Of all people, I didn’t expect Brad Richardson to be the one to deal such a devastating blow to the Canucks’ playoff hopes.
As a Canuck for two seasons, Richardson was a serviceable depth centre, who could kill penalties and occasionally fill in for an injury further up the lineup. It’s not that he’s the last person I would expect to score four goals in a game — he did have a hat trick previously in his career — but he was definitely pretty far down the list.
And yet, when the Canucks got dog-walked by the Arizona Coyotes of Phoenix in Glendale, it was Richardson, the depth centre, doing most of the damage. His unexpected dick trick gave the Coyotes their fifth-straight win, swept the season series for the Coyotes over the Canucks, and made it a lot more difficult for the Canucks to keep their playoff dream alive.
The Canucks are now five points back of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but it’s not just the points, but the other teams ahead of them in the race. The Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche occupy the Wild card spots and there are three other teams in between the Canucks and the playoffs: the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, and the Coyotes themselves.
On top of that, every other team has at least one game in hand on the Canucks, meaning they have fewer chances to pick up the points they need. These last two games against the Avalanche and Coyotes were critical for the Canucks, and they couldn’t come through.
In order to make the playoffs, the Canucks would need to go on an incredible run to close out the season and they just don’t look like a team capable of that kind of run right now. Possibly because they’re the type of team to allow Brad Richardson to score four goals.
- It’s pretty understandable that the Canucks looked a little tired: they just played an overtime game on Wednesday in which they were almost constantly chasing in the defensive zone. That’s what makes it a little odd that head coach Travis Green put his two most offensively creative wingers — Nikolay Goldobin and Brock Boeser — with Bo Horvat, who played a whopping 25:46 the night before. Horvat looked exhausted and it made the entire line less effective.
- Elias Pettersson, meanwhile, was matched with Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo. The trio dominated puck possession, but were unable to do much with that possession. Like Topher Grace and Venom, they just didn’t look dangerous together.
- Thatcher Demko got his first start since coming back from injury and didn’t have a great night, making just 19 saves on 24 shots. To be fair, he didn’t have a lot of support and this was his first loss in the NHL. It was the right call to get Markstrom some rest: he had already started 12 games in February.
- Alex Edler returned to the lineup and was put right back on the first power play unit. You might expect that to spark the struggling power play, but coach Newell Brown made the bizarre decision to throw a further wrench into things, taking Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser off the first unit. That’s not quite like having the chance to reunite the Beatles, but replacing Paul McCartney with Yoko Ono, but it’s not entirely dissimilar either.
- It was bizarre: Nikolay Goldobin, Alex Edler, and Elias Pettersson worked great together on the first power play unit, while Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo looked like spare parts. Pearson and Leivo have been good in their NHL careers at even strength, but have never done much on the power play.
- The power play went 0-for-3, makin them 1-for-21 in their last six games and 5-for-67 since January 2nd. That’s atrocious and the kind of performance that ought to make Brown a little nervous about his job.
- Richardson opened the scoring after the Canucks’ first power play, stepping out of the penalty box for a breakaway. As he came out of the box, he seemed to subtly interfere with Ben Hutton, the last man back for the Canucks, bumping him as he cut through the neutral zone. That might have been enough to throw Hutton off stride so Richardson would have the separation he needed on the breakaway.
- The Canucks quickly responded with a breakaway goal of their own when Ryan Spooner sprung Pearson with a great stretch pass. Pearson came straight off the bench in a change for Antoine Roussel, and he sent a snap shot just inside the post on Darcy Kuemper’s blocker side. It was nice to see the two newest Canucks connecting for a goal, partly because they’re making a combined $6.85 million and the Canucks need them to contribute.
Tanner showing off a nice shot. Spooner with the nice pass. It's still weird they're Canucks. pic.twitter.com/7ut6ITEhdn— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) March 1, 2019
- Less than a minute later, Richardson scored again to make it 2-1 on a bad angle goal that Demko will want back. A centring pass from Vinnie Hinostroza hit the side of the net and landed on Richardson’s stick. Demko, already stretching across to the opposite post, ended up half in the net with his stick on the ice like a bumper in mini golf: Richardson made the bank shot for the hole in one.
- Richardson could have had five goals: he tipped a point shot off the post in the second period. He wouldn’t be denied the hat trick, however, scoring shortly after in transition. Boeser didn’t look good on the goal, standing still as the odd-man rush developed, then stopped skating on the backcheck: he was coasting behind Richardson as he finished off Richard Panik’s pass. Unless you’re Lupe Fiasco, coasting is never a good look.
- A tough high sticking call on Antoine Roussel — he lifted Hinostroza’s stick at the blue line and Hinostroza was hit in the face by his own stick — gave the Coyotes a 5-on-3. Clayton Keller set up Alex Galchenyuk for a one-timer that Demko was far too slow to identify: by the time Galchenyuk was shooting, Demko had barely started his push across the crease. He’ll have to get quicker at identifying those plays.
- Roussel got some measure of revenge, scoring a goal of his own in the third period. On a 3-on-2 rush, Alex Biega dropped off the puck to Roussel, then drove up the middle, tying up Alex Goligoski’s stick along the way. That gave Roussel plenty of time for a wrist shot over Kuemper’s glove. He then tried to break his stick over his leg, perhaps in emulation of a famous celebration by the Canucks’ former fabulous Frenchman, Alex Burrows.
- That’s as close as the Canucks would get: Richardson scored his fourth goal of the game on a 2-on-1 when Biega couldn’t take away Hinostroza’s passing lane. Demko had no chance to stop Richardson’s tap-in. Richardson is the only Coyote other than Keith Tkachuk to score four goals in a game, as long as you ignore that they used to be the Winnipeg Jets, which is what the entire city of Winnipeg prefers.
- I can guarantee you this Coyotes fan didn't expect Richardson to score four goals. For whatever reason, he started stripping off a piece of clothing for each Richardson goal: by the fourth goal, he was down to just his skivvies. Thankfully, Richardson fell short of that fifth goal.
Fourth goal means the shirt comes off. We’re going to have to ask Richardson to stop because this guy doesn’t have much left. pic.twitter.com/AckQvsYzCS— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) March 1, 2019
- Loui Eriksson hasn’t scored in 16 games, but came awfully close in the third period, clanking the post on a shorthanded rush. Complaints about Eriksson seem almost quaint at this point. Canucks fans have seemingly resigned themselves to the fact that the highest-paid player on the team is a fourth-liner that can’t score. For a moment early in the season, it seemed like he might re-discover his offensive game on a line with Elias Pettersson; that’s gone completely out the window.
- On the other hand, if you evaluate hockey players by blinks per minute, Eriksson is elite. Well worth $6 million through 2022.
Look at Loui Eriksson blink! pic.twitter.com/3TO6GyvzI5— Dave Shumka (@daveshumka) February 28, 2019