I Watched This Game: Canucks can't contain Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals

Canucks 2 - 5 Capitals

Pass it to Bulis

This is a disaster. For all the Canucks’ struggles over the past couple seasons, there’s one thing they’ve managed to avoid: the Crap Mantle.

Now, just nine games into the 2018-19 NHL season, the Canucks have taken on the mantle of crapitude from the Washington Capitals. It is a shameful moment: for now, there’s no denying that the Canucks are the worst team in the NHL.

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You might be thinking, “Hey, the Crap Mantle is just a dumb thing you made up and it doesn’t really matter. Nobody cares about it at all.” Yes, this is true. But, if you think about it, isn’t hockey just a thing that some people made up? Isn’t the Stanley Cup just a made up thing that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things?

Hockey only matters because of the meaning we invest in it as players, fans, and media. The Stanley Cup only matters because a group of people decided that it matters. The stories we tell about hockey and the Stanley Cup give it meaning that it doesn’t inherently possess.

The same is true of the Crap Mantle. I care about the Crap Mantle, even if it’s a little silly. It has meaning to me. And the Canucks have it. This is a disaster.

I watched this game.

  • There are a few keys when facing the Washington Capitals. A big one is to shutdown the team’s stars, like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and, of course, Alex Ovechkin. Kuznetsov opened the scoring, Backstrom and Carlson each had three points, and Ovechkin had a four-point night. Whoops.
  • A second key, related to the first, is to avoid taking penalties. The Capitals have a lethal power play, thanks to two elite snipers on opposite sides in Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, a steady puck-mover at the point in John Carlson, a savvy playmaker down low in Backstrom, and a strong finisher in front of the net in T.J. Oshie. So, of course, the Canucks gave the Capitals five power plays thanks to some undisciplined penalties.
  • Finally, you have to get to Braden Holtby, who entered the game with an awful .881 save percentage. Get to him early and pepper him with shots. The Canucks got half of that right, with Antoine Roussel getting the first shot of the game just 13 seconds in, but they missed the second half, finishing with just 24 shots on goal. As Lil Jon would surely advise you, that’s not enough shots.
  • Anders Nilsson got his fifth start of the season, which is a great sign that Travis Green is putting a little more faith in him this season. Not a great sign: the Capitals opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game. Also not a great sign: this one.

Terrible sign

  • The opening goal came at 4-on-4, and John Carlson caught the Canucks off-guard by using the extra space to jump up in the rush. You could see Troy Stecher slow down in the neutral zone, thinking he had his man, Lars Eller, only to see Carlson speed past him. Before Stecher could say, “Whose mans is this?” Carlson was ahead of him and deflected Jakub Vrana’s centring pass short side on Nilsson.
  • Early in the game, John Shorthouse mistakenly called Antoine Roussel “Dominic Roussel,” the former goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. What’s hilarious to me is that there’s no need to ever say Roussel’s first name at all. It makes me wonder if play-by-play announcers who have spent significant time calling games featuring the Sedins are more likely to include a player’s first name when they call a game.
  • The Capitals are fast and skilled, but they also have a certain heaviness and physicality. It’s reflective of their captain, Ovechkin, who is one of the greatest snipers of all time, but is also 6’3” and 235 lbs, and can flatten you with a bodycheck, like he did to Alex Edler early in the game. Even without Tom Wilson in the lineup, the Capitals were throwing heavy hits left, right, and centre. Even Andre Burakovsky, not known for his physical game, threw a massive hit on Troy Stecher.

 

 

  • Nikolay Goldobin created so many chances in this game and none of them came to fruition. This was his seventh straight game without a point, which is hard to believe. Aside from scoring chances he had himself, he set up Bo Horvat for a couple great chances, and sent Brock Boeser in on a breakaway, only for the puck to bounce over his stick. It must be frustrating for Goldobin, but his teammates refuse to score on his passes, because then he would legally have to change his name to Assistobin.
  • Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all season. Try the veal.
  • Nic Dowd didn’t have any assists in his time as a Canuck, but he definitely assisted Troy Stecher’s second period goal. It was a nothing play: Dmitry Orlov’s weak clearing attempt was intercepted by Stecher and he simply threw it towards the net. Holtby had it until Dowd tried to make a glove save and instead tipped it into his own net. Holtby gave Dowd the same death stare he gave to the guy who stole a puck from a kid when he tossed it over the glass.

 

 

  • A minute after Stecher tied the game, Erik Gudbranson put the Capitals back on the power play with an undiscipliend retaliatroy penalty. Gudbranson got a stick in the face along the boards from Oshie that went uncalled — the referees may have thought, like John Garrett did, that it was Roussel’s stick that came up — and Gudbranson blatantly crosschecked Oshie in the back in front of the net. Subtlety isn’t so much Gudbranson’s thing.
  • The Capitals regained the lead with a power play goal, thanks to the dual threat of Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. The penalty kill understandably cheated to Ovechkin’s side, but Carlson calmly moved the puck around to Kuznetsov for a one-timer that squeaked through Nilsson like a mouse through a maze, assuming the mouse was launched through the maze at 100 miles per hour.
  • The highlight of the game happened off the ice. A stray puck was launched over the glass, but an alert Rogers Arena beer vendor snagged it out of midair, bare-handed. He got a huge cheer, then tossed the puck into the crowd, which got him a stern finger-wag from an elderly usher. I’d be harsher on the usher, but I’m pretty sure I’ve executed that exact finger-wag with my kids when they’ve thrown something they’re not supposed to.

 

 

  • With 20 seconds left in the second period, the Capitals gave themselves a two-goal lead. Nilsson gave up a bad rebound on a weak shot from Backstrom, made another stop on Oshie, then was about to cover up the puck when Brandon Sutter tried to clear it away. Instead of sending it safely to the corner, he put it off Ovechkin’s leg and into the net.
  • Making up for the mistake, Sutter drew a penalty immediately after the goal to give the Canucks a power play to start the third period. They immediately took advantage of the extra man. Boeser whipped a hard shot on net that Holtby tried to steer into the corner with his blocker. Instead, the puck went straight to Sven Baertschi, who, unlike my kids, put it back where it belongs.

 

 

  • Travis Green appears to still be protecting Adam Gaudette — he took eight faceoffs, but none were in the defensive zone — but his ice time is slowly creeping up, and he got a little more leeway in the third period as the Canucks tried to mount a comeback. His second period play where he stole a puck in the offensive zone and drove hard to the net to draw a penalty probably didn’t hurt his standing in Green’s good graces.
  • The Canucks’ comeback effort ran aground on the rocky shores of undisciplined penalties. First it was Alex Edler running interference for a Boeser scoring chance. Unsurprisingly, he got called for interference. Then Stecher pushed the skate out from under Dmitrij Jaskin, which is also not allowed. The Canucks and their fans accepted these correct judgements with good grace and quiet dignity, of course.
  • If you watched this game solely to see the Capitals’ power play in action, you got your money’s worth. The capstone was a classic Ovechkin one-timer, enabled by Carlson breaking Markus Granlund’s stick with a previous shot, leaving him wholly unable to take away the passing lane to Ovechkin. He shot it so hard that it rebounded back out of the net with enough force to escape the Canucks’ zone.
  • It might be some small consolation that the Canucks didn’t allow Ovechkin to tally the 21st hat trick of his career. With an empty net, Ovechkin escaped the Capitals’ zone, then evaded a check from Edler and passed to Oshie to enter the zone. Boeser was the lone man back and he cheated towards Ovechkin, so Oshie just hit the empty net. That keeps Ovechkin tied with Pavel Bure for the 14th most hat tricks all time in the NHL.
     

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