Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchies: Linus Karlsson’s debut, Hughes’ 3B performance, and a heavy dose of optimism in 5-2 loss to Calgary
3 months ago
For the first time in years, following a game in which the team blew an early lead and got nearly outshot 2-to-1, Canucks fans didn’t have to feel bad about making excuses for their boys in blue & white following a 5-2 loss.
What a time to be alive!
As if waking up Thursday morning to the Canucks being tied for first in the NHL wasn’t wild enough, the Canucks have actually banked so much goodwill with their start that a loss to the puttering Calgary Flames was both expected and accepted by the vast majority of the fanbase.
This team would have been ripped apart in any other season for an effort like the one shown Thursday night in Calgary. However, the goodwill the team earned at the start of the year was enough to excuse their lethargic play, the lackadaisical effort from their stars, and the crummy performances of its two best defencemen.
The 5-2 loss against the Flames was the 2nd leg of a back-to-back that included travel, which followed an emotionally draining comeback victory in overtime against their former captain’s new team! That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of one team. This loss to Calgary was so expected by the majority that it barely registered as anything more than a mild concern within the Canucks’ social media microcosm.
Mixed in with the lethargy, the crummy, and the bad was some good!
Though this is my first time covering a loss on Stanchies’ backup duty, I’m still sticking with my positive outlook on the club!
Sure, it sucks to lose to a Pacific Division rival the way they did! But, hey, you can’t win ’em all!
Let’s see how the Canucks almost won this one right up until they didn’t!
Best lineup available
Best cup of coffee
Making his NHL debut Thursday night on his birthday was Linus Karlsson, the prospect acquired by Jim Benning for Jonathan Dahlén back in 2019.
Karlsson did little to impress the club in his D+1, D+2, or D+3 seasons. Then, in his D+4 season, Karlsson exploded with a 26-goal, 46-point season in the SHL with Skellefteå AIK. Karlsson parlayed that SHL success into an NHL ELC and a wildly successful rookie campaign in the AHL. Playing middle-six minutes at 5v5, first-unit power play and as a third-out penalty killer, Karlsson led Abbotsford in scoring with 24 goals total.
Karlsson’s role has only increased in his sophomore campaign. Lately, he has been playing in a defensive match-up/scoring line alongside Aatu Räty and Max Sasson. As a trio, they have combined for three goals for and none against at 5-on-5. Over his last three games, Karlsson has notched four assists and eight shots on goal.
Unfortunately for Vancouver, Jacob Markstrom showed to be on his A-game early when he did not give up a goal on the Canucks first shot of the game.
For those who follow me on Twitter. Yes, I am recycling my tweets for Stanchies’ content.
It’s been a long week.
Give me a break.
Anyways, in his first shift of the game, Elias Pettersson threw a reverse hit into Mackenzie Weegar, which was very cool and good!
Best start (Linus Karlsson’s version)
Linus Karlsson did well to endear himself to Tocchet and his coaching staff in his first NHL shift. Despite losing a d-zone faceoff, Karlsson won a battle along the right wall before breaking the puck out for his linemate Sam Lafferty to pounce on in the neutral zone.
Lafferty and Nils Höglander then entered the Flames’ end for a shot on Markstrom, earning an offensive zone draw.
Karlsson played well during his first couple of NHL shifts. Late in the period, he was seen hurrying the puck through the neutral zone, sparking a drive toward the net for Lafferty. Lafferty’s rush chance sparked a solid cycle for Vancouver’s fourth line. After a minute of sustained pressure from Karlsson, Höglander, and Lafferty, the Flames iced the puck, giving Vancouver’s first line an offensive zone faceoff against a very tired group.
Pettersson & co couldn’t capitalize on the tired fourth line, but it was a solid shift from Tocchet’s least-used trio of the night.
Worst “Don’t comment on the refs. Don’t comment on the refs. Don’t comment on the…”
Following a Brock Boeser shot on Markstrom that gave the Canucks an offensive zone faceoff, the Canucks’ trio of Garland, Mikheyev, and Pettersson went to work with Hughes and Hronek manning the blue line. What began as a normal cycle turned into two full minutes of dominant puck possession and chance generation for Vancouver.
