Heading into Tuesday, there was talk that this might be Ryan Kesler’s final game in Vancouver. Talk radio buzzed with the suggestion that the Rogers Arena fans give Kesler a standing ovation for his final game, which would be quite the switch from the boos that typically rain down whenever Kesler touches the puck.
The talk was awfully premature, not because Kesler could play again in Vancouver in the future, but because it was unlikely he’d play Tuesday. Kesler has been missing from the Ducks lineup since March 6th with a hip injury (and arguably missing on the ice all season long).
Kesler has a tattoo of a K inside a Superman logo on his right arm, but he’s been far from invulnerable over the last couple years. As Kesler put it to Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt, his mission has been to “build me an ass” to get back to playing hockey after a nagging hip injury had left the muscles in his buttocks atrophied.
If Kesler is no longer Superman, however, a new Man of Steel stepped up for the Ducks on Tuesday night.
Sam Steel, who boasts a name more befitting of a noir detective than a hockey player, had one career goal coming into Tuesday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks. He left with four.
While he may have been an unlikely hero for the Ducks, Sam Steel is no stranger to scoring goals. After he was drafted in the first round by the Ducks in 2016, he scored 50 goals in just 66 games for the Regina Pats in the WHL. He’s been good in the AHL this season, with 18 goals in 50 games, but the goals just weren’t flowing in the NHL.
There’s nothing like a game against the Canucks to get your goal-scoring mojo going. I saw Steel step out of the shadows when I watched this game.
- Josh Teves made his NHL debut and got a quick taste of NHL speed on the Ducks’ first goal. Teves pinched down the boards, but the puck hit Sam “Remington” Steel and he burst the other way for a breakaway. Steel can fly (particularly when crafted into an airplane) and Alex Biega blew a tire in the neutral zone trying to catch him and Elias Petterson, who’s no slowpoke himself, couldn’t keep pace. Steel deked and went five-hole on Jacob Markstrom.
- That goal is on Biega, who should have been more conservative with his defence partner pinching on the other side of the ice. If he was back further in the neutral zone, he could have nipped that breakaway in the bud, but Biega’s about as conservative as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That’s not a bad thing — Biega’s aggressive nature is part of what is keeping him in the NHL — but it worked against him on this goal.
- The Canucks quickly responded with a goal from their own resident speedster, Jake Virtanen. He drove down the right wing, but was cut off by defenceman Andy Welinski, so he pulled up and spun a backhand towards Tim Schaller in front. Virtanen was a lucky duck, while Cam Fowler was an unlucky Duck, as Virtanen’s centring pass went off Fowler’s skate and between John Gibson’s legs.
- Jet fuel might not be able to melt steel beams, but Pettersson can apparently do the job. He destroyed Steel with a monstrous reverse hit late in the first period that had the entire building buzzing. Pettersson has pulled this off a few times and it seems to be in the repertoire of more than one young Swedish star; Filip Forsberg has built a reputation for reverse hits and says he learned it from watching Peter Forsberg.
- Alex Edler hit a milestone when he made it 2-1 with a minute remaining in the first period: he tied Mattias Ohlund for the most goals all-time by a Canucks defenceman. He had a little help: his point shot deflected off Corey Perry’s stick and completely bamboozled Gibson. That’s what all the players call Perry: a bamboozler. Or maybe something else, I’m not very good at reading lips.
- The Canucks could have built up a bigger lead in the first half of the game and it came back to bite them. While in the slot, Brock Boeser whiffed on a great setup by Troy Stecher in the first period. In the second, Virtanen had a wide open net at the back door and put the puck wide. When they did put the puck in the net, it didn’t count: on a delayed penalty, Josh Leivo slammed the puck off the boards and it went in the empty net at the other end of the ice. Alas, the whistle had blown for the penalty.
- The Ducks made it 2-2 midway through the second period. After a Leivo turnover in the neutral zone, Markstrom couldn’t handle Kiefer Sherwood’s wrist shot and ended up splayed out facedown on the ice when he couldn’t dive out to cover the puck. Steel showed his mettle and tracked down the rebound, then ingot the puck.
- Steel completed the hat trick on a penalty shot after a bizarre play. Adam Gaudette’s stick broke and one of the pieces was near the point. As Fowler tried to pass the puck across to his defence partner, Werenski, Markus Granlund shot the piece of Gaudette’s stick towards the blue line. The puck hit Gaudette’s stick. That led to a long conference between the refs and linesmen, eventually landing on the decision to award the Ducks a penalty shot.
- As far as I can tell, it’s the right call, even if it’s an extremely unlucky situation for Granlund. If a player in the defensive zone shoots any piece of equipment at the puck or the puck carrier, preventing a shot or pass, it’s a penalty shot. You could argue it was an accident, but that argument only works if you’re Anton Khudobin.
- The only real oddity is that Steel got to take the penalty shot. The “player fouled” is supposed to take the shot, which would be Fowler in this case, as he passed the puck. If the referees can’t determine who was fouled, than anyone on the ice can take the shot. Since no one actually had the puck when Gaudette’s stick hit it, I suppose that’s the interpretation they landed on. And, since Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author, authorial intent doesn’t matter, so their interpretation is the correct one.
- In any case, Steel showed the nerves of his namesake and roofed the puck on the backhand to beat Markstrom. Then Ryan Miller threw his hat on the ice to honour the hat trick.
- This wasn't the first time the Canucks have been called for a penalty shot by this rule. Willie Mitchell got called for this back in 2008 against the Washington Capitals, leading to a penalty shot goal for Michael Nylander. Mitchell's case was a little more clearcut than Granlund's, as he clearly flipped a loose stick directly at Nylander when he had the puck.
- The Canucks’ struggles continued in the third period, as Rickard Rakell sent a laser top corner past a screened Markstrom on the power play to make it 4-2. Then Elias Pettersson made a rare miscue, kicking a pass from Luke Schenn to Sherwood in the high slot. Would Sherwood get good wood on it? He sure would, ripping a quick shot blocker side on Markstrom to make it 5-2.
- That seemed to wake up the Canucks, who clawed their way back into the game in the final minutes. Leivo nabbed a turnover from Carter Rowney and whipped the puck just past Gibson’s shoulder. Like a photo taken by Deb Bradshaw, it was a beauty shot.
- A minute later, Tanner Pearson got the Canucks within one. Gibson had trouble with Troy Stecher’s point shot, shouldering the puck back into the slot much like he’ll shoulder the blame for the goal. Pearson knocked the rebound down and fired it into the net.
- Alas, that was it for the Canucks’ comeback. While they had some pressure to finish off the game, they only managed two shots on goal, both from distance, in the final five minutes after Pearson made it 5-4. The loss means the Canucks are now tied in points with the Ducks with 74, though the Canucks have a game in hand. For those hoping the Canucks will slide down the standings to get a better draft pick, this loss was a big win.
- Circling back to Teves and his first NHL game. He seemed to settle in as the game progressed and showed some good gap control and decent defensive reads. It’s tough to truly judge a defenceman in their first game, but Teves certainly didn’t look out of place. He did get dinged for a soft hooking call, leading to the Ducks’ power play goal, but even that seemed more like bad luck than anything. Green seemed happy with his play after the game — at least, as happy as Green could possibly be after a tough loss — but it remains to be seen if he’ll get another look this season with Quinn Hughes nearing his debut.