Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchies: Kuzmenko comes alive in an otherwise tepid 2-0 Canucks win over the Blackhawks
1 month ago
There is something so disheartening about watching the Canucks play a team that is languishing in the bottom of the standings. It’s probably because there’s no real winning in this scenario for either team.
The garbage team wins? They ruin their draft lottery odds a little bit more.
The garbage team loses? As Canucks fans know, that’s technically a good outcome, but holy shit, is it ever a depressing travel companion for your seasonal journey. It’s like going to a movie with your ex; it vaguely resembles good times in the past, but you spend most of the time questioning how your life led you to this moment.
And it’s not much better for the Vancouver Canucks. They beat the garbage team? Well, they were supposed to beat them. And not only beat them, but beat them definitively. If you win as the Canucks did on Monday night, defeating the Blackhawks 2-0, the discussion centres around “Did Vancouver play down to their opponent’s level??” All of a sudden, that minor in psychology you got at Langara comes in real handy as you discuss how a team that isn’t trying very hard to win games won’t be mentally ready for the tougher games of the playoffs.
If the Canucks had spanked Chicago to the tune of 8-0, the talk would have been, “Well, it’s Chicago, they’re supposed to do that. You can’t take too much away from this win.”
And should the Canucks have lost this game? Well, then an emergency town hall meeting would have been called at midnight for people to discuss if a team with aspirations for winning the Cup should lose a game like this. This kind of deep dive into the human psyche of the Canucks might have required a major in psychology from SFU to work through.
I’m just kidding, nothing worthwhile comes out of SFU. Editor’s note: Except for the managing editor of this site.
The point is, the only way the Canucks could win in this scenario was by finishing the game as quickly as possible so everyone can forget it ever happened. Which to their credit, they did, as the whistle sounded promptly at 9:20pm, as neither side seemed all that interested in having to hang out with each other longer than necessary.
All of which leaves us with one burning question…
Did the Canucks play down to their opponent’s level??
Best obvious gameplan
I know the Blackhawks thought they had the best odds to land Macklin Celebrini to start the season, much less when Connor Bedard went on IR with a broken jaw, but clearly the Sharks have them rattled. Watching San Jose out-lose them has shaken their confidence, leading them to accidentally winning two out of their last three games heading into Vancouver.
Which is why they got back to basics Monday night, making sure that their passes were tape to tape onto the opponent’s stick:
They tried their best to set up Dakota Joshua, but he was denied by Petr Mrazek, one of the several Blackhawks roster members who fall firmly in the “oh yeah, that guy, I remember him” category, which is adjacent to the “oh that name sounds familiar” category of players from the same family of other NHL players. Lance/Rem Pitlick, Ryan/Ted Donato, Mike/Nick Foligno and Alex/Marc-Edouard Vlasic at your service.
How bad is the roster in Chicago? Jason Dickinson was the guy who made the most sense to send to the All-Star game once Bedard was injured. Like, not even in a John Scott “ha ha wouldn’t that be so funny” kind of way, he was the next guy up in points for the Blackhawks if the NHL had decided to mandate each team have a representative.
Yes, “Oh yeah, that guy,” Jason Dickinson, the very same.
It just makes you think, you know? Bedard unlocks his car remotely for his sister, and for what? What’s the point of any of this?
Best how Kuzy got his groove back
“Great, he did that against Chicago, but let’s see him do it against a real team,” was the battle cry of the anti-Kuzmenko crowd, as not even a thrilling first period for the struggling Russian was enough to buy him one sweet night of solace from the online debates.
But while the Lotto Line took the night off, Kuzmenko chose that moment to shine, as the Canucks’ second line had their best game as a unit, which admittedly is a lower bar than the odds of you ever getting around to your list of shows to watch on Netflix.
Who cares, though, when you’re out there making passes like this over to Pius Suter:
That’s one of the top three passes of the season from a Vancouver Canucks player. That’s the kind of pass that would get a begrudging nod of respect from Hank Sedin, with points only taken off for a lack of grinding, cycling, and general breaking down your opponent physically and mentally in the corner for three minutes before making said pass.
Either way, it’s a brilliant, fancy assist.