Pettersson dished a fantastic spinning no-look pass to Hronek for a shot over Markstrom’s right shoulder.
Hronek then filtered a point shot through traffic with bodies piled up in front of Markstrom for the screen.
While setting up for his second reverse hit on Weegar of the period, Elias Pettersson lost his skate angle and got bowled down without touching a puck that had been played down low by Hronek. Garland could be heard on the broadcast yelling for a call to no avail.
In true Canuck fashion, the Flames broke the puck out of the zone to begin an extended cycle of their own. During the Flames’ extended possession in the d-zone, Nazem Kadri drew a tripping penalty against Quinn Hughes—Yes, the Quinn Hughes—resulting in a comically long-delayed penalty in Calgary’s favour, lasting over a minute.
Perhaps having recognized their error on the non-crosscheck call against Pettersson during Vancouver’s extended run of possession, the zebras ended the Flames’ power play opportunity after 45 seconds with a tripping penalty assessed to Adam Ruzicka.
It was a pretty soft tripping penalty; clearly, a make-up call.
The Canucks power play then got 45 seconds to work their magic. And boy, oh boy, did that magic work!
Like Joey, Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, and Ross negotiating for matching million-dollar paydays for the final season of Friends, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, and Elias Pettersson combined on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play for their league-leading 27th points of the season.
GOAL – 1-0 Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson from J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes
You have to marvel at Jacob Markstrom’s effort on the goal. The second Miller intimates he’s going for the slap pass to the right circle, Markstrom peeks over the wrong side of Brock Boeser and immediately pops up. He knows he’s picked the wrong angle and is wildly out of position to recover. He knows he’s gifted Pettersson a wide-open net, and he knows Pettersson isn’t one to miss.
I mean, why risk tearing a groin trying to stop the inevitable? Am I right!?
Best “all contract talks are on hold”
It’s probably a good thing that Craig Conroy halted all extension talks with his pending UFAs.
Past the midway point of the opening frame, four Flames’ defenders were caught chasing Ilya Mikheyev into the half wall, leaving Pettersson wide open at the doorstep of Markstrom’s crease.
The defensive warts weren’t exclusive to Calgary, though.
With two minutes left in the period, Mark Friedman’s missed pinch at the Calgary blue line gifted the Flames a 2-on-1 rush the other way, which Tyler Myers defended.
GOAL Calgary Flames – 1-1 tie: Mackenzie Weegar from AJ Greer and Elias Lindholm
DeSmith, who’d been playing excellent, was jobbed out of a potential shutout streak. Freidman, who’d erred with the blue line pinch, did well to get back into the play but took his foot off the gas at the wrong moment. After reaching the Canucks’ blue line, Friedman stopped skating to take away the pass to Greer in the slot.
Communication was not a strong suit of the Canucks on the play, as Myers froze trying to figure out if he or Friedman should be taking away the Weegar option on the left wing. The hesitation from both Canucks defencemen allowed Weegar the time and space to wire Greer’s pass over DeSmith’s blocker side.
It was a tough one, but it wasn’t egregiously bad from Myers.
In fact, earlier in the period, Myers was playing cool, calm, and collected hockey, controlling his gap well, negating rush chances with his stick, and generally not being too aggro in the offensive zone.
Late late late into the period, Martin Pospisil threw his shoulder into J.T. Miller, knocking the 30-year-old dangerously into DeSmith’s net, head first.
Miraculously, no Canucks skater took a penalty for the post-whistle scrum that ensued.
But, as our “don’t comment on the refs” section insinuated, it was baffling that Pospisil did not get assessed an interference penalty for the reckless bump.
The first five minutes of the middle frame saw both teams taking advantage of the other thanks to the long change. While the Canucks elected to look for tips and redirects off of point shots, the Flames kept it very simple, opting just for shots on DeSmith from the perimeter.
The Canucks best chance came from the birthday boy Linus Karlsson, who kept it simple: fighting for the puck behind Markstrom’s net before evading his check with a drive toward the right circle to curl a shot on goal.
Midway through the period, Tyler Myers flubbed a clearing attempt, accidentally passing the puck right to the tape of Adam Ruzicka’s stick, resulting in a shot off the crossbar.
After a lengthy run of broken plays from both teams, Dillon Dube broke the stalemate with a goal on DeSmith that only a mother could love.
