The Stanchies: Canucks pass another test in Buffalo in a heated matinee affair

Photo credit:© Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchion
5 months ago
It wasn’t pretty, but if the Canucks’ 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres taught us anything, it’s that Vancouver appears to be ready for any type of challenge an NHL team can throw at them.
You want back and forth offensive hockey like the game against Pittsburgh? They got you covered.
You want a low scoring, hard hitting affair like the game against the Sabres? No problem.
I think the main takeaway from the game against the Sabres is that we have finally passed that point of asking, “will they make the playoffs?” and landed firmly on the “how many more days until the playoffs??”
Is there dangerous hubris involved with this outlook? Oh of course. But this entire season has been about throwing caution to the wind and just believing, so I am going to spread my arms into the wind and let Jack show me how to fly.
Look, we get it. PDO this, PDO that. I think we’ve all realized the Canucks are on the heater of all heaters this season. And we all know how hard it is to have an entire season’s worth of a run like this. Usually it takes Colin Campbell and a goaltending heater from Tim Thomas to lock away four series wins.
But at this point, you just find yourself wanting to see how it all plays out. You can’t help but get a bit impatient to see how JT Miller will perform in the post-season. To see if Zadorov’s physical play will be a factor. If Corolla Garland can continue his magic in April. If Demko can get locked in and bring in the magic of the bubble. If Quinn Hughes will dominate games the way he has all season.
You also know, you just KNOW, that the Chaos Giraffe is just as likely to give away the puck on an overtime goal, as he is to go end to end and go Clap Bomb 2.0 on us. That alone has me shaking and crying right now. Which one will it be? We don’t know!
Because as fun as this season has been, the real memories are made in the post-season. It’s the Jeff Tambellini back-check rule (I did it again); Small plays become iconic when it happens during the playoffs. Big moments? That gets you streets named after you.
(We were THIS close to having to take a left on Luongo avenue in 2011.)
And if we’re being honest with each other, that bubble run didn’t have the atmosphere to make those moments really special. If you ever wanted proof of how much fans added to the games, watch Bo Horvat toe drag his way to what should have been a widely celebrated goal against St. Louis during the bubble run.
Was it a top tier playoff goal? Damn right it was.
Does anyone really remember it all that fondly? Not at all.
When all you can hear is the “woo” of the players themselves, it doesn’t land the same way. It feels like you’re watching a beer league game but in high definition. Add in the fact that the bubble run just reminds us of how much Nintendo Switch we played during the lockdown and how Skip the Dishes was now a part of our life forever, and it doesn’t really give the same vibes as “I was in the crowd when Burrows slayed the dragon!” memories. “I was eating my cold rice bowl from Mucho Burrito and I spilled some on my dog when Stecher scored” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
You need the power of the crowd behind you to cement these moments, to really lock them into your soul. Whether it’s a loud and boisterous crowd, or if it’s merely silencing Albertans like Brendan Morrison in triple overtime, the crowd is the straw that stirs the drink.
So while half of the Canucks travel to the All-Star game, I will sit here, impatiently waiting for the real games to start. Bring on the trade deadline! Make your moves! Go all in (to an extent) on this season. Roll the dice and see if you can make some history.
Because until then, as tight as that Buffalo game was, almost like a playoff game, it wasn’t the real thing.
Not yet.
Best spoiler alert
Hey, remember how we’ve talked about Demko looking loose in net recently, despite the wins?
And how I wish I had a better metaphor for discussing how dialed in he is, because I don’t want to say Demko looked tight on Saturday?
Well let’s just say Demko had been playing like a cantaloupe for a couple games now, but against the Sabres, he looked like a ripe honeydew.
Best gift of giving and receiving
So there were were two parts of this game. One where both sides politely took turns controlling the play, and then the game after Dahlin got rocked by JT Miller and the “eff you” energy got dialled up all the way to eleven.
Before the Dahlin hit, though, we had nice examples of why the Canucks have looked so efficient this season, and that has been puck support on breakouts:
For the last, well, decade, it often felt like the Canucks forwards would blow the zone and be waiting down at the blue line like a confused Gabe Davis not understanding the route properly.
But on that clip above, while it’s true the Sabres aren’t really pressuring the Canucks, giving it a bit of a “Holy shit did you see that Juolevi stretch pass??” vibe to this praise, I do want to highlight the Canucks taking their time and JT Miller supporting the play by giving the defenseman an outlet with speed.
The resulting play is JT Miller gets himself into a good position for a shot that he can either pass to Elias Pettersson, or miss and put the puck out of the zone like a young Mason Raymond. In years past we might have seen the Canucks forward waiting for a pass with a sea of opposition between them and the defense, which led to countless counter attacks and odd man rushes against.
