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Game 2: Ian Cole should stay in the Canucks’ lineup…for now

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks’ victory over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of Round Two of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a memorable and dramatic one. It might rightly be called the greatest comeback in franchise history, had not an even greater comeback occurred in the previous round.
What Game 1 was not, however, was a perfect performance. In order to set the table for said dramatic comeback, the Canucks had to nearly lose the game first. And although it’s almost never the case that the blame for a loss (or near-loss) can be laid on the shoulders of one individual player, in this particular case, it’s actually quite possible.
That individual player, of course, is Ian Cole.
To say that Cole had a rough Round Two debut is a understatement as dramatic as the comeback itself. And the bad times started early.
A mere 40 seconds into the game, Cole hopped on the ice too early while the defender he was replacing, Carson Soucy, was still involved in the play. Thus, in a series in which discipline was thought to be key, the Canucks didn’t even last a minute without taking an unnecessary penalty.
Because it was a bench minor, Cole remained available for the penalty kill that followed. First up, he bungled a two-on-one that could have turned the tide in Vancouver’s favour early – the first of many plays to die on Cole’s stick on Wednesday night.
Next, Cole got caught in no man’s land in the middle of the slot as the Oilers’ power play passed the puck through his feet and onto the waiting stick of Zach Hyman, the deadliest net-side presence in the league.
It was 1-0 Oilers, with Cole wearing most, if not all, of the blame.
And it didn’t take long for another blunder to occur. Still in the first period, Cole gathered up the puck near Arturs Silovs’ crease and made what would have been a perfect bank-pass off the endboards…had the recipient not been Leon Draisaitl. In turn, Draisaitl relayed the puck to Mattias Ekholm at the point. He fired it at the net, where Cole had returned to just in time to provide a light screen on Silovs.
2-0 Oilers. Already, the camera operators knew who to cut to for the post-goal shame-shot.
Cole’s own series of unfortunate events didn’t conclude there, either. The play continued to die on his stick at every opportunity. Then, later on in the second period and after Dakota Joshua had cut the lead in half (on a rebound off the boards created by a Cole shot, we should note), the Oilers went up 3-1 on another play that was all but entirely Cole’s fault.
First, he fumbled and turned over the puck at the blueline. Then he raced back to make up for it, skating as hard as he could…into no man’s land again, where he was perfectly-placed to have Cody Ceci’s seemingly undangerous shot tick off his leg and past Silovs.
It wasn’t Silovs’ strongest save attempt, to be fair. But it was a scoring chance initiated, and then exacerbated, by a Cole screw-up.
Thankfully, Cole had nothing to do with the 4-1 goal. By that same token, he also had little to do with the comeback, but at least he did not actively get in the way of it. With no more penalties to kill, Cole took a backseat to the more offensive blueliners, like Nikita Zadorov, and simply avoided making any further major turnovers or giveaways.
Cole’s overall results for the night: one assists, a -1 rating. His even-strength analytics on the night might give someone reason for pause, because they’re actually ridiculously strong. A 73.08% Corsi. A ridiculous 95.04% share of expected goals. And a full 100% control of high-danger chances.
But while those numbers may sound positive, they really just serve to highlight the unique responsibility Cole holds for all those goals against. These numbers say that Cole’s teammates played well when he was on the ice, and didn’t allow much in the way of offensive opportunity against…save for on those instances where Cole made catastrophic errors that more-or-less handed goals to the Oilers.
These were unexpected goals, and decidedly low-danger chances. And that’s on Cole.
By this point, you may be wondering if you’ve clicked on the wrong article. Wasn’t this one supposed to be about how Cole should stay in the lineup for Game 2 against the Oilers? Hasn’t basically everything we’ve said been to the contrary.
Yes. But we’re bringing it all around now.
Cole is, it cannot be forgotten, the team’s leading playoff veteran by a longshot. Wednesday’s match was the 123rd playoff game of Cole’s career. If anyone knows how to turn it around, and quickly, it should be him.
Late in the 2023/24 regular season, the 35-year-old Cole did begin to show some signs of wear-and-tear. As a result, he sat a few games for what was alternately described as maintenance and/or load management.
And he came back very strong from that with a stellar Round One performance against Nashville, excelling in a purely-defensive role in the midst of a purely-defensive season.
Were Cole’s foibles in Game 2 a result of his slowing down, we might suggest another “maintenance” night on Friday, with Noah Juulsen sliding into the lineup to take his place.
But Cole’s mistakes on Wednesday sure didn’t look like the result of his being tired. He was just coming off four days off, and most of the mistakes occurred within the first period of the game.
What it really looked like was a case of mental jitters of some sort. These were brain-farts more so than issues of skill. Cole hopped on the ice way too early, got lost in his coverage, and made a bizarre pass right onto the stick of Leon Draisaitl.
Those are lapses in thinking, not playing ability.
And, as we stated a bit earlier, if there’s one player who has the experience and poise to get over such mental lapses, and in a hurry, it’s probably the veteran Cole.
In a sense, he already got over it mid-game, cutting down entirely on the screw-ups and settling back down into his usual no-nonsense play.
All those skills that Cole displayed in the Nashville series can still be crucial to a Vancouver victory, even in a much more wide-open series. Penalties will still need to be killed. Shots will need to be blocked. Lanes will need to be gummed up with sticks.
Cole remains the Canucks’ best option for all of the above. That, combined with the faith from the coaching staff he should have earned in his ability to bounce back, should be enough to keep him in the lineup for Game 2.
Of course, should he turn in a similar performance, at that point the decision to scratch him for Juulsen becomes almost automatic. But we don’t think that’s going to happen. And, at the very least, we think Cole has probably earned the right to prove that.

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