The Farmies: Max Sasson’s two points, Klimovich’s playoff debut, and Nils Höglander’s show-stealing performance in Abbotsford’s first playoff victory
Photo credit:© Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
EDIT: The AHL changed the goal credit to Nils Höglander on the Canucks’ first goal overnight. Please forgive us for the incorrect attribution later in the recap. Unfortunately, the AHL doesn’t believe in good storylines like a rookie scoring two goals in his post-season debut. Alas, enjoy the write-up!
Wednesday night saw the return of playoff home games for the Canucks organization.
Though many would have preferred seeing Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko battling the likes of Edmonton, Vegas, or Los Angeles in Stanley Cup playoff action, it was the youth of tomorrow giving Canucks fans something hopeful to cheer for, this post-season!
The Abbotsford Canucks followed up their inaugural season with a wildly successful sophomore effort. Despite finishing with below-average special teams, the Farm attributed its sophomore success to its above-average even strength scoring rate and impressive shot-suppression metrics. Abbotsford tied the Bridgeport Islanders with the 9th-best rate of even-strength goals per game.
2022-23 AHL Season: Teams by even-strength scoring per-game
Across all situations (excluding shootouts), the Farm finished their campaign with the second-best rate in the league for shot suppression. Only the second-best team in the Conference, Hershey Bears, finished with a better rate of shot suppression. Not bad!
2022-23 AHL Regular Season: shots against (all situations)
Early on in the season, the Farm was suppressing shots like a top-3 team in the league, but their starting tandem of Collin Delia and Arturs Silovs struggled mightily to stop the puck.
2022-23 Abbotsford Canucks: Goalie split (first 10 GP)
After kickstarting the season with bottom-5, sub-900 goaltending, both Delia and Silovs caught fire. For Delia, his improved play earned him a full-time spot as the Canucks backup, while Spencer Martin returned to Abbotsford to re-find his game. Much to David Quadrelli’s excitement, Silovs earned himself several cups of coffee with Vancouver, acquitting himself very nicely, with a 3-2-0 record as a starter, a 0.909 save percentage, and 2.44 goals against average. Since returning to the AHL, Silovs added two more shutouts to his 2022-23 resume for five total on the season. An incredible sophomore season for the young Latvian, who’d barely played any games at all in the last two years.
After 76 games, the Canucks finished with a 40-25-3-4 record for fourth in the Pacific Division, earning home playoff dates for the first time in franchise history.
Additionally, with their finish, the Farm earned themselves a shot at redemption, rematching the Bakersfield Condors, the team that swept them during the 2021-22 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Canucks took their first step toward redemption when they blanked the visiting Condors with a 3-0 shutout. Nils Höglander shined, Spencer Martin continued his resurgence, Brady Keeper looked stable as a table, and the little Belarussian that could, Danila Klimovich, got his first taste of AHL playoff action and did everything he could to make his minutes count!
Let’s take a look at the stats and the highlights from Abbotsford’s first AHL home playoff game and make some GIF money!
The starting lineup
Heading into the game, the head-to-head showed a clear advantage for Abbotsford over the Condors, especially on special teams! Over their four-game season series, the Canucks’ power play and penalty kill performed well above average against Bakersfield.
Fortunately, the refs were on Abbotsford’s side, with the linesman setting the tone early with a crushing hit against Bakersfield from inside the d-zone.
We joke. The first period was marked by lots of dump-ins and quick shifts from both teams as each searched for their preferred matchups.
Four minutes into the period, Brady Keeper generated Abbotsford’s first chance of the game with a stretch pass out of the d-zone that sprang Nils Höglander and Kyle Rau into the Condors’ zone for a 2-on-1.
Seven minutes into the period, a scramble in the neutral zone sent Bakersfield’s Raphael Lavoie racing into the offensive zone on a breakaway and an awkward shot into Spencer Martin’s pads.
After a mad scramble in the crease, the puck appeared to cross the line and was deemed a good goal. Then, the goal was called back after it was deemed that James Hamblin had kicked the puck into the net after Martin lost possession.
Off the ensuing draw, Jack Rathbone sent a suicide pass through the neutral zone to Max Sasson, leading to a brutal head-to-shoulder collision with Greg McKegg.
Sasson left the game after being split open but would return shortly after!
Unfortunately, both teams exchanged dump-ins, icings, giveaways, and fruitless breakaways for the next eight minutes. It was a weird and uneventful start to Abbotsford’s first-ever home playoff date.
With four minutes left in the period, the Canucks generated their second chance of the game off a Noah Juulsen one-timer blocked by Bakersfield’s Brad Malone. Jett Woo, playing on the left side of Juulsen, wound up on the receiving end of a fortunate rebound off Malone’s skate, wiring a shot off Calvin Pickard’s glove.
The first twenty finished with Abbotsford and Bakersfield trading even with 5 shots apiece at 5v5, and Abbotsford edging Bakersfield in scoring chances 3-1.
It was bad.
Mercifully, Nils Höglander kickstarted the second period with an incredible solo effort to set up the game’s first goal of the night.
First, Höglander takes Rau’s pass through the neutral zone and one-hands the puck off the wall to shake his check. Höglander then muscles his way past Markus Niemelainen along the right wall before cutting through three Condors’ skaters for a shot from the slot. Högs then works toward his rebound, but Max Sasson is there to backhand the rebound over the diving Pickard to give Abbotsford the 1-0 lead.
Höglander’s effort to open the scoring caused the Abbotsford Centre to erupt, rightfully so after that f*****g terribly-dull first period.
Moments later, Rathbone had his second egregious error with the puck, backhanding the puck from behind the goal line while under pressure from Greg McKegg.