Again, the Sabres aren’t really pressuring the Canucks a whole lot here, but you can see the Canucks utilizing the same play, having Höglander circle back and skating out of the zone, giving Myers an outlet, and allowing Nils to receive the puck and make a zone entry with speed:
It’s been a big improvement to the Canucks game, which has also been helped considerably by the steady veteran presence of the Carson Soucy’s and Ian Cole’s of the world, who know how to slow the game down to reset a play in their own end. Add in the coaching of Gonchar and Foote, and Tocchet’s overall system, and we’re now seeing a Canucks team that can control the puck and dictate the play far better than they have in years.
Best glimpse of the future?
You’re going to see a lot of names bandied about as the trade deadline approaches, and while Eriksson-Ek is the sexiest name of the bunch, we’ve also heard the whispers of some big bodies being looked at, such as 6″6 230 pound Jordan Greenway:
Can help on the penalty kill? Check.
Can play North/South hockey? Check.
Can throw shots to the head after a goal that leads to the most physical game of the season? Double check.
He marks all the Rick Tocchet boxes.
Best bend but don’t break
Zach Benson vs Tom Willander has years upon years to play out, but he wasn’t able to get a leg up on the debate on Saturday, as he was denied on his best chance by Thatcher Demko:
First off, kudos to NHL journeyman Eric Robinson for stripping the puck off Elias Pettersson to set up this play, as that is no easy feat. The stick lift transitioning into the pass, that’s a chefs kiss moment right there.
Secondly, you know Demko is locked in full honeydew mode when he makes the saves look so sweet and easy, just like biting into a perfect piece of the dew.
Thirdly, Zach Benson might still be a teenager, but he looks to the heavens in disbelief like a man.
Fourthly, Benson’s middle name is “Ruben” whose origins is tangentially related to Reuben Kulakofsky, the inventor of the Reuben sandwich, or Arnold Reuben, the inventor of the Reuben sandwich, depending on which side of the debate you fall on. Or if we really want to dig deep, Alfred Scheuing was the inventor of the sandwich, as he worked at Reuben’s Delicatessen and…you know what, I will save my sandwich history for that 10am Columbus game.
All of which is to say Tage Thompson, who could not be stopped at all last season, was easily stopped by Demko all day long:
Tuch with the shot from the corner, Tage with the tap in attempts, but nothing was getting by Demko.
Please keep in mind how friendly this game was at this point. Both teams playing a matinee game during a winter storm, just wanting to get through it as quickly as possible. A gentleman’s agreement at play.
Best depressing stat
Any time the Canucks are playing poorly or getting dominated by the other team, I know J-Pats is going to have the perfect tweet to show just how grim it’s been.
I feel like if anything goes poorly in my life, he’d be able to drum up a stat that paints a sobering picture of my current reality.
“Wyatt has only made 35% of his jokes land, a steep drop off in performance since the start of January. You have to wonder if CanucksArmy looks elsewhere in the off-season.”
And perhaps inspired by this public shaming, the Canucks promptly got their best chance of the period with Nils Aman playing the role of JT Miller due to a line change:
Elias Pettersson, much like Quinn Hughes, is just able to open up so much room on ice with their quick skating and change of directions. Whether it’s deking by an opponent, or simply causing confusion and panic as the other team scrambles to correct it’s positioning after losing coverage, EP40 and Quinn Hughes are able to generate open shots seemingly at will some games. You’re so busy trying to catch up to Elias, that you don’t realize your teammate has already panicked and tried to move in to help cover, leaving someone like Nils Aman wide open in the slot.
Best usage of an incorrect nickname for a line
The Life Line continues to be a positive force for the Canucks, while the second line continues to merely exist. This game was actually a really interesting experience to just kind of see who would perform in one of these shut down, hard hitting games. And the Life Line? They came to play like a young Mike Mizanin.
The second line? Well, yeah, they existed as previously mentioned.
Even when Kyle Okposo realized the best way to win a puck battle is to truck Conor Garland to the ice, it didn’t faze them:
First up, I have lost count of how many times Garland has circled the neutral zone like a Romulan, waiting to unlock and steal the puck to generate a counter attack like this. He starts this whole play in motion by sneaking in, taking, the puck, and making a nice zone entry.
And even though Okposo tackled him to the ice, the Life Line does what it always does, which is kill time off the clock, grinding it out in the offensive zone:
In that one clip Garland evades a check along the boards and turns it into a scoring chance down low for Joshua, and then on the rebound, prevents a zone exit by skating around and stealing the puck back. Garland’s work on the puck is at such an elite level for a third line.
