Near the end of November, Brendan Gaunce got on a roll, or at least as much of a roll as a defence-first, checking-line forward can get. He had 15 shots on goal in a four-game stretch, including a six-shot game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gaunce was driving the net, creating havoc and scoring chances around the crease in a way that he had never done at the NHL level before. He was playing so well that I felt comfortable making a bold prediction: Gaunce would score a goal before the end of November.
I was only three weeks off in my prediction. Only.
What is hilarious and sad in equal measure is that Gaunce didn’t even get a real shot on goal in this game against the Sharks. He was credited with just one shot, but the puck never touched his stick. He didn’t score a goal in 94 games, and when he finally did, it was an Erik Gudbranson shot that went off his skate and in. It’s the same way he scored his first goal in only his second NHL game: a Chris Tanev point shot went in off his skate.
Brendan Gaunce has two career goals, but has yet to score a goal on an actual shot.
Still, a goal is a goal is a goal, except scratch one of those, because he only has two. I watched this game.
- After having one of his best games of the season, Jake Virtanen might start using Brock Boeser’s sticks for the reason of the season. Virtanen borrowed one of Boeser’s CCM Jetspeed sticks (with a 90 flex) for this game instead of his usual CCM Super Tacks 2.0. I’m not a stick expert by any means, but from my understanding the Jetspeed is more of a shooter’s stick, designed to maximize the heaviness of the shot, while the Super Tacks 2.0 is more of an all-around stick.
- Was it the stick that cause Virtanen to have such a good game? I don’t know about that. Perhaps it helped his confidence, as he was more assertive with his skating and driving wide around defenders. He certainly seemed to love it in a way that might have made Boeser feel a little uncomfortable.
Jake talking about and showing off his Boeser stick like it's his prom date pic.twitter.com/jQCG4BiFkP— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) December 22, 2017
- The Canucks opened the scoring thanks to Virtanen’s powerful skating stride, as he went end-to-end and cut across the top of the offensive zone, putting the Sharks’ defence on their heels. He didn’t have room to get to the net, but stopped short of circling behind it, making a nifty pass out front instead. Aaron Dell jumped out of the way of the pass to avoid kicking it into his own net, but consequently took himself out of the play and was unable to stop the puck when Erik Gudbranson fired it off Gaunce’s skate and in.
- Gudbranson is the consummate teammate. He knew Gaunce needed a goal. That’s not just Gudbranson: that’s Goodbranson.
- Gaunce didn’t even know it was his goal. His first goal in 95 games and he didn’t even get to celebrate it properly. Poor guy.
- Nic “Well En” Dowd can’t stop taking penalties. He’s averaging a minor penalty every game since joining the Canucks and the Sharks scored on both penalties he took in this game. To be fair, the second one was bad luck and an unsympathetic linesman more than anything as the puck bounced up to his hand off a faceoff and he simply dropped it back to his stick. I don’t think that was the intent of the rule, which was more about players going to the ice to bat the puck back.
- There wasn’t much Jacob Markstrom could do about the Sharks’ first goal: it was a power play goal that came off a pass across the “royal road” and Joe Thornton treated it like the Rainbow Road and used the shortcut to get across the line in record time. Poor Markstrom missed the jump and had to be fished out of the sky by Lakitu.
- Apparently Sam Gagner and Jannik Hansen, like Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman, have beef. Their fight involved a lot less swordplay, but I think Gagner earned the power of self-respect.
- Alex Burmistrov got benched after Timo Meier’s 2-1 goal and he did have a bad shift leading up to the goal, but it was Brock Boeser attempting to blow the zone too early that left Meier wide open. Boeser wasn’t at his best in this one: shot attempts were 23-9 for the Sharks when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, the worst corsi percentage on the team. A bad game for Boeser is, like your confusingly cute cousin, pretty relative. He still had 4 shots, played over 21 minutes, and scored his 19th goal of the season.
- I feel like if I write about something being good, I’m practically guaranteeing that it’s about to fall apart. Case in point, I wrote about the power play succeeding without Bo Horvat. Cue up an 0-for-4 night, where at times it looked like it was the Sharks on the power play. On the other hand, they had 7 shots on goal, which isn’t too shabby, and the lousiest moments came from the second unit, which I warned might struggle without Sven Baertschi. I don’t know whether to pat myself on the back or kick myself in the butt.
- The penalty kill was always going to struggle without Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat, not because Horvat is particularly good on the penalty kill, but because he’s better than a lot of their other options. Without Ben Hutton, who is legitimately good at killing penalties, it’s been a gong show. They gave up three power play goals, although one was on a 5-on-3, to be fair. Sure, this is confirmation bias on my part, as Hutton might not have been able to exert any influence on the goals given up by the penalty kill, but most of the hate directed Hutton’s way is a result of confirmation bias the other way.
- After Thornton made it 3-1 on the power play, Virtanen had a response a couple minutes later at 4-on-4. He picked up the puck in the defensive zone and poured on speed like maple syrup on pancakes. He went flying by defenceman Tim Heed, drove to the net, then poked the puck through Dell’s legs instead of trying to cut across the front of the net. Like Big Audio Dynamite’s biggest hit, it was a fantastic rush.
- It was hilarious watching the Sharks try to defend Boeser leading up to his goal. Both Brenden Dillon and Tomas Hertl sprawled to the ice, trying desperately to block his shot, so Boeser didn’t shoot it. Instead he fed a short pass to Alex Biega, who skated the puck directly into Dell. The puck stopped, Biega didn’t, winding up with the wrong one of them in the net. Fortunately, Boeser went to his backhand with the rebound to make the puck join Biega over the goal line.
- After Hertle made it 4-3 on the 5-on-3, the Sedins chipped in with their contractually obligated secondary scoring. Loui Eriksson made a nice drop pass off the rush, then Henrik fed the puck across to Daniel for the one-timer, which pinballed off the post, off Dell, and in. The puck dribbled over the line like a basketball player telling crude jokes.
- Markus Granlund was benched for most of the third period, which was odd, but odder still was him starting for the Canucks in overtime. I honestly have no explanation for why Travis Green would sit Granlund for most of a period and throw him out cold for 3-on-3. I have less of an explanation for why Virtanen wasn’t on the ice to start overtime after he demonstrated what his speed can do 4-on-4. I have many questions, is what I’m saying.
- Poor Alex Edler ended up stuck on the ice for the entire overtime as the Sedins couldn’t get the puck out of the defensive zone and deep enough for a line change. Edler was clearly exhausted, and that was exacerbated by Henrik Sedin giving the puck away to Hertl when Edler was clearly expecting a pass behind the net. Edler just didn’t have anything left in his legs to get back to the front of the net, so like when I’m trying to make a half-court shot, Labanc was open and it went in the net.