The Stanchies: Kuzmenko’s two goals and Tocchet’s tough love take Canucks to the top of the NHL standings

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchion
6 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks defeated the San Jose Sharks 7-4 on Saturday night.
That means heading into Christmas, the Canucks have a 23-9-3 record.
They have 49 points on the season, for first in the league.
They lead the league with a plus-46 goal differential.
Hell, they’ve even climbed up to second place in Drance’s favourite category, points percentage, sitting second at .700.
Now, we could talk about smoke and mirrors, we could talk about PDO, and we could talk about sustainable results, and we wouldn’t be in the wrong to do so.
But you know what?
Just enjoy it, man.
Drink it in, swirl it around your mouth, take note of the malolactic fermentation, the tertiary aromas, and the mouthfeel before spitting it back out with a grin on your face.
Because it’s been a hell of a season to watch so far.
That’s all that matters heading into the holidays.
If management does something crazy like trading away its future to go all in on this core? We’ll talk about it then.
The team goes on a 15-game losing streak death spiral? We will lean into the numbers and nod knowingly at each other about how inevitable this all was.
But until that happens, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Remember how, in 2011, Tanner Glass was the biggest point of contention in this city? Remember how easy life felt back then when Tanner Glass was the worst of your problems?
We’re rapidly approaching the point where the only critical conversation we need to have about the team is about the current goal song (it’s too smug for a team that’s never won a Stanley Cup; you can’t roll with that in the playoffs, I’m sorry, you know I’m right.)
I am actually sitting here typing up an apology form to Noah Juulsen, a player I openly questioned if he should be allowed in the NHL ever again. Yet here was his eighth solid game in a row, bringing a physical element to the team that you can legitimately say to yourself, ‘That should help the team in the playoffs.’
Up is down, down is up, but who cares? It’s been a blast, so let’s ride this out as long as we can.
Or, as Huey Lewis once said:
They say it’s alright
They say it’s alright
Say it’s alright
Have a good time
‘Cause it’s alright
Whoa it’s alright
Best don’t call it a Kuzback
You know what they call a spot on Elias Pettersson’s line against the San Jose Sharks?
An early Christmas present.
It’s also the perfect way for Tocchet to game the system with Kuzmenko in a PR battle.
You put him on the fourth line, and he doesn’t produce, you can go, “What did I tell you? This guy doesn’t get it.”
So you scratch him a few games, then give him that top 6 spot again, and if he performs?
“What a genius move by the coach. He motivated Kuzmenko and made him play better.”
If he doesn’t perform?
“Coach was right to drop him down the lineup; he can’t even produce with Elias now.”
Either way, Tocchet wins.
I do think Kuzmenko is a very good passenger player, but someone who can’t drive a line, so he will never be the guy who is going to juice a fourth line, adapting to a crash-and-bang lifestyle while still bringing a top-six skillset.
So it does come down to if Tocchet can get the offense we know exists in Kuzmenko to start flowing and if he can find a way to have Kuzmenko perform at a hustle level he deems appropriate.
Either way, I don’t think this works in Vancouver if Kuzmenko keeps having to “figure his game out” on the fourth line. At that point, just trade him for whatever you can.
We shall see where this takes us.
Best opening up the presents early
Speaking of offense, we know the kid can shoot with the best of them:
The Canucks opened up the scoring after Kuzmenko moved into the slot to find a loose puck and did the thing everyone screams and demands of a team on the powerplay at all times. Yes, instead of passing the puck off in an attempt to score the cutest goal of the year, he simply did a little curl drag and unleashed a perfect wrist shot.
This is the kind of offensive chance he will get playing with Elias Pettersson, which is why it’s so vital he starts converting these as much as possible. The only way to attain JT Miller-level immunity for bad backchecking (aka the Todd Bertuzzi clause) is if you produce so much offense that the coach will look the other way, even when you skate a casual one mph toward the bench for a line change.
The end result? The Canucks were up 1-0 on the San Jose Sharks, a team that we can actually say with a straight face this year that the Canucks should easily beat every time they meet up.