So yes, once again Corolla Garland is the reliable engine of this line, and I promise you, if he leaves, this line turns to dust. I have actually thought about “what if the Canucks put Garland on the second line or with more skilled players?” and I honestly think that doesn’t work. Garland is at his best when he’s the guy with the puck, driving the line and owning the puck possession. More often than not he generates a high danger pass into the slot, and it usually comes after a good 10-15 seconds holding the puck and spinning and maneuvering off of the boards. You just kind of let him cook and do his thing and wait for a teammate to get one of his top tier passes.
If anything, I say find this guy a shooter to play with. If there is one thing that might help elevate this line, it would be by having a natural shooter who can still play defensively, but can finish off some of those elite passes from Garland, champagne problems be damned.
But even if that doesn’t happen, you still have an elite third line on your team. It’s honestly akin to 2011 when the Canucks had a Malholtra on their third line, it just made life so much easier for the team, knowing they didn’t have to sink all of the minutes into Ryan Kesler in a shut down role, until Malholtra got injured, and they had to sink all of the minutes into Ryan Kesler in a shut down role. Sigh.
Best best for business
I thought Kevin Bieksa was going to be the hardest thing to hammer a Cousins this month, but Nikita Zadorov saw Dylan Couzens and felt otherwise:
They mentioned on air during the Penguins game about how Zadorov has felt his game has been simplified just due to the simple, easy to follow structure the team has in place. It’s almost like you no longer just hand him a bunch of ingredients and tell him to make a perfect meal, he now has a cook book that significantly helps lower the amount of kitchen fires he starts.
Best seeds of hatred
Filip Hronek skated through Samuelsson and while it didn’t look like the most egregious of hits, it did enough damage to take Samuelsson out of the game. It was subtle enough to not know if Hronek meant to clip him or was merely trying to skate to make a play on the puck, but it certainly set the tone for later in the period, as this feels like it was the genesis of the blood feud between the two.
Best imaginary goal
Brock Boeser thought he had made the game 1-0, but upon closer look, it appeared the Canucks had tried to cheat the game of hockey by putting a skate into the zone before the puck:
Boeser’s chase for 30 goals was put on hold, but the main takeaway from that fake goal full of deceitful lies was the fact that the Canucks’ vaunted “bend but don’t break” defence had survived a rough first period, but was now pushing back.
JT Miller followed up this waved off goal with a nice shot in the slot, to which I presume he then whispered “the next shot is for you, Dahlin,” because in my head, hockey is Game of Thrones and you need people whispering threats at all moments:
Oh hey, a reliable Corolla Garland snuck into the play to make that pass happen, what are the odds? It’s almost as if even with ice on the road, with the right tires, a Corolla can get you anywhere you need to go.
Best goal of the night
Sam Lafferty continued to add to his goal total over Ryan Reaves by adding his 10th of the season, tying a season high halfway through the season, in my attempt to say the word season as many times in one sentence:
Sam Lafferty has been a boon for the Canucks, as he’s been able to play throughout their bottom six, producing and playing well in that role.
And while the goal was nothing special in terms of skill or visuals, one important thing did occur as a result of this goal: Jordan Greenway following through after the goal, hitting Lafferty up high in the cheek, cutting him.
It should have been penalized as there was nothing to debate about this headshot, as it had clear intent. Lafferty appealed to the officials for a call, but a lot of the time in the NHL, if you score on a play, the referees seem to kind of go Mad Max on anything that happens after said goal. I assume in their head there is a period of immunity where you can kind of do what you want to a certain degree. Maybe they went karma mode and said, “hey we missed the Samuelsson one, so things have balanced out.” Or they simply didn’t think it warranted a call, that’s also an option.
I try my best to understand game management, but it’s an ever-changing landscape.
Best shoot your shot
The game really ramped up the intensity when JT Miller decided to express his displeasure of the Sabres by absolutely running right through Sabres star defenceman Rasmus Dahlin:
It should be noted that there was no penalty on the initial play. It was only after Miller and Owen Power dropped their gloves that the referees decided to look into it to see if a major penalty should be handed out.
And honestly, it felt like no penalty was deserved on the play. Much like when Eichel got absolutely trucked by Matty Tkachuck, sometimes a guy runs right through you when you’re leaning forward like that. Was this as obvious as the Eichel hit? No, but Dahlin is leaning forward enough that Miller, who has his elbow firmly tucked in at his side, can only do so much to try and avoid head contact.