GOAL 2-1 Calgary Flames: Dillon Dube from Rasmus Andersson and Elias Lindholm
It was a particularly rough shift for Noah Juulsen, who began the sequence getting away with a boarding penalty against Dube before failing a clearing attempt by gifting the puck back to Dube. The Flames then cycled the puck over to Rasmus Andersson, activating down the right wing for a shot on DeSmith. DeSmith thought he had the puck in the crook of his elbow, but the puck came loose, allowing Dube to get the last laugh on Juulsen with the tap-in.
Worst “seems bad.”
The game fell apart for Vancouver in the second period. The final ten minutes were a nonstop barrage of chances for Calgary on DeSmith. Most concernedly, the Canucks could not track the puck to save their lives; Chris Tanev looked ten years young, wheeling and dealing the puck around the offensive zone.
The Flames’ rotations were too much for the Canucks to handle, and the result was the Canucks getting outshot 17 to 5 over the middle frame.
At the very least, DeSmith was game.
Though the puck was likely sailing through the crease, DeSmith’s stretch save on Ruzicka’s tap-in opportunity was slick.
Unfortunately, frustration settled in with the Canucks’ top players. Filip Hronek got into a scrum with Martin Pospisil behind the play to push the game to a 4-on-4 state.
The Flames continued their unrelenting pressure down the stretch. A dog-tired Canucks group could only stand and watch as Noah Hanifin drove down the right wing to score his third goal of the season.
GOAL – 3-1 Calgary Flames: Noah Hanifin from Blake Coleman and Elias Lindholm
Maybe the pressure of passing Bobby Orr’s record for most assists by a defenceman in his first 300 games got to Hughes because, in the dying seconds of the second period, Hughes took an uncharacteristic second penalty.
Worst most boringest start of a comeback ever
You know, respect to all the degenerates out there that watched the Canucks energy-less second period and said, “You know what? 2nd leg of a back-to-back, be damned! I think they can pull it off! I don’t care what Dom’s model says! The comeback is a good value bet here!”
Unfortunately for the degen-crowd, the Canucks comeback was not a value bet.
After five minutes of broken plays and nothingness, Jonathan Huberdeau broke his 11-game scoring drought to make it 4-1 for Calgary with a filthy top-shelf snipe.
GOAL 4-1 Calgary Flames: Jonathan Huberdeau from Mikael Backlund
Best “In Hög we trust”
The hockey gods saw me praising the games of Lafferty, Karlsson, Höglander, and Myers because not long after Huberdeau’s goal, the Big Hög tipped a Myers point shot underneath the crossbar to put the CAnucks back within reach.
Vancouver Canucks GOAL – 4-2 Flames: Nils Höglander from Tyler Myers and Sam Lafferty
Martin Pospisil then chopped DeSmith’s stick out of his hands to send the Canucks to a late power play opportunity. Conor Garland then got a look at the team’s first power play unit, where he immediately took a tripping penalty to end the team’s man advantage.
For the Hög-heads in the chat, you’d be pleased to learn that Höglander’s strong play at 5v5 earned him a lengthy look on the extended 4-on-4.
Best confirmation bias for Dom Luczyszyn
I’m fired for posting this GIF, aren’t I?
In case The Athletic wants to base their entire evaluation of a player on one GIF, I hope they at least remember that Hughes had played 29:24 of TOI in the club’s overtime win against the Islanders the previous night.
Hughes’ 23:27 of TOI against Calgary put him up to 52 minutes against top competition over two nights.
That’s a lot of work for a 3B-Tier d-man!
Tocchet pulled DeSmith for the extra attacker, but an Elias Lindholm empty-netter killed any hopes of a miraculous comeback.
[insert demoralizing GIF of the goal here]
Best “get your sunglasses because we’re in for a brighter tomorrow.”
Even the most well-run sports organizations cannot avoid the crushing lows that are part of the cyclical nature of team success.
The St. Louis Blues made the playoffs for 23 consecutive years before violently bottoming out. During that time, they drafted Alex Pietrangelo and Erik Johnson with top-5 picks while making another nine picks in the first two rounds over three years spent in the NHL’s basement. After six years of making the playoffs, the Blues bounced back from a playoff miss to finally secure gold with a Game 7 Stanley Cup victory over the Boston Bruins in 2019. Not three years after their cup victory, the club is amid a retool-on-the-fly, where they just drafted three times in the first round at this most recent NHL Entry Draft.
