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Photo Credit: © Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

CanucksArmy post game: Canucks get spanked, drop 5-3 decision to Habs

The Warmup

Let’s start with the bad news. On Monday night, the Vancouver Canucks dropped a 6-2 decision to Tyler Toffoli and the Montreal Canadiens that, somehow, was significantly worse than the scoreboard would indicate.

It was, as they say in French Canada, un stinker.

In doing so, they dropped below .500, and right after having scrambled back to dead-even with four consecutive wins.

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Call it demoralizing, call it embarrassing, call it the worst Canucks game you’ve seen in the last decade, and you wouldn’t be off-the-mark on any of them.

The good news?

The Canucks got a shot at redemption less than 24 hours later via a Tuesday evening matchup, the back-half of a back-to-back two-game series.

The Lineup

Despite the poor showing, head coach Travis Green chose to make only two changes to his roster card. Antoine Roussel drew into the lineup, sending Jake Virtanen back to the press box in what appeared to be a late decision. Thatcher Demko got the start in net, subbing in for Braden Holtby after a tough, but mostly blameless, night.

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And, in milestone-related news, Tyler Motte dressed for his 200th career game.

We think Shea Weber played in his 1000th game, too, but the broadcast must have forgotten to mention it.

Jake Allen replaced Carey Price at the other end of the ice.

First Period

Well, we’re happy to report that, at the very least, the Canucks escaped the first minute of play without surrendering a goal against.

In fact, the first chunk of the opening frame passed without much incident at all, save for Nils Höglander drawing a small crowd after a light poke on Allen.

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Nearing the halfway mark, however, the Canucks’ control began to slip, their initial lead on the shot-counter disappeared, and then Alex Edler took the first penalty of the game, hauling Corey Perry to the ice and sending Les Habs to the power play.

Through the first minute of the penalty, the Canucks PKers looked strong, holding the Canadiens to the outside and preventing any shots. But then Jay Beagle was replaced on the ice by both Roussel and Brandon Sutter, and that meant a too-many-men penalty, and a 5-on-3 for Montreal.

Fortunately, some timely blocks by Jordie Benn and Jalen Chatfield, and a couple of sharp saves on Demko’s part, helped the Canucks escape the early blunder unscathed.

But unscathed they would not remain.

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A few shifts after that extended bout of shorthanded play, Bo Horvat’s line got penned into their own end, and the Canadiens’ top line struck. A shot off the stick of Ben Chiarot was tipped past Demko, but wide of the net — and right onto the stick of the waiting Josh Anderson, who outmuscled Chatfield and then had a tap-in to make it 1-0 in favour of Montreal.

A couple of shifts later, Demko made a great cross-crease save on a Jonathan Drouin mini-breakaway. But one goaltender can only do so much.

Before the period was out, the Habs’ top unit was back for more. On this occasion, it was Sutter getting hemmed in after a blue line turnover, Nick Suzuki snagging the puck again and Brett Kulak blasting it toward the net. This time, Anderson was positioned in the high-slot, which was right where he needed to be to tip the puck past Demko, picking up his second of the young evening and making it 2-0 Canadiens.

Just as the period entered its last minute, Roussel thought he had cut the lead in half, but his chip-shot hit the underside of the crossbar and stayed out, and that was as close as they’d come.

It says a lot about Monday night’s effort that the Canucks skated off after 20 minutes down by two goals, and still looked a lot better.

That being said, they still had a ways to go before they looked good.

Intermission Highlight

Satiar Shah’s scathing, but ultimately optimistic, take on the team’s performance: it’s not an issue of talent or systems, it’s just that they need to stop playing like amateurs and making so many unprofessional mistakes.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but doable.

Right?

Seeing the NHL and Sportsnet pay honour to Black History Month was a far more classically heartwarming highlight.

Second Period

With John Garrett declaring this game was now “next goal wins,” it was the Canadiens who came out in the second looking sloppy, making a couple of downright Canuckian turnovers to start.

Then, less than two minutes in, Roussel took a careless kneeing penalty, and seemed to turn momentum back in the direction of the Canadiens with their third power play of the evening… or did he?!

Again, Demko kept his team in the game. Facing the dual crease-threats of Perry and Brendan Gallagher, Demko made a flurry of groin-tearing saves, including at least one backwards one.

From there, Demko’s fellow PKers did the rest, until Roussel was able to exit the box with a purpose. Roussel followed the play up ice, picked up the puck behind the net, got it to the point, and then headed straight to the crease. Beagle missed tipping the point shot but drew enough traffic that Roussel was free-and-clear to bang in the rebound. He celebrated with an Alex Burrows-esque bow-and-arrow in tribute to his agent, Christian Daigle, who passed away last week.

A few shifts later, after everyone had a chance to dry their eyes, Drouin kicked Alex Edler’s feet out in the neutral zone and incurred a tripping minor, sending the Canucks to their first power play of the contest. It was short-lived, however, thanks to another tripping call on the part of Tanner Pearson less than a minute in.

Demko came up big again, stopping Tyler Toffoli on — surprise, surprise — an odd-man rush at four-on-four. Toffoli had words for Demko after, but they were presumably kind ones.

Or, perhaps, assurances that next time would go differently.

With the fourth line stuck behind their own blueline, Joel Edmundson lobbed a wrister toward the net. In front, Toffoli gained position on Quinn Hughes a little too easily and then deftly tipped the puck up and over Demko’s outstretched glove. A 3-1 lead for Montreal, and Toffoli’s seventh goal against the Canucks in not-quite-five games.