The end result was minor penalties to both sides, with the NHL officials taking the cowards way out by handing out an elbowing penalty to JT Miller when clearly there was no elbow involved. If anything, they could have given him a roughing penalty for dropping the gloves with Power (Jimothy threw his gloves off quickly and early, so there’s your out if you want it NHL), but for some reason an elbowing call was assigned.
In the end the Sabres were pissed off, which amped up the physicality because they just saw their star player get dropped, which hey, fair enough. You target Dahlin, they’re going to target Quinn Hughes, which they did. That’s hockey, baby, and a good example of how the playoffs usually end up going.
It’s important to note Dahlin returned to the game, so it appears no major damage was done either way, aside from the shock of being slapped in the face with a shoulder.
Best power outage
The Canucks’ first unit continues to struggle to look dangerous with the extra man, let alone score goals, leading to the rare moment when the second unit gets the best chance of the night:
I don’t know if there is a shot I find less threatening on the Canucks right now than Ilya Mikheyev. He could have an empty net in front of him, with nobody around him, and part of me would still worry he wouldn’t shoot it hard, or accurately enough, to get it into the net.
Conor Garland feels like Sami Salo compared to Mikheyev’s shot right now.
Best you want a piece?
How about the whole thing?
The Sabres didn’t like the Miller and Power fight as a token of retribution probably because Miller dropped the gloves quick enough to secure a headlock takedown to end it.
Well Johnson went toe to toe with JT Miller and found out that Rip Wheeler has no problem dancing if you want to.
And with the Sabres STILL not getting that satisfying conclusion they wanted, they continued to target the Canucks players in their quest for revenge.
Best ramifications
With Hughes clearly in their sights, the Sabres dogpiled him on more than one occasion, though my favourite part of this sequence was Benson trying to do his part, only to get shoved to the ice by Hronek:
Alex Tuch then took turns running Pettersson and Hughes on the same shift:
I would have a spot for Alex Tuch on my team any day of the week.
It was good, heavy hockey, to be honest. The Sabres saw their star player get hammered, so they returned the favour. That’s good shit, pal, so I had no complaints.
Best honeydew goaltending
The Sabres were then awarded three power plays (Hey six minutes of power play time makes up for that five minute major they wanted), but Tage Thompson had no answers for Demko:
Demko isn’t even fazed by these shots. It’s also a testament to the Canucks penalty killing that the Sabres were unable to generate a lot of high danger chances, resulting in them settling for Tage taking thoughts and prayers shots from the circle.
Best keep those penalties coming
Eddie Lack might have been on to something, as Ian Cole was then given a penalty for this take down:
Which led to this huge glove save from Demko:
This was one of the rare moments the Sabres managed to move the puck around like that to get a good look on net, but watch that clip again. Demko is so locked in that he’s already in position, glove ready, basically waiting for Casey Mittelstadt to shoot the puck right into it. You can almost see Casey know he’s got nothing to shoot at, but still having to go through with it because like a bland long term relationship leading to marriage, what else are you going to do at that point.
Best soft and gentle
Pew Pew Suter started the third period off with a nice pass to Mikheyev for this shot:
All I’m saying is if I am walking down a dark alley in downtown Vancouver at night, and I see Mikheyev’s shot giggling and holding a gun in recessed doorway, I am not worried in the slightest.
Best depends on your perspective
Those were two reactions to this Nils Höglander penalty:
I agree that you can call that a penalty. In fact, I agree that you can call all three of the calls against the Canucks penalties, I have no issue with that.
It’s just setting the bar really low for calling penalties. If you call those, if that’s the threshold for a penalty, then you can call a bunch more penalties in this game. That’s where it bleeds into game management for me.
But despite that powerplay, the Sabres just couldn’t solve the Rubiks Cube known as Thatcher Demko, as Casey Mittelstadt was once again denied in close:
Yes, that was Nikita Zadorov throwing a big hit at the beginning of the clip.
Yes, I know you giggled and clapped to yourself seeing that.
It should also be noted that the Sabres also hit two crossbars by this point, one from Tuch and one from Les Cozens Dangereux, but you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good and all that.
Best anatomy of a car
OK so let’s dive into just what makes Corolla Garland so reliable.
It’s the third period, and you need to keep the puck in the other end of the ice. You want to kill some time off the clock and give your defense and goaltending some rest. This is where the Life Line led by Corolla Garland come into play.
Up first is the zone entries from Corolla, as this line consistently gains the zone and sets up shop on their shifts. Usually it’s when Garland leads the rush with the puck, like this:
Garland evades his check, and dumps the puck off behind the net while absorbing a hit. This is what would have gotten Garland on the radar of Don Cherry back in the day for being a good Canadian kid despite being American.
