I Watched This Game: Anders Nilsson steals a win with 33 saves for the Canucks

Canucks 4 - 1 Lightning

Pass it to Bulis

There are two versions of Anders Nilsson. There’s the version that let’s in a goal within the first five minutes of the game, often on the first shot. That version of Nilsson is a trainwreck and will get blown up with soft goal after soft goal. He should be pulled immediately after allowing that first goal.

If Nilsson manages to go five minutes without allowing a goal, however, something bizarre happens: he becomes nigh-unbeatable. I don’t have any statistics on this, but I swear his save percentage must be around .965 when he doesn’t allow a goal in the first five minutes.

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The Canucks got the good Nilsson in Tampa Bay. Like a D&D player with weighted dice, he made nearly all his saves, starting with 16 in the first period on 17 shots. That first period goal was the only one that got past him; he turned aside every other shot he faced.

For most of the game, it seemed like it wouldn’t matter. Not only were the Canucks unable to score, they barely even threatened to score. With 10 minutes left, the score was still 1-0 Lightning, and that’s the way it would remain.

Then the Canucks’ offence suddenly came to life, and it happened courtesy of their two youngest players: Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. It wouldn’t have been possible to bring the offence to life, however, without Nilsson keeping the team on life support for the first 50 minutes of the game.

I could barely believe it when I watched this game.

  • You couldn’t blame the Lightning for being a bit rusty, since they were playing just their second game of the season. Including the preseason, the Lightning had just played one game in the last 11 days. Except the Lightning weren’t all that rusty: they out-attempted the Canucks 75-to-49. They just couldn’t score.
  • You’ll notice the slight difference in shot locations between the Lightning and Canucks. While the Lightning’s shots were all over the slot, the Canucks’ shots were, like Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, juuuust a bit outside.

 

 

  • A big chunk of those shot attempts hit Canucks instead of the net. Alex Edler alone blocked a whopping eight shots. At some point the Canucks need to strap some goalie pads on Edler and just let him fulfill his true passion.
  • Just like last season, the pairing of Edler and Chris Tanev is getting crushed in puck possession. Part of that is their usage — the pair started just one shift in the offensive zone at 5-on-5 — but part of it is that they’re just not very effective at moving the puck out of the zone when paired together. You have to wonder if Travis Green and Nolan Baumgartner will eventually split them up again, if only to prevent them from shattering their shin bones into dust from blocking so many shots.
  • Erik Gudbranson didn’t look great on the Lightning’s lone goal, and when you’re as handsome as Gudbranson, that’s not easy to do. He got beat to the outside by Tyler Johnson to start off the play, but at least kept him from driving to the net. Johnson’s backhand shot created a scramble in front of the net, and Gudbranson ended up standing in the crease watching the puck instead of finding his man, Brayden Point, who put back the second rebound off Nilsson’s blocker.
  • The power play saw an interesting development: Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson played for an entire two-minute power play at one point in the second period. That could be dismissed as happenstance, but then Boeser stayed on with both units on the power play later in the third period and it began to look like an intentional attempt to get Boeser going. Which is, y’know, advisable.
  • The power play fizzled in this game, actually. During a 5-on-3, they couldn’t even manage a shot on net, and they struggled to create any truly dangerous chances. It’s starting to look like the power play is suffering from only having one right-handed shot: when Pettersson has the puck, Boeser is the only threat to one-time the puck, which makes things easier for the penalty kill to defend.
  • For the second game in a row, Pettersson led Canucks forwards in 5-on-5 ice time. That’s partly because the Canucks were trailing for most of the game, so Travis Green took a chance on giving his offensive players more time to score, but also because Pettersson is not-so-secretly becoming the Canucks’ first-line centre.
  • After a give-and-go with Nikolay Goldobin, Pettersson cut to the net but lost control of the puck and had it poked away by Vasilevskiy. Pettersson wasn’t happy with himself and show how he’s acclimatized to living in Canada by beaver-tailing for the puck. A few passes later and he was in the slot, tipping in Pouliot’s point shot for his fourth goal and seventh point in four games.

 

 

  • I admit, just before Pettersson scored, I thought to myself, “This is going to be the first game of Pettersson’s NHL career where he doesn’t record a point.” I should have known better.
  • Tyler Motte started this game on the top line with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Let’s never do that again. It looked like it might work during their first shift together, as Motte used his speed to chase down the puck in the offensive zone and get a cycle going, but then that line got repeatedly hemmed into their own zone. Once Sven Baertschi was returned to that line, it started clicking like the pen from Goldeneye: after three clicks, the puck exploded off Boeser’s stick into the back of the net.
  • It was a long time coming — not just the first three games of the season, but all of preseason and the many months since Boeser fractured his spine — but Boeser finally scored. Just over a minute after Pettersson’s goal, Baertschi pressured Alex Killorn along the boards and the Lightning forward coughed up the puck right into Boeser’s wheelhouse. Boeser, who has been criticized for being a little too reticent to shoot the puck this season, wasted no time: he immediately hammered it home like Thor flying to Asgard.

 

 

  • It helped that Bo Horvat veered into the shooting lane right as Boeser let the puck fly, taking Vasilevskiy’s eyes away at just the right time. Vasilevskiy never saw the puck leave Boeser’s stick and, at the speed it was traveling, he never had a chance to see it until it was in the net.
  • That goal was clearly a massive relief for Boeser, as he celebrated like he had just gotten a sponsorship deal from his favourite hair gel manufacturer.

 

 

  • In one minute and 10 seconds, the game changed completely. The Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy for the extra attacker with a couple minutes left and Shotgun Jake took advantage. Virtanen made a great read, stepping up on Nikita Kucherov at the blue line and picking off his pass. He easily scored and John Shorthouse shouted “Shotgun!” as the puck entered the net, officially taking #ShotgunJake mainstream.
  • More important than the goal for Virtanen is that he was on the ice at all. It’s a great sign for a young player when your coach trusts you to defend a one-goal lead in the final minutes of the third period.
  • Markus Granlund added another empty-netter, but no one shotgunned any beers for him. No one even sipped a dry martini. I guess #MartiniMarkus just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


 

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