And yes, it’s a risky play of sorts, but you know what? He nailed it. He stuck the landing. He got it through. Let the man have his moment.
So how did Pew Pew describe what has to have been one of the most artistically gorgeous passes he’s seen in his career?
“Obviously that’s an unbelievable pass. Spin-o-rama back there and he found me.”
It’s not the longest descriptor I’ve read; it’s quick to the point. However, anytime you work on an ability to drop an EMF sound byte, we can work with it.
Best seemingly lastless, don’t mean you can ask us
I think we’ve all played against players in beer league that clearly don’t belong in our division. The ol’ “play the minimum amount of games to qualify for the playoffs” ringers, who looked bored on the ice, but will flip a switch and take the game over when need be.
And while there are no ringers in the NHL, Quinn Hughes is as close as it gets. He’s the guy you demand the refs check his ID card to make sure he is who he said he was.
It just feels like at times he tries things on the ice solely to entertain himself, just to see if he can pull it off.
Puck at the blue line? Why not try and spin around a couple of times before getting a shot on net?
Believe it or not, there was a time when Brent Sopel was heralded as a professor of keeping the puck in at the blue line.
Yes, Brent Sopel, he of the broken back due to picking up a cracker Brent Sopel. That was the high mark for a Canuck player being good at keeping the puck in near the blue line.
Suffice it to say, Quinn Hughes is just a completely different beast in all ways for the Canucks. We knew it in year two that he was the best Canucks defenceman of all time, but I don’t think we realized just how good he was going to get.
All of which leads us to Kuzmenko once again playing a starring role on a goal, this time with his compete level:
Kuzmenko’s work behind the net, not giving up on that puck, even when falling to his knees? That’s the kind of thing that would get a single solitary nod of respect from Corolla Garland, of which there is no higher honour in the NHL.
Kuz buys enough time for Mikheyev to swoop in, which allows Quinn Hughes, who already plotted and predicted this sequence playing out like this three days ago, to drive to the net, gather a pass from Ilya, and then snipe it home.
And it’s not like you can say that was a fluke because we’ve seen Quinn score on this type of shot, from this angle, before. It’s just another weapon he’s added to his arsenal, which, again, is incredible to think about compared to last year when his shot was on par with a Ryan Biech clapper. Nobody feared it. No one.
Sure, it still beat Kevin Woodley, but other than that, nobody stayed up at night worrying about that shot.
But this year? It’s not even the speed of his shot — it’s the placement of his shot. He can kill you with his skating, his passing, and his shot, and it’s more terrifying than a Mary Berg ad campaign.
Quinn Hughes is a dangerous man.
Best numbers don’t lie
This is why Quinn Hughes is the runaway Hart and Norris trophy winner for me right now. If the season stopped today? Those two trophies go to Quinn, and it’s not even close.
His ability to keep possession of the puck is something Dom’s model is still going to therapy about.
Vancouver has never had a defenceman like this in the history of their club, and honestly, aside from timely goaltending, the most important part of a deep, successful playoff run tends to be the teams with a true number one defenceman.
Best I can offer is this clip
With my stream of the game going in and out, instead of showing you actual saves Demko made on the Canucks first penalty kill of the night, here is Demko acting out how he would have saved the pucks had he actually faced any shots:
Don’t let this deter you from knowing that Demko played a fantastic game on the night.
I know shutting out Chicago isn’t the badge of honor it used to be, but for a game that was 2-0 for over 50 minutes of the game, his ability to keep Chicago off the board prevented this from turning into a one goal game.
Which is huge, because a one goal lead? Chicago might try and pretend to win that game. All of a sudden instead of leaving at 9:20 on the dot, you’re stuck there until 9:33, watching Chicago take timeouts as they attempt to get the game to overtime.
Demko values your time.
You know who doesn’t?
Best enjoy it while it lasts
The Canucks trend of playing well for a period and then just sort of floating through the rest of the game like you did through high school was on full display Monday night, so really drink in these visuals because they get far less exciting as we go along.
The first period for Kuzmenko was his best Rick Tocchet period of hockey of his career in that he was constantly skating downhill, pushing that North/South hockey agenda.