Bluger gets the puck but has two Sabres on him, so Corolla sneaks back into the play to steal the puck and sends it out in front with a no look backhand pass that almost finds Dakota in the slot.
That alone would have made for a good highlight from the shift, but if there is one thing we know about Corolla’s, it’s they can go really far on a small amount of gas.
This leads to the Canucks playing the puck down low behind the net to Garland, who utilizing that no look pass he used seconds earlier, finds Dakota Joshua again in the slot, but this time they get it off:
That’s kind of the thing about Garland, when that line is in trouble, he either finds the puck and settles things down again, or his line gets him the puck, knowing he’s the safest option.
So now we’re at 25 seconds of ice time in the opponent’s zone, and Garland has already won several puck battles, and twice set up Joshua for dangerous chances down low.
This then leads to Garland getting the puck down low (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) and instead of going behind the net for a third time, he spins away and instead of passing to Teddy Blueger, he recognizes he has two Sabres around him in a 1-0 game, so he makes the safer pass to Quinn Hughes for the shot attempt:
The best part about this play, though? Watch Garland then hustle over to Girgensons and check his stick and effectively slow his puck pursuit down, allowing Hronek to get to the puck first, sending it back deep into the Sabres zone.
At the very end of the play, after a couple more shot attempts, Garland finds himself with the puck behind the net, and after fending off a couple of Sabres, he finally loses the puck. Once he realizes the puck is going to an open side that the Canucks won’t be able to get to, he hustles off for the line change:
All in all, they killed a full minute off of the clock, and caused the Sabres, who were exhausted by this point, to ice the puck. Even in that scenario, Corolla Garland is the first guy to hustle back and make sure he gets in a quick line change.
The guy is a coaches dream.
Best hey he still exists
Just your daily reminder that the second line exists, and that Kuzmenko did in fact play:
By the ice time alone, the Kuzmenko/Suter/Mikheyev line is not the second line, it’s just more fun to talk about what an elite third line they have in the Life Line.
Come deadline, if that Lotto Line stays intact, that second line needs some tinkering.
Best All-Star effort
Not to be outdone by Garland, Elias Pettersson wants to remind you of his 200 foot game. Or at least his agent does:
Just a fantastic job from Elias tracking the puck and closing the distance using a tried and true Alex Edler technique of making yourself the backup backup goalie on the ice. Dahlin runs out of space and ends up firing the puck into the shinpads of Elias.
I was also kind of struck with how Dahlin didn’t have that much of an impact on the game compared to Quinn Hughes. Dahlin is a fantastic defenseman, don’t get me wrong, but he is clearly not in the same god tier that Quinn Hughes is currently in.
Elias then hooked up with Brock to give a bit of pushback late in the game, getting a scoring chance and a faceoff in the Sabres end:
And he even threw in a hit to let Colby Armstrong know how much Rick Tocchet has influenced his game:
And yes, that was a bonus Zadorov hit on Tuch sneaking it’s way in there. That gif is for free, that one is on me.
Best pizza
Not since Luca Sbisa have we seen such a piping hot pizza served up to the opposition like this:
Luckily by this point Demko is in the zone and Peterka has no chance of scoring, but kudos to JT Miller for reminding us of his 2022 season.
And that was the game. The Canucks escaped Buffalo with two hard earned points, and by escaped I mean stuck in Buffalo overnight due to deteriorating conditions leading us to wonder if they’ll ever get out, and will instead have to form a super team with the Sabres for the rest of the season.
The biggest takeaway from this game is, yeah, these Canucks? They keep passing their tests.
Now we just need them to take on the ultimate one.
Best jersey Botch
We’ve seen a few Potvin jerseys over the years, which honestly, is more than I thought we’d see. Nothing against Potvin, but he wasn’t particularly good in Vancouver, so I assume it was mostly Toronto fans who converted to being Canucks fans excited one of their former greats landed on their team.
Sometimes I want to know if these people wear it ironically, and just want to troll the fan base, or if they actually look back fondly on the Messier era.
But forget that, set your eyes on these beauties:
Free the Skate is a global phenomenon, I’ve told you that already.
But the Gerald Diduck jersey? What looks to be an authentic jersey, because I assume nobody would go out of their way to get a CCM jersey and shoulder patches and re-create that? That’s incredible. Would be right up there with seeing a Murzyn or Dirk jersey.
I’m still waiting to see if we ever get a Nathan Lafayette jersey, too.

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