The Stanchies: Casey DeSmith’s 37 saves and Nils Höglander’s two points star in gutsy 4-3 victory over the Oilers

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Cody Severtson
6 months ago
So, let’s recap.
In spite of Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek’s gasoline dousing on the market ahead of their season opener — RE: Conor Garland demanding a trade and the organization being iffy on Elias Pettersson — the Vancouver Canucks organization kickstarted their 2023-24 season with the following:
Their NHL squad throttled a consensus cup contender 8-1 at home, with Brock Boeser scoring four goals, Quinn Hughes scoring three points, J.T. Miller scoring four points, Thatcher Demko posting a .955 save percentage despite being ill with the flu, and Elias Pettersson notching a goal and three assists.
Their AHL team opened their season with back-to-back wins on the road on the backs of Tristen Nielsen notching an assist and a hat-trick, Arshdeep Bains scoring four points, Vasili Podkolzin scoring two goals, and Aidan McDonough scoring his first AHL goal, with Jack Rathbone and Cole McWard featuring on-ice for four goals for and none against at 5v5.
Ty Young won five of his first seven starts with the Prince George Cougars, including a 37-save performance against the Swift Current Broncos.
Tom Willander recorded a goal and an assist in his NCAA debut with Boston University on a pairing with fellow Canucks’ prospect Aidan Celebrini, who notched two points himself.
D-Elias Pettersson was loaned to the HockeyAllsvenskan, where he’s notched four assists in four games for Västerås IK while playing 19+ minutes a night.
Hunter Brzustewicz and Kirill Kudrayatsev are 2nd and 8th in OHL defenceman scoring.
Last but not least, Jonathan Lekkerimäki recorded a goal and two assists in Orebro HK’s last two games, bringing his points total to 7 through 10 games, first among U23 skaters in the SHL.
We knew the org was desperate for a solid start to the season, but we didn’t realize that extended down the depth chart to the prospect pipeline, too! Heck, despite entering the ‘Ross & Rachel’ tier of  “will they/won’t they” drama RE: Elias Pettersson’s future, the vibes in Rain City have been f****** immaculate.
When Wyatt asked me to provide backup duty after Wednesday’s 8-1 victory, I fully expected to cover a crushing defeat. Fortunately, despite getting shelled 40-16 on the shot clock, Patrik Allvin’s roster additions came up huge for Vancouver, gifting Quinn Hughes the greatest birthday gift of all: two straight victories.
Let’s get into the action and try to secure a GIF-money contract!
Best available lineup
Worst start
The Oilers came out hot and heavy against the Canucks, as if sensing that Wyatt Arndt, too, was on IR. The Chaos Giraffe, Tyler Myers, went to work early with a backhand pass inside the d-zone to pretty decent goalscorer Leon Draisaitl.
The Canucks struggled to get their heads in the game, and despite Casey DeSmith doing DeBest that he could, a second lapse in coverage saw DeSmith DeScrambling (sorry, I will stop this bit eventually) as the Canucks frantically hunted for the puck around his crease. Unfortunately, it was Draisaitl alone at the left side of the crease for the tap-in goal.
The early lapse saw Tocchet briefly shake up the d-pairings. Myers was moved off his pairing with Ian Cole to a pairing next to Akito Hirose. Cole slid beside Filip Hronek while Noah Juulsen bumped up to a pair with the birthday boy, Quinn Hughes.
The Oilers didn’t take the foot off the gas either. Off the faceoff, Evander Kane drilled Hronek hard into the end-boards while executing a retrieval.
It took the Canucks a long time to get into a groove. Elias Pettersson even acknowledged it post-game.
“Yeah, they came out hot. It was a bit of a wake-up call for us that it was going to be a tough game.”
The best that could be said about the opening 10 minutes is that J.T. Miller and Phil Di Giuseppe combined on a speedy chip-and-chase to almost accidentally score.
Five minutes deep, Hronek was dinged for holding Dylan Holloway, prompting an Oilers power play opportunity.
The Oilers’ oh-so-menacing power play tested DeSmith early with shots. After audibly yelling for a reset in their d-zone structure, Jimothy Timothy picked off an Evan Bouchard drop-pass to lead a shorthanded rush.
Moments later, DeSmith played DeHero (again, I promise I’ll stop this bit eventually) with a phenomenal glove save on Draisaitl.
The Canucks’ revamped penalty kill: 1
The Oilers’ stale, boring, and allegedly “elite” power play: 0
Best rebound
After stonewalling the Oilers’ power play and recording one shot of their own on goal through the first nine minutes, the Canucks started to find their stride. First, Miller fired some energy into the bench with a neutral zone hit on Draisaitl.
Then, it was Tyler Myers making up for his earlier blunder, drawing a holding penalty against Zach Hyman to give the Canucks their first power play opportunity of the game.
Then, believe it or not, someone NOT named Brock Boeser (Andrei Kuzmenko) knotted things at one with a fantastic tip on a Hughes point shot.