Emphasis on the “not quite.”

As if he hadn’t rubbed it in enough, Toffoli earned a great chance on his next shift, and on the one after that, he did a heck of a lot more. One-on-one entering the Canucks’ zone, Toffoli deked Benn out of his shorts, deked himself out of his shorts, and then ripped a backhander over the shoulder of Demko. 4-1 Canadiens  on Toffoli’s league-leading ninth goal on the season — and eight against the Canucks — and probably his stylingest yet.

Yeesh, Tyler. We get it!

With just under a minute remaining in the middle frame, Kulak slashed Höglander and put the Canucks on their second power play of the night. The top unit was able to get set-up twice, but they were not able to convert. At the very least, they evened the shot-clock at 26-26, and still had 1:03 of man-advantage time waiting for them when they returned from the second intermission.

Intermission Highlight

Satiar Shah, again.

Sat: “If Chris Tanev was ‘dad,’ Tyler Toffoli is ‘daddy’ to the Canucks right now.”

Murph: (mumbling bashfully)“Oh, please…”

Third Period

Through six games and 1:48 of Kulak’s penalty, the Canucks had yet to score a power play goal on the road, but that ignominious streak ended off the stick of Elias Pettersson early in the third.

Setting up in his half-wall office, Pettersson received a cross-ice pass from JT Miller, but did not one-time it. Instead, he patiently cradled the puck for a couple of seconds and then, drawing no defenders, calmly wristed it past Allen, off the crossbar, and into the upper reaches of the Montreal net, cutting the lead in half again to make it 4-2 Habs.

Hughes picked up the second assist, moving him into sole possession of the NHL scoring lead for defencemen with his 13th point of the season.

Back to five-on-five, Höglander not only used his body to shield the puck from the much larger body of Anderson, he drew a holding call, his second drawn penalty of the game. Several genuine chances resulted, including a solo drive on net from Pettersson that nearly snuck in, but the Canucks could not beat Allen before the two minutes expired.

Hughes, of all people, demolished a Canadien along the boards while holding the line during the power play, and that was certainly unexpected. A clip has yet to surface, so you’ll just have to believe us on this one, but it was hug(h)e(s)!

With time starting to run out, Weber and his thousand games turned the puck over in his own slot to Miller, but Allen was ready to turn Miller’s quick backhander aside.

A few more giveaways and odd-man rushes on the Vancouver side were ably handled by Demko. That allowed the Canucks to pull Demko with about two-and-a-half minutes left on the clock. And it took until there were just 42 seconds remaining to work, but the gambit paid off.

Out there with the top power play unit at 6-on-5, Tanner Pearson parked himself at the side of the crease and then took approximately 37 whacks at a Brock Boeser rebound, finally careening the puck by Allen’s pad and into the net. 4-3 Habs, but too little, too late from the Canucks.

Hughes, at the very least, extended his stat column lead with another secondary assist.

In the end, it was a brutal giveaway at his own blue line, combined with a lacklustre backcheck, from Miller that sealed the deal, allowing Jeff Petry to notch the empty-net goal and ice it with a final score of 5-3.

And who got the assist on that empty-netter?

If you don’t know by now, you’ll just have to Google it.

Fancy Stats At A Glance

Gameflow from Canucks at Montreal February 2, 2021 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Heatmap from Canucks at Montreal February 2, 2021 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Top Performers

Thatcher Demko

On the surface, Demko let in four goals and rocked a .875 save percentage, which reads as a bad performance, especially by his recent standards. But those stats don’t tell the story of a goaltender who kept his team in a game they didn’t really deserve to be in for way longer than they deserved, posting timely saves against an onslaught of odd-man rushes and crease traffic.

Antoine Roussel

Playing with a heavy heart, Roussel had his best game of the year, and coach Green noticed. With 10:34 in ice-time, Roussel left his fellow fourth-liners in the dust and picked up a goal that should have turned the tide of the game, but didn’t. And sure, that goal came right after Roussel had exited the box from an undisciplined penalty, but, hey, it’s Antoine Roussel! Roussel was one of only six Canucks to post positive possession numbers.

Quinn Hughes

Call this a controversial choice. On the one hand, three points are three points. On the other hand, Hughes had the worst Corsi and scoring chance rates on the entire Canucks blue line and looked overwhelmed at times. This wasn’t prime Hughes by any measure, but perhaps it says a lot that he can have a bad game and still move into the NHL defence scoring lead at the same time.

Best Of #Canucks Twitter

And, of course, a special message from a Canucks’ prospect for our intrepid editor-in-chief:

The Wrap-Up

We’ll go with good news, bad news again.

First, the good news. The Canucks played far better in Tuesday’s game than they did Monday’s, and kept it mostly close throughout. Demko certainly made a positive difference. The power play got its first road goal. Roussel’s tear-jerking goal and tribute celly was a beautiful moment, no matter how you slice it.

Then there’s the bad. The Canucks once again looked outclassed against the Canadiens, a team of whom they are very much hoping to fit into the same class. They didn’t just lose their second game in a row, they lost their second game in a row in demoralizing fashion. Oddly specific, nigh-poetic, Tyler Toffoli-themed demoralizing fashion.

Is this hell, and is the entire Vancouver fandom in it?

Tune in next time to find out!

Next Time

As if we needed to remind you, the Canucks will face the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this season on Thursday, February 4, with a start-time of 4PM PST. Sportsnet will carry the broadcast.