On this play, Demko sends the puck up to Mikheyev, who then tries to find Kuzmenko skating hard to the net:
Next up was Zadorov firing a pass along the boards that Kuzmenko deftly tipped (always deftly) into the centre of the ice for Mikheyev to skate into, leading to a nice passing play to Suter high in the slot:
Don’t discount that play from Kuzmenko, as being able to re-direct that pass perfectly to the middle of the ice off the bank pass like that is a top level play.
And if you really wanted a sign that Kuzmenko was feeling his oats today, he then tried to go full Marek Malik down low on Mrazek:
I’ve stated it on record that I think Kuzmenko can be a fantastic passenger player on a line, but he can’t drive one.
Well, Monday night, he drove his line, and as a result, that was the best that particular second line as a unit has looked all season. Mikheyev looked fast and dynamic, Suter looked like a threat in the slot, and Kuzmenko looked like the straw that stirred the entire drink.
Will it continue? Well, there’s that old “it’s against Chicago” caveat.
But for a line that was in desperate need of a good game, any good game, this was a step in the right direction.
And if you’re wondering what ‘feeling your oats’ means, it just means you’re feeling a bit frisky, a bit energetic, much like how a horse gets when it eats oats.
This is not to be confused with feeling your Oates, which is when you’re reading over court proceedings between Hall and Oates, and you start taking John’s side.
Best stop deleting your tweets
Wondering why there is no tweet at the start of this section? Because some jerk deleted their tweet.
What was the tweet about? It referenced John Shorthouse having a case of premature goal calling (his words, not mine):
That’s about as close as Chicago would come to scoring on Thatcher, who at one point made just enough of a save with the back of his glove to stop a Taylor Raddysh shot.
One could say Demko parsnipped it in the bud.
Look, I am just as confused as you are as to why people pay me to write.
Best getting your moneys worth
Hey, if you’re going to take a penalty, you might as well go all in like Nick Foligno did when he yanked Teddy Blueger to the ice:
Honestly, I respect it. Foligno doesn’t want to give up the two on one, so he just sees an arm, yanks it to the ground, and accepts his punishment. He doesn’t try and get all subtle about it. He doesn’t roll around on the ground trying to pretend they both got tangled up by accident. He just goes for that arm like a young Frank Mir and lets gravity do the rest.
All of which led to High Danger Pass King Garland setting up Pew Pew all alone in the slot (that’s a real sentence, I promise you):
Garland steals the puck, skates to the net, and since his shot is about as hard as getting a degree from SFU, he decides passing it over to Pew Pew makes more sense. Which is just what Corolla does, he steals pucks, and he sets people up with high danger scoring opportunities.
He’s like a crypto bro, but you know, actually useful.
Best imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Earlier in the evening, over in the Pittsburgh game, Lawson Crouse scored the cleanest goal of his NHL career when Evgeni Malkin tipped in a Kris Letang pass in front of his empty net (delayed penalty).
Why do I bring this up, aside from having a good laugh at their expense?
Just to showcase what a ringer in the NHL looks like:
Yes, that’s Quinn Hughes juking and jiving all around players with his net empty on a delayed penalty.
Yes, that’s Quinn Hughes making a pass dangerously close to said empty net on a delayed penalty.
Yes, that’s an entire crowd of people not worried in the slightest because Quinn Hughes is doing it.
It’s safe to say Quinn Hughes has the confidence of the entire city in the palm of his hand.
If that’s Kuzmenko making that play? People would have fainted, a person would have started throwing butternut squashes on the ice, and Thomas Drance would have worn argyle sweaters the rest of his life.
But Quinn Hughes? People just kind of nod their heads and mutter their approval.
Best Quinn-ing hockey
Want to see Quinn Hughes effortlessly walk around someone before flinging the puck on net?
He just looks so casual about it. He plays hockey like I dress up for Zoom meetings for work. He’s the slightly stained hoodie and sweatpants equivalent in hockey.
And I know, the shot itself isn’t some top shelf laser beam, but his ability to fling the puck and get it on net is what causes a lot of those goal mouth scrambles that Rick Tocchet hockey loves to try and take advantage of.
If Quinn Hughes gets hurt, this Canucks team hits midnight, and Tyler Myers turns back into a pumpkin. Hughes is the engine of this team, and clearly its most important player.