It was genuinely refreshing to see the Canucks moving the puck and their bodies around the offensive zone to find shooting lanes. Gone is the stagnant “role-playing” power play of old. In, is the highly mobile power play unit where every guy is ready and available to play the bumper, slot, point, net front, and one-timer.
The Canucks’ super mobile elite power play: 1
The Oilers’ super stagnant, bad, and lackadaisical penalty kill: 0
Best accountability, structure, and habits
The Oilers came out firing to start the game. Sportsnet had the shot clock at 9-1 for Edmonton after nine minutes of play. The back half of the period saw the Canucks weathering the Oilers’ rush chances but holding them to just four shots on net.
A major talking point of Tocchet’s ahead of this road trip was the desire to see his group prove that they can overcome and weather adversity. Game 1 saw the club fight a nasty flu bug to dominate a cup contender. Game 2 saw the club face an onslaught of chances early, only to finish the period up on the scoreboards. A far cry from the Canucks of 2022-23, who would collapse like a dying star after the slightest pushback.
Best “cup or bust” mentality
Not 10 minutes following a clip on the broadcast of Connor McDavid expressing his “cup or bust” outlook on the Oilers season, Nils Höglander put the Canucks ahead, tipping a point shot from Brock Boeser.
The goal came off a dominant shift spent inside the offensive zone with JT Miller and Jack Studnicka. At first, the Canucks looked to be losing the zone after a rim around the boards ricocheted off of Myers’ skate. Fortunately, goalscoring phenom Brock Boeser raced toward the blue line and hammered the nearly-out puck toward Stuart Skinner.
  1. We love to see Höglander rebounding from a rough sophomore season.
  2. We love to see Brock Boeser firing pucks at the net like he did in his rookie campaign.
  3. We love to hear a dead-silent Rogers Place.
  4. We love to hear the Oilers home crowd booing their team at the conclusion of the first period.
Worst interference assessment
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But getting the hands up for even a fraction of a second on the fastest player in the NHL is going to get you dinged for a penalty.
Down Dakota Joshua, one of the team’s better penalty killers, the Oilers put in work to even the score. An unfortunate failed clearing attempt from Noah Juulsen gave way to a scramble in front of DeSmith’s crease and McDavid’s first of the year.
A lesser ref would have blown the play dead the second that puck disappeared under Ian Cole’s prone body.
Sadly, those refs were not in Edmonton on Saturday night.
The Oilers’ pretty okay power play: 1
The Canucks’ revitalized, revamped, and aggressive penalty kill: 1
Best response
Determined to prove to Canucks nation and armchair evaluators everywhere that they’re different this time, the Canucks immediately responded to the Oilers’ equalizer with a nasty tiebreaker goal from Jack Studnicka.
The things we loved about Studnicka’s goal are pretty obvious. The obvious is how it was Studnicka to score. He was an emergency recall from Abbotsford after being demoted to the AHL following a decently impressive training camp and preseason performance.
The second thing we loved about the tiebreaking goal was Elias Pettersson’s unselfish move to hand off to Studnicka and run a subtle interference on the backchecking Darnell Nurse to ensure the shot. It might not seem like much, but it was a fantastic little “eat the hit to make the play” moment from Pettersson. So much had been made about Pettersson’s weight in previous seasons. Here he was, tripped hard to the ice intentionally by Nurse and sluffing it off to celebrate.
Speaking post-game, Pettersson admitted he always thought “pass” during the 2-on-none race.
“Yeah, I was gassed,” Pettersson laughed. “I wasn’t sure who it was that was behind me, so I tried to go left [to Studnicka] for the finish, and he scored.”
We love it.
The Nurse slew foot/trip after losing the race on the tiebreaker goal? We did not love that.
Of course, Joshua’s interference was called, but a blatant dangerous trip from behind? Apparently, you can’t call that!
Best and worst of the 2nd period: Conor Garland edition
It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that Conor Garland’s third year with the Canucks’ organization has gotten off to a rocky start. Despite his history with Tocchet, the trade speculation, the sub-10 minutes of ice time in their season opener, and sub-5 minutes of ice time during Saturday’s first period do not indicate that Garland is in good favour with the coaching staff.
Now, there could be something more at play here. We all know a brutal flu bug is going around the team, so this might be a load management thing. He could also be nursing an injury that requires prescribed minutes. Whatever it is, Garland has not particularly endeared himself with the fanbase yet, and this penalty against Leon Draisaitl, who tied the game at 3, did not help.
Granted, this is a dive.
I try to be objective and unbiased in my Farmies and Stanchies coverage. But the second Garland’s stick went between his legs, Draisaitl spun down to the ice like he was a Beyblade.
The Oilers’ fairly legit, elite power play: 2
The Canucks’ “doing their best” revamped penalty kill: 1

Worst momentum killer

Nugent-Hopkins’ power play equalizer appeared to remind the Oilers that they were capable of better. Edmonton outshot Vancouver 19-6 in the second period alone and were up 27-13 through 40 minutes.