Best rules of the jungle
For some reason, if you decide to try and go full Hodgson on a breakaway and ring it around the boards or out of play, legally, people are not allowed to get mad about it:
At most, you can give a slight grimace to the missed net, but that’s about it.
However, if you come in and unleash a wrist shot in that situation? And the puck goes around the boards and out? You get that X-Pac Mason Raymond heat and it’s fully earned.
But you try to go bar down on a dapper clapper, fair beans to you; we can’t be upset over it.
Brock even does the stick tap to the ice just before the shot, almost perfectly mirroring the best goal scored in the NHL in 2012. That’s when you know a goal scorer is feeling it.
Best proof that gaming the system works
Guess two’s back? Back again? Twooze is back. Tell a friend:
As shown during the broadcast, Kuzmenko is one of the best tippers in the league, sometimes going as high as 30% at Cactus Club.
He practices it enough that Sportsnet will show you highlights of it during the game and put up graphics to go along with it. Anytime you get compared to Kreider or Pavelski, you know your woodwork is being admired.
It just felt like Kuzmenko simplified his game for the night. Just take shots, baby. No extra passing, no spinning around in a circle endlessly like your internet connection died; just put the puck on net. He didn’t quite match Elias Pettersson’s seven shots on the night, but the three from Kuzmenko felt like a marked improvement over his previous games.
Offensively, that is.
Defensively, it still feels like there is plenty of room for Rick Tocchet to get made about should he want to.
Best Captain Crunch
At least once a game, Quinn Hughes does a move where I tell myself, “he’s finally skated himself into too much trouble; I’d like to see Ol’ Quinn wriggle his way out of THIS jam!” followed very quickly by an “Ah! Well. Nonetheless.”
I was POSITIVE he had gone full Brent Sopel here and was trying to ride that blue line like a mechanical bull at the old Bourbon and was just about to give up a potential break the other way:
Not only does Quinn have to kick his foot out to corral a pass going wide, but he then calms it down enough to dangle past his check and produce a shot attempt that got tipped wide.
I haven’t run the numbers yet nor crunched them, but I am starting to think Quinn Hughes is good at hockey. Don’t quote me on that, but it’s a working theory I have right now.
Best white pads controversy
I think, in the blue and green jerseys, you can get away with all-white pads, but the Skate logo? That just screams black pads to me:
That goal clearly goes in because Granlund has full view of the puck, and not once does he lose it in a sea of black padding. He sees white all the way, he sees puck all the way, and he deftly tips the puck past Demko.
Was it a soft goal? No, it was a weird, unlucky goal. That kind of tip, that close to the goalie? That’s a hard shot to adjust to, where the puck suddenly veers up high towards the net. It’s like when you take your coffee from the Starbucks drive-through, and you’ve already moved the car ahead a few feet before you realize they got your order wrong.
Sometimes, you can’t go back and make the adjustment, so you just try and live with your disgusting oat-based drink.
Best small sample size
The Canucks then got caught scrambling in their own zone after Elias Pettersson turned the puck over with a bad clearing attempt:
Anytime Tyler Myers does a superman dive on a play, you quickly realize chaos fully took over.
This is also another odd goal on Demko, where it feels like he reads a backhand shot high, but it ends up going through his legs after he moves to his left to make his glove save attempt.
Does that goal go in on black pads? Of course not. Why would Hertl try a shot on black pads when he doesn’t know where the puck starts and stop?
But on those white pads, he opens up the legs of Demko and slides the puck right in to tie the game up.
Best Degeneration X
The Canucks continued their sloppy play, gifting a glorious chance to the Sharks with just under a minute left in the first period:
Hughes and Hronek chase behind the net, shattering the illusion that only Tyler Myers and a defensive partner of his choice are the only people who do this. It’s made even more confusing because Quinn is the guy who decided to jump up into double coverage, leaving Anthony Duclair wide-open in front of the net. Quinn Hughes isn’t allowed to make mistakes because the limit does not exist.
The limit does not exist.