Best Thatching victory from the jaws of, well, victory
The majority of Chicago’s offensive power consists of Jason Dickinson and two kids in a trench coat, but you give those two kids a chance in the slot, and sometimes they bury it:
Unless you’re facing a dialled-in Demko.
Thatcher stopped 20 shots on the night, and while it wasn’t the hardest shutout of his career, there were a couple of five alarm saves in there that made it feel better than those 15 save shutouts Marty Brodeur would get on route to stealing a Vezina from Roberto Luongo.
Please note Quinn Hughes skating the puck directly through his crease at the end of the clip because he simply has no effs to give anymore.
Do I worry he’s like Jeff Winger at a celebrity lookalike Bar Mitzvah? Sure, who doesn’t?
But until we see repercussions from it, just enjoy the ride.
The Lotto Line took until halfway through the third period to get a mention if you need an indication of the kind of game they had.
However, that “it’s just Chicago” logic swings both ways when your top line has yet another dreadful 5 on 5 performance. The Lotto Line managed two shots on the night, one of which was when Kuzmenko set up JT Miller on a line change.
That is to say, they didn’t factor much into the game. They were outshot five to one on the night and were the worst-performing line under Corsi standards.
But they did have this one moment:
That’s the defensive juggernaut we know in Elias Pettersson: knocking down the pass, charging down the ice, and almost scoring single-handedly.
If EP40 scores there, maybe it quiets the noise around the Lotto Line. He can just point to that goal, mutter something about “scoring when it matters” and then we could all go about our day.
But because he didn’t, this marks the fourth game in a row in which the Lotto Line just hasn’t provided much of anything at even strength.
Is it something to be concerned about? Probably not.
Does it allow some wiggle room for the Canucks to split up that line and use it more sporadically? Possibly.
The team keeps winning despite that lack of production, however, so this is firmly what Frankie loves to call champagne problems.
Still, it is something to keep an eye on.
Best line of the night
Someone else deleted their tweet, guys, come on, what are we doing here.
This clip showcases, without a fun Twitter context, Ilya Mikheyev and Kuzmenko working hard on the boards, allowing Ilya to eventually get the puck behind the net to set up Pew Pew:
Like I said, the bar is low, but it was clearly the best performance from this line in their short time together. They were also the best line on the night, and as we know, beating out Garland’s line is no easy feat.
Best in too deep
Colin Blackwell beats Hronek on this play in the third period, pushing the puck past Fil, before running into a Kitsilano real estate issue; Not enough space.
Mitch Marner goes top shelf there, but Blackwell, well, he’s just happy to be here, you know?
Best burning spotlight
It’s not that Brendan is wrong, I just want to point out how many eyes are on Kuzmenko.
If ever you wanted to know how hard this market can be, it’s the level of scrutiny you can find yourself under.
And I say this as someone who scrutes just as hard as the next guy. I can scrute with the best of them, I don’t mind telling you that.
But Kuzemnko is clearly in that level of microanalysis where any shift that he struggles on, we immediately break it down and do the ol’ TSN thing of “OK, that’s fine, but how does this affect the Maple Leafs Kuzmenko??”
Best and now for something completely different
Somewhere Sean Avery is incensed:
I like how Corolla no sells it though. He goes full Hogan here and gives nothing to his opponent.
Best toe pick
This is the final, last, “Chicago could have scored here!” moment of the night, I promise you:
Demko holds that toe against that post like Hodor trying to save Bran.
Again, 20 shots against, it wasn’t much, but he had some zingers in there.
If Demko released an album from this game, he had at least three top 10 hits on his hands.
Best reliable Dakota
You know what you can always count on each game? At least one power forward rush to the net from Joshua:
The amount of power moves to the net this team produces compares to, say, 2018, is just incredible.
North/South hockey my friends.
Honestly, I have run out of words to type about this game.
We went from the Toronto masterpiece, in which Tyler Myers attempted to beat up both Tavares and Reilly, to a game against Dickinson and an assortment of Lost Boys just trying to get a breather from Mr. Smee.
When do the playoffs start again?
Best jersey Botch
What better way to end an article than with one of the best shootout goals of all time, Mr. Plus/Minus himself Marek Malik??
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