The infamous TOI clock graphic made an appearance during the middle frame. An atrociously long shift for Noah Juulsen saw the hulking defenceman take an egregious high-sticking penalty on Connor McDavid.
The late power play saw JT Miller lose his stick, giving the Oilers’ first power play unit free reign to hammer DeSmith with dangerous chances. Fortunately, the Oilers’ puck movement saw them lose the zone, allowing the Canucks’ PK unit to change. Unfortunately, it was more of the same pressure from the Oilers’ second power play unit.
The pressure continued into 5-on-5 following the expiry of Juulsen’s penalty. Not one minute after Juulsen’s penalty, Connor Brown drew a roughing minor against Ian Cole to give the Oilers their fourth straight power play of the period.
Incredibly, the Canucks’ drew an interference minor against Draisaitl to stop the bleeding and turn the tide a bit.
With the man advantage, the Canucks turned the period on its head, with Pettersson nearly breaking the tie with a one-timer past an outstretched Skinner.
Best “undoing the curse of #18”
There’s not much we can say about Sam Lafferty’s first goal in the blue & white.
Cutting wide to beat Matthias Ekholm? That rocks!
Driving to the goal while wearing #18? That rocks!
Nils Höglander picking up his second point of the night with the primary assist? That rocks!
Not long after, the Canucks were back inside the offensive zone battling hard for position and breaking ankles with slapshots.
Speaking of jersey number curses, Höglander continued to work the stink out of ol’ number 21. First, the goal, then the assist, then it was the little things inside the d-zone, like blocking a slapshot before one-handing the puck outside the zone to allow for a line change.
Worst (best) strategy
The Canucks’ PK was tested midway through the third. First, Hronek took his second penalty of the night, high-sticking Zach Hyman. Then, Phil Di Giuseppe put the Canucks on a 40-second 5-on-3 after accidentally throwing the puck over the glass on a rinkwide clearance.
Fortunately, the Canucks’ PK trio did a fantastic job picking off the Oilers’ cross-ice passes to clear the zone. J.T. Miller was a force on the Canucks’ PK, single-handedly clearing the zone twice on the 5-on-3.
Upon Hronek’s return, DeSmith made a save off his mask that rebounded out to Ian Cole for a successful zone clearance. Seconds later, Elias Pettersson drew an interference minor against Connor McDavid to end the Oilers’ power play.
Best strategy
Look, the Canucks didn’t rout the Oilers like they did in the season opener. No one actually expected them to put up another 8-spot on the Oilers at home. What was expected was the Oilers coming out hot and heavy to impress the home crowd, which they did! Seven power play opportunities, 41 shots, and three goals somehow weren’t enough to break the Canucks’ spirit. They fought back.
That 5-on-3 power play late in the third period would’ve been a backbreaker any other season. The 19-shot 2nd period featuring four-straight power play opportunities would have convinced last season’s roster to throw in the white towel on the season.
Not this season’s Canucks, baby!
The work ethic was through the roof. Three minutes of 6-on-5 pressure by the Oilers is daunting for even the best teams. The Canucks’ closers couldn’t seal the deal with an empty-netter, but they were in shooting lanes, blocking shots, and clearing rebound chances away from the slot. It was, dare I say, beautiful.
Through three periods, the Canucks collectively blocked 25 shots to the Oilers 9.
It’s clear which team has a “cup or bust” mentality and is willing to do everything it takes to win.
The Oilers could learn a thing or two from the Canucks’ level of structure, habits, and accountability.
Best opinion from a former Heritage Classic starting netminder 
Best snipe
Don’t worry, I’m not doing the Canuck ex-girlfriend, “look how well they’re doing without me!” thing. I doubt Tanner Pearson goes “2021 Toffoli” mode against the Canucks. He’s too nice for that. It’s simply nice to see one of the good ones excel after moving on from Vancouver. Especially one trying to rebound from a near-career-ending surgery.
Best additional generic good vibes!
Best Jersey Botch
Best post-game essential readings
Best Paterson Pontification
The Oilers’ absurd amount of power play opportunities skewed the ice time quite heavily against the Canucks’ non-PK skaters. That said, Tocchet gave Höglander four shifts in the third period, 3:11 in time on ice. Garland saw just three shifts in the third period for 2:14 in time on ice.
Concerning? Or simply something worth keeping an eye on?
Best Stanchies cameo to firmly establish the “goodest vibes.”
Best beginning(?)
The late, great Jason Botchford, whose unjust, unfair, and untimely passing is the only reason I’m here on Stanchies spot duty today. His final Athletties header read, “Best ending.”
Admittedly, it’s too early to say that things have finally started going the other way in Vancouver. Maybe I should save this bit for spot duty around the 20-game marker. But I might not get another chance to be this blissfully optimistic during Stanchies backup duty. So, I’m going to roll this line out now!
“That’s the way hockey in Vancouver is.
“Usually, this is the way it goes.
“But every once in a while, it goes the other way, too.
“I can’t wait for it to go the other way.”
I think things have started to go the other way.
I can’t wait for it to stay this way.

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