The good news about this Canucks team is that when they blow leads against bad teams, they usually just march out and take it right back, which is what they did all night long. They bent here and there, and they looked bad enough that I began stockpiling a bunch of Die Hard references to try and spruce up an article about a soul-crushing loss, but they never broke.
Best who are we kidding here
Corolla Garland is a fantastic player. He has driven the third line into one of the best defensive lines in the entire league, and now they are adding scoring to their resume. We are now at the point where you might drunkenly argue at the bar that he’s now underpaid for what he does.
But there is one thing that he cannot do, and that is strike fear into the opponent’s heart with his shot:
Not only did the Sharks have no issue lining up to block his point shots twice in a row, but they also didn’t even flinch when the puck hit them. I wasn’t even sure if it had hit them at first, as I am used to players going full Embiid flopping when they get hit with a shot at times.
We’ve seen Elias Pettersson and JT Miller absolutely drop people with their shot. We even saw Kuzmenko almost murder a man with his one-timer.
But Conor Garland will never strike that kind of fear into his opponents, and that’s ok.
It’s like me knowing I can never walk through a crowded airport without people whispering “who’s that handsome man over there, which movie star is that??”
We just have to learn to live with these kinds of things.
Best he just Blue himself
Leg kicks are top-notch stuff but also bring to mind Mark Messier, so I struggle with how much to embrace them:
The Canucks did this a couple of times in the game, sitting back in the neutral zone, laying a trap by lulling the other team into a false sense of security, and then jumping up into the play to intercept a cross-ice pass.
In this case, they make the Sharks pay for it with the ultimate price, which sounds like something from the Hunger Games but is, in fact, just a goal against.
That’s a beautiful move by Blueger to not only have the confidence to try that pass but also to have the ability to pull it off.
I know PDO, sustainability, etc. etc. But I think it’s clear that the death-by-a-thousand-cuts ways of the past are clearly being improved by the healing-by-a-thousand-Band-Aids in the form of improving the bottom of the roster.
Remember when everyone screamed at the Benning Era not to spend millions of dollars on the bottom six and not to pay people tons of money just because Ovechkin carried them to a Cup win?
One of the absolute vital parts of winning in a salary cap world is having a pro-scouting department that can analyze and target players on cheap contracts that can come in and elevate the bottom of your roster.
You should constantly be targeting undervalued players, bringing them in, and then shipping them out before they get overpaid before their next contracts. That is the cycle of life in the NHL salary cap world.
Best mixed messaging
Elias had seven shots on the night, so it didn’t feel like he was hesitating, especially on the powerplay:
That crisp, elegant passing that was missing when Kuzmenko left the first unit powerplay was back in all its glory, even if it all resulted in a 1/4 performance on the night.
It at least looked like it was threatening to score a goal, which was a big upgrade over the unit when it had Hronek in place of Kuzmenko.
Best value trade
Speaking of some teams overpaying for intangibles while others look for real actual value, the Canucks continue to feast on the lean roast that is Sam Lafferty as he scored his ninth goal of the year to restore the two-goal lead:
Corolla Garland got a secondary assist on the shot from Ian Cole, leading to a variety of elves celebrating in the crowd, which then led to several people noting that the Canucks have gone from a Sea of Granlunds to a Wave of Garlands:
The Canucks would then shut things down and no longer allow any more goals and, wait, I’ve just been told this is wrong.
Best how do they keep getting away with this
The good news is Kuzmenko wasn’t on the ice for the Sharks’ third goal.
The bad news is he was in the midst of a line change, so Tocchet might still find a way to get angry at him about it:
This is one of those ‘house of cards’ goals, not in the political TV thriller sense of the phrase, but in the fact that it feels like one mistake leads to another, eventually leading to the full collapse.
We have Quinn Hughes getting beat with a pass, so Hronek slides over to help out defensively. Höglander released Ferraro down the middle of the ice earlier in the play, but he thinks Hronek and Hughes have everything covered.
The problem is Nils doesn’t rock a Bird’s Eye loadout, so he doesn’t see Zetterlund sneak in from the blue line with his stealth vest on.