After spending the bulk of the aughts in the league’s basement, the Los Angeles Kings overcame drafting just three times in the top 10 over ten years to build a team through the later rounds of the draft that won two cups in three years. After flip-flopping playoff trips with quarterfinal losses, the Kings engaged in a wholesale firesale of their cup-winning roster, only retaining Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, and Anze Kopitar. The club drafted ten times in the first two rounds over three years, including 2nd overall Quinton Byfield and 5th overall Alex Turcotte. The club then jettisoned most of those high-pedigree drafted players for win-now pieces after hitting early on the upswing of the “team success cycle.”
The Vancouver Canucks went from back-to-back President’s Trophy winners—including a trip to the cup final whose results were lost in a mysterious fire and did not damage a market’s psyche at all—to the league’s laughing stock. The franchise went from the most aggressively hated in the league for their dominance and depth to being pitied by practically every fanbase not based out of Toronto. Over ten years, the club drafted five times from the top 10 while actively telling the market that the goal was an immediate return to the playoffs. From 2014 to 2019, the club drafted 12 times in the first two rounds.
Heading into Thursday night’s game against Calgary, two of those players were tied 1st in NHL points, one was tied 1st for NHL goalscoring, one led all goaltenders in goals saved above expected, and the other was plying his trade on a fourth-line under his fifth head coach in three years across two leagues. The other nine players drafted in those first two rounds are either plugging along in the AHL, out of the league entirely or were traded to other teams and have since found success as stars for their respective franchises.
It’s been a long decade for Canucks fans; long have they waited for a return to the upswing track of the ol’ “team success cycle.”
“What the hell are you building to, Cody?”
At the risk of doxxing a glorious time capsule of Canuck Fandom. I found one Canucks fans’ Geocities blog, last updated after the 1996-97 Canucks season.
For the youths: Geocities was one of the original free web hosting services born in the dot-com bubble of the early-to-mid 1990s. Geocities was the predecessor to future blog sites like Angelfire, LiveJournal, TypePad, and WordPress!
Now, where was I?
The 1996-97 season saw the Canucks miss the playoffs for the first time in six years. From 1987-1988 to 1996-97, the Canucks had made the playoffs in seven of those nine years, including a trip to Game 7 of the Cup Finals—whose results were lost in a mysterious fire and did not damage the market’s psyche at all. The disappointing 1996-97 season marked the beginning of a downswing in the team’s success cycle.
In one of his final weekly blogs aptly titled, “This sucks!!” Jon provided a comprehensive vibe check a few weeks before the end of the season, written in a tone that would have perfectly meshed with Canucks Twitter at any point over the last decade.
I had to include his closer because it reads like any frustrated, pessimistic, gallows-humour-loaded Canuck fan’s mindset ahead of any of the last nine of ten offseasons. Just sub out Mogilny or Bure’s names with Pettersson’s, and it may as well have been a rant lifted from any of my Stanchies pieces from last season.
We have the possibility of Alex Mogilny not returning to the team, Pavel Bure missing part of next season with that whiplash injury, and us Canucks fans get to look forward to another sub .500 season next year.I think I speak for most when I say: Being a Canucks fan sucks.
All of this is to say: I, once the most Jon-like evaluator of this club’s future outlook, genuinely believe that the Canucks are done with the perpetual suckage and that they are a team on the upswing of their success cycle.
Hopefully, Jon powered through Messier-era to witness the West Coast Express and Sedin-led Canucks teams of the 2000s.
Hopefully, Jon survived 2011, the last decade, and is with us now to witness Quinn Hughes’ challenging Bobby Orr’s records in this new beginning.
Hopefully, for people like Jon, this cycle ends a bit differently this time.
Yes, the loss to Calgary didn’t exactly lend to the optimism of a brighter tomorrow the same way the 16 games that preceded it had. But there is no way Thursday’s loss can suck any worse than all of the suck that preceded it.
For the first time in a while, it doesn’t suck to be a Canucks fan.
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