Fortunately, ex-Canuck Justin Bailey picked up the giveaway and spun the puck out of Bakersfield’s possession, but it was a bad play that was surely noticed by the Canucks management staff at the arena.
There wasn’t much time to lament Rath’s-boneheaded play as Nils Höglander picked up his second point of the night, assisting on a gorgeous tic-tac-goal for Max Sasson’s second of the period!
Six minutes into the game, Brad Malone ran into Spencer Martin hard well after the play, sending Abbotsford to the game’s first power play. Fortunately, Martin was okay despite being shaken up.
PP1: Wolanin, Rathbone, Nielsen, Dowling, Karlsson
Unfortunately, the Canucks’ power play struggled to find shooting lanes, with Condors’ defencemen selling out repeatedly to block shots. Justin Bailey recorded the only shot on goal during the Canucks’ man advantage.
Past the midway point of the period, the Condors’ fourth line absolutely waxed a Canucks fivesome featuring Christian Wolanin, Zach Giuttari, Aatu Räty, Tristen Nielsen, and Linus Karlsson. Karlsson picked up a holding minor to send Abbotsford to their first penalty kill of the game after an exhausting near-two-minute shift spent inside the d-zone.
Like Bakersfield before them, the Abbotsford Canucks’ PK did an excellent job taking away shot opportunities, holding the visitor to just a single shot on Martin.
The Höglander show continued into the late stages of the middle frame, drawing a tripping penalty against Jason Demers to give Abbotsford their second power play of the game.
The first power play unit dominated, playing 1:30 of the final 1:45 of the period, with Rathbone and Karlsson registering multiple blistering one-timers on Pickard.
The Canucks finished the second period having outshot the Condors 7-5 at 5v5, 12-7 overall.
Sensing that David Quadrelli was falling asleep in his couch watching the game, Spencer Martin woke him up with a fantastic blocker save on James Hamblin less than one minute into the final period.
Something, something, “coming out to challenge the shooter!”
Something, something, “quick shuffles!”
Or something. I don’t know; I don’t do “goalie stuff.”
For real, though. After the near-goal from Hamblin in the opening period, Martin was dialled in for Abbotsford. Sharp on his rebound control, spotting shooting lanes through traffic and steering aside distance shots clear into the boards.
Through much of the first ten minutes, the Canucks controlled play effectively. At one point, Malone found himself on a rare breakaway behind Abbotsford’s defence, only to send his shot attempt nowhere near Martin’s net.
At the midway point, Tristen Nielsen took a hooking penalty to give the Condors their second power play of the game. Again, the Canucks’ PK did a marvellous job denying shooting lanes, blocking shots, and clearing the zone.
After leaving the penalty box following a successful Abbotsford PK, Nielsen raced into the offensive zone for a fantastic spin-o-rama shot on goal.
Despite not having not played much at 5v5, Danila Klimovich contributed when and where he could during his first taste of AHL playoff action. With six minutes left in the game, Klim drew a cross-checking penalty against Seth Griffith to send the Canucks to their third power play.
Klim’s minor contribution paid off, as just six seconds into the power play, Jack Rathbone fired a missile over Pickard’s left shoulder to give the Canucks a 3-0 lead.
Not long after drawing the Griffith penalty, Klimovich drew his second penalty of the game to give the Canucks a fourth power play with less than three minutes in the game. While the stat sheet for his AHL playoff debut won’t be pretty, drawing two penalties in the final ten minutes of a tight game won’t go unnoticed by the head coach.
The Canucks late power play didn’t generate much in the way of chances. But the Canucks did an excellent job of holding the zone, denying Bakersfield any hope of pulling Pickard for the extra attacker and eventually shutting out their opponent to secure their first win in franchise history.
The Abbotsford Canucks’ held the Condors to just 9 shots in the third period, outshooting Bakersfield 19-18 at 5v5 and 30-21 across all situations.
Canucks Army Three Stars
- Max Sasson: 2 goals on 2 shots
- Spencer Martin: 21 saves, second shutout of the season
- Nils Höglander: 2 assists and 2 shots on goal
Honourable mention: Jack Rathbone for his power play goal and team-leading 5 shots on net.
- Max Sasson recovering from a gnarly hit off a suicide pass to score two clutch goals was a great storyline. Sasson looked impressive on a line with Höglander and Rau, smart along the walls and the forecheck. If he moves his feet more off the rush, he could be someone to watch at the next Vancouver training camp.
- Jack Rathbone started the game with a few brutal giveaways in the d-zone, then recovered as his minutes piled up. It appeared as though Jeremy Colliton was hesitant to deploy Noah Juulsen and Christian Wolanin all that much during the game—Possibly because of their time off due to injury. Nonetheless, Rathbone and Keeper were very effective together in tough matchups, breaking up plays and confidently transitioning the puck into the offensive zone for their forwards.
- Speaking of Keeper, I had thought earlier this season that his pivoting would prevent him from being a lineup regular again. Fortunately, after a lengthy mid-season injury, Keeper returned to the lineup looking like a revitalized skater. Tonight, Abby fans saw what Keeper is capable of when his skating is at its best. Alongside Rathbone, Keeper was breaking up plays, sticking to Bakersfield’s forecheckers like glue, and even executing slick stretch passes to his forwards; an excellent playoff debut for him.
- Quiet night for Marc Gatcomb, as he appeared to be taken out of the rotation following a rough shift inside the d-zone early in the second period. Colliton began double-shifting Arshdeep Bains through much of the second and third periods to help reset his forward lines, and he performed incredibly well with the increased workload.
The Abbotsford Canucks return Friday at 7 PM PDT for their first chance at ending the Condors’ playoff aspirations.
We’ll have it all covered here at Canucks Army!
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