Meanwhile, JT Miller gives a Monday morning work effort to keep up with Eklund on the play, which leaves two extremely dangerous threats in front of Demko in the form of Zetterlund and Eklund:
Despite all this, Höglander almost prevents this goal by blocking the pass with his stick, but the puck just sneaks in under it.
Does Kuzmenko’s line change play a part in this goal? Sure does, because it meant someone jumping on the ice doesn’t have momentum in their favour.
Does JT Miller backcheck very hard after he jumps on the ice? Of course not. He has immunity.
So yes, a series of unfortunate events, which is a common cause of goals in the NHL, struck the Canucks two-goal lead back down to one again.
Best making Doctor Eggman proud
If you told me a two-on-one between Myers and Pettersson would end with the best scoring chance coming off of a Zadorov point shot rebound that EP40 just failed to put in, I would have fully believed you:
That’s just how chaos rolls, baby.
You think Chaos Giraffe is thinking “tap in” on that pass? No, no, no.
He’s thinking, “How do I get this puck to my fellow tall enthusiast for a point shot the other team never sees coming?”
That is the true mind of a giraffe.
Best of the Contraceptive Line
Yes, “that line” scored again:
Tyler Myers chipping that puck out at the start of this play should not be discounted. He chops that with an axe, and because he won his dexterity roll, the chaos goes in his favour, leading to the start of this rush.
Every member of the line touches the puck, and as it often does, it ends with Corolla Garland making a pretty pass for a tap-in goal.
Corolla Garland gets you where you need to go. It should be noted that this was at a point in the game where it felt like the Canucks were playing with fire and about to possibly squander another two-goal lead. Which speaks volumes about the state of the team that they have a third line they can use to settle things down out there.
Not JT Miller’s line.
Not Elias Pettersson’s line.
Corolla Garland and company.
Now look, we are clearly closing in on a crisis here. No, not the goal song, but the fact that the third line doesn’t have a universally accepted nickname yet. You can’t have a line that plays together this long and this effectively without naming them properly.
I’ve heard a lot of options, and none seem to fit quite right. I think any name based on size should be thrown out, it leans too heavily on low hanging fruit. You need a name that speaks to the lines’ abilities on the ice, not their height.
Which is why the Contraceptive Line is my new choice because I want car-themed names to start and end with Garland. He deserves that title.
But the line itself needs to be applauded for the way it can score, but also do so without making any mistakes. They can pump that net with the best of them lately, and you don’t have to worry about them ruining their lives while doing so.
The Contraceptive Line can be used to ensure the other team doesn’t bag one. It can also be used for the Canucks to score in a safe manner.
It could also lead to a bunch of wonderful endorsement opportunities with Trojan.
The possibilities are endless.
Which is to say, there is no limit. Something Coach Tocchet seemed to agree with.
“Right now, they are playing really well. They could be playing a lot higher in the lineup. That’s a hell of a goal with Garland and Dak to get us back in the game.”
Best comparison
Can’t argue with it.
Best at least make it look pretty
Pettersson to Mikheyev to Juulsen to Cole to Mikheyev to Cole to Pettersson:
Blackwood makes a high-end save on Elias Pettersson, but it again speaks to the depth of this team that Ian Cole and Noah Juulsen are getting involved in these quality passing plays.
Needless to say, that is not something we saw a lot of from the defense on this team in years past.
Not to be outdone, Demko then made a terrific save in the middle of the third period:
He didn’t go full Winds of Change on the goal, but that is still a very good pad save despite them being all white.
Tyler Myers then goes full Chaos Giraffe at the end of a 37-minute shift, where instead of dumping the puck back towards the Sharks zone, he decides he should hold onto the puck and try to outwait his opponent, which leads to:
He had a cross-ice outlet to Brock Boeser, or he could have flipped it back into the Sharks zone, but because”Chaos gonna Chaos,” he holds the puck and tries to be a little too cute against the forecheck.
This led to a faceoff inside their own zone, which led directly to the Sharks fourth goal.
