No one is surprised anymore when Don Cherry says something ludicrous, but every once in a while he pushes the boundaries of ludicrosity to see if he still has that indefinable “it” factor that can catch even the most jaded listener off-guard.
His recent comments about Elias Pettersson went in a very unexpected direction. I’m not talking about him saying that you can’t compare Pettersson to Bobby Orr, because I have to assume something prompted that. As much as Cherry loves to bring up Orr at the drop of a hat, someone must have brought up Pettersson and Orr in some way that makes sense, perhaps based on the impact each had on their respective teams. I have to assume that or I’ll lose my sanity.
No, the truly odd and offball comment was something else entirely: “This Antoine Roussel is the reason Pettersson can do what he is doing.”
Now, this has the shape of a typical old-school hockey argument — a less-skilled player provides protection and/or space on the ice for a skilled teammate — but the choice of Roussel makes it baffling.
Even if you accept the argument that enforcers protect teammates from injury — they don’t — Roussel isn’t an enforcer. Even if you accept the argument that a physical winger can create room for their linemates — that’s at least partially true — Roussel has barely played with Pettersson.
Perhaps it’s because the Canucks don’t have an enforcer or a big, physical winger to make room for Pettersson that Cherry needed to grasp at straws to explain how a slight, skilled Swede is racking up points as a rookie, because if he didn’t he’d have to admit that his understanding of hockey is fundamentally flawed.
Whatever the case, it seems like Travis Green heard Cherry’s comments and took a liking to them. How else do you explain Roussel ending up on Pettersson’s wing against the Capitals?
It makes perfect sense: if Roussel is the reason Pettersson racked up 23 goals and 46 points in 42 games heading into Washington despite barely playing with him, what impact might he have if he actually played on his line? Sure enough, Pettersson scored a goal, his first in four games, with Roussel on the ice. Cherry’s hypothesis was proven correct when I watched this game.
- Jay Beagle made his return to Washington for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup with them last season. The arena got really dusty when the Capitals played a tribute video for the hardworking centre and Beagle said he had trouble keeping it together when his wife and kids appeared in the video. Alex Ovechkin came over to give him a big hug at the end of it and then they had to bring the Zamboni back out because the ice was flooded with tears. The salinity wreaks havoc with the ice surface.
- The absence of Alex Edler had a huge impact on the Canucks’ defence, particularly Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson, who ended up paired together, with Tanev on his off-side. The pairing struggled to move the puck out of the zone — that’s Gudbranson’s biggest issue to begin with and Tanev being on the left side made it tougher for him as well. The Canucks got out-chanced 8-2 when they were on the ice at 5-on-5.
- Tanev and Gudbranson’s unfamiliarity with each other played directly into the first goal. Tanev took too long to move the puck from his unfamiliar side and didn’t seem to see Gudbranson on his right. T.J. “Timothy Jimothy” Oshie picked Tanev’s pocket and got the puck to Ovechkin, who set up Nicklas Backstrom for a chance that Markstrom stopped, but Oshie shoveled in the rebound as Tanev tried and failed to tie up his stick.
- With Edler out, Ben Hutton played all the minutes. Or, more accurately, approximately half the minutes. Hutton finished with 28:35 in ice time, 1:25 short of half the game. The bulk of those minutes were spent matched up against the Capitals’ first and second lines and the Canucks still managed to out-chance the Capitals 14-8 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. He even had an assist. That might have been the best all-around game of Hutton's career.
- Troy Stecher deserves some credit too. He played with Hutton for the majority of those minutes spent against the Capitals’ top lines and was equally effective. I particularly enjoyed one defensive play he made on John Carlson, cutting off his path to the net then knocking the larger defenceman to his knees and stealing the puck. Basically, Stecher is Molly Hayes from Runaways: small, but mighty.
- Markstrom did everything he could to keep the Canucks in this game, pulling out stops like he was playing the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City. The Capitals peppered the Canucks’ net with 18 shots in the first period; Markstrom stopped 17 of them, including five on one Capitals power play.
- After getting robbed last game by Carter Hart, Nikolay Goldobin once again couldn’t buy a goal. His line with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser was the Canucks’ best in this game, creating sustained pressure like we’ve rarely seen this season, but on one of their best chances, Goldobin lifted a one-timer just over the net. That was enough to earn him a conciliatory pat on the back from Newell Brown.
- After getting brutally out-shot in the first period, the Canucks put together one of their best periods of the season in the second. They out-shot the Capitals 13-4, drew a couple penalties (including a penalty shot), created great scoring chances, and were toe-dragging around everybody on the ice. And yet, they couldn’t put the puck in the net.
- Josh Leivo drew a penalty after a sick toe-drag through Michal Kempny’s legs, but couldn’t beat Braden Holtby on the power play. Pettersson danced through the neutral zone with some slick dangles, leading to a Jake Virtanen one-timer from the slot that he heeled into the corner. Tyler Motte and Jay Beagle got robbed on a strong fourth-line shift. Hutton hit the crossbar. Stecher hit the post. The puck just wouldn’t cooperate.
- To top it off, Horvat made an incredible toe-drag to slip past Jonas Siegenthaler, forcing the mother of all hooks as Horvat was in alone on Holtby. The referee rightly awarded a penalty shot, but Horvat just couldn’t get the puck by Holtby’s blocker with a quick shot.
- The Capitals took a 2-0 lead on a broken play in the third period. Horvat lost the puck at one end and the Capitals quickly rushed the other way. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a fantastic move around Alex Biega, then tried to centre for Jakub Vrana, but the pass hit Derrick Pouliot in the skate. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find it there, and as he spinned looking for the puck, Brett Connolly beat Goldobin to the loose puck and poked it past Markstrom.
- The Canucks got that one back a couple minutes later: Hutton hoisted the puck out of the defensive zone and Roussel skated onto it in the offensive zone before finding Markus Granlund in front with a nifty backhand saucer pass. Like a square, Granlund had all the right angles, deflecting the pass just inside the post.
- The Capitals’ game-winning goal was a weird one. From behind the net, Vrana tried a cheeky chip, attempting to send the puck over the bar and off Markstrom’s back. Bizarrely, he succeeded. The Canucks protested that Kuznetsov hit the puck with a high stick, but the replays showed that Kuznetsov never actually touched the puck: it hit the top of the net and trampolined onto Markstrom’s back and in.
- With three minutes left and down 3-1, the Canucks pulled Markstrom for the extra attacker and nearly pulled off a miracle. Stecher managed to (just barely) keep the puck onside and threw it towards the goal with 10 seconds remaining. The rebound was there with an empty net for Goldobin, but Carlson cleared it away. Only, he cleared it directly to Pettersson, who had a wide open space and didn’t make a big mistake.
- Pettersson had so much empty net to shoot at because Braden Holtby was lying on his back inside of it. Capitals fans weren’t happy, but the reason he was in the net was because Brooks Orpik cross-checked Horvat on top of him. Or maybe they knew that and were booing Orpik.
- Pettersson’s goal came with just 6.3 seconds left, so there was little chance of the Canucks completing the comeback. But little chance is not no chance and the Canucks even managed to get an offensive zone faceoff with about a second remaining, giving them one last desperate attempt to score. Horvat couldn’t swipe it on goal off the faceoff, but still managed to draw it back to Boeser for a shot as time expired. Then, to add insult to injury, they gave the faceoff win to Backstrom. That’s just rude.