless.
Unfortunately, the Canucks did not take advantage of this in Game One. They did fire a ton of harmless shots at Stalock from the point — many of which careened dangerously back into the slot — but they did not have players in position to grab hold of any rebounds. This can be accredited to the Wild’s defensive acumen and ability to effectively box out the opposition from pouncing on the rebound, but the Canucks have the personnel to make that adjustment.
In fact, their only goal since the resumption of play has been a greasy loose puck batted in by Antoine Roussel, and he’s only one of a handful of notable bangers. Time will tell if they’re also able to make the mental shift toward uglier methods of scoring.
8. Micheal Ferland Has The Green Light
If anyone on the Canucks has reason to feel encouraged after Sunday night, it’s Micheal Ferland. He shocked the hockey world by picking — and surviving — a haymaker-exchange with Marcus Foligno, he laid the body with regularity, and he even picked up a couple of scoring chances.
It’s safe to say that Ferland has received the “green light” to play the game his preferred way moving forward, and that bodes well for the Canucks. Ferland is at his best when he’s playing on the edge, and the league confirmed on Monday — by fining Ferland, rather than suspending him — that that’s exactly where he is right now.
9. Wear And Tear Is On The Side Of The Canucks
Speaking of Ferland, the Canucks are winning the war of attrition thus far when it comes to their matchup with the Wild, for as much as that counts in a best-of-five series.
Without losing the 5v5 possession battle by too much, Vancouver out-hit Minnesota by a wide margin in Game One.
By design, the bulk of these hits were laid on the Wild’s top-four defenders along the end-boards. That should result in those players being worn down as the series winds on, though it remains to be seen how much that slows the talented quartet down.
10. Endless Lineup Shuffling Possibilities
Each of the Canucks’ four forward lines looked disjointed and out-of-sync on Monday night. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for that and it’s one that coach Travis Green has proven fond of — throwing the lines in a blender.
For a talent-loaded team like the Canucks, it’s a method that is all the more likely to yield positive results. How many other squads, for example, have not one, but two top-line right wingers with established chemistry alongside their top-line center?
We won’t get too into the myriad lineup-shuffling possibilities here — our own Chris Faber is already covering that beat — but suffice it to say that the Canucks will have a different look when they take to the ice for Game Two.
Hopefully, it’s also a better one.