Best consequences of our actions
The Canucks lose the draw, and MacDonald skates by Kuzmenko to once again pull the Sharks to within a goal:
That’s the kind of play where you find yourself looking at the bench to see if Tocchet is angry about the blown coverage.
Would this have consequences? At the end of the game, with a two-goal lead and an empty net, Kuzmenko didn’t see the ice, but that could just be a coach trying to seal a win with someone like Corolla Garland out on the ice.
Would the two goals be enough to curry favour with the coach?
Best question
What did Tocchet have to say after the game in regards to this goal?
“Listen, people make mistakes. I understand maybe he’s gotta protect the back door, but I don’t know if it was 100% his fault. I just told him, I wanna get him back out there…He’s a great kid. After the game, he came up to me and he apologized for a couple of things; I’m like, ‘just play.'”
I can confirm, there was no mention of Kuzmenko’s energy at any point in the point game presser. That’s a good sign for Kuzmenko.
Giving updates on energy levels is Rick Tocchet’s version of the passive-aggressive “Oh, you forgot to do the laundry?” question from your partner.
Maybe we are finally in the “build him up” stage of the complete reconstruction of Andrei Kuzmenko.
Best pew pew pew
The Canucks bounced back from this goal, and as I said earlier, it almost felt expected at this point that the Canucks should figure out how to beat this Sharks team:
The Canucks win a faceoff of their own, and Quinn Hughes dials in a shot that Pew Pew Suter easily forwards to his own phone, despite it being a long-distance call. Yes, sometimes I make telephony jokes that are just for me, folks.
The Canucks winning games due to their depth? That’s unpossible!
Yet here we find ourselves.
Best slow your roll
OK, look, anointing him a top 4 d-man is too much, but I will say for a player who was struggling early, to the point where it felt like he didn’t even belong in the NHL, Noah Juulsen has turned his game around tremendously:
Juulsen dominated the Corsi Wars on the night and, in the coaches’ words, deserves credit for putting in the work and figuring his game out:
“He really struggled early. I have to give him a lot of credit, because he’s really worked with Sergei and Footy on positions, puck decisions…and he just worked and worked. I have a soft spot for those kind of players. He didn’t pout. He came to work every day. His puck decisions have, to me, been really good. I thought he was probably our best defenseman tonight just in terms of calmness.”
And it’s true. Early in the season, Juulsen would hunt for big hits, make poorly timed risky pinches, or simply look unable to complete a basic pass. I openly wondered what the team saw in him.
Luckily, I am an idiot, and one who can admit I got it very wrong, as Juulsen has provided tremendous value over the last month.
Will it last? Will he continue to improve? We shall see.
But even if this is the peak of his NHL career, we do, in fact, have to give him credit for going back to the drawing board and finding a way to adapt his game.
And yes, watching him hunt out these big hits now is very much a “clever girl” type reaction from me. He is the most entertaining heavy hitter on the team.
Not the huge Raffi Torres, “OMG, is that a suspension? I think he took brass knuckles out and punched him” type of visually exciting hits. But in those slow, heavy chonky hits where you can see a guy hit the boards and just come to a complete stop. All of their momentum has ended abruptly and you know all of that kinetic energy transferred painfully into the organs of said player.
He delivers the kinds of hits where if that lands on you in beer league, you need a second to ponder if hockey is really worth it as you kneel on the ice to get your bearings back.
Best three point shot
You know who you send out to ice the game? Quinn Curry:
Or Pirlo Hughes.
Pick your sport, it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is, of course, Quinn Hughes can shoot an arcing shot from space right into an empty net, no problem.
Best checking in with old friends
Oh no, Jordan Binnington will forever be immortalized because of Bedard’s Michigan goal; whatever shall we do?
Why is it always the good ones that suffer the most?
Best ornament of the night
And with that, we here at Canucks Army wish you a merriest of the holidays. We hope your food is tremendous, the gifts perfect, and the time with friends and family is rich and rewarding.
Rest up because we get to argue and yell at each other on the 28th.
See you beauties soon.

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