Wednesday night was Hockey Talks Night for the Vancouver Canucks, who started the initiative in 2013 after the untimely passing of Rick Rypien. Even thinking about Rypien at this point makes me emotional.
For the ceremonial puck drop, the Canucks brought out Rick’s brother, Wes Rypien, along with former Canucks goaltender Corey Hirsch, who has been forthright about his own battles with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal ideation.
And the Rogers Arena DJ played “Where is My Mind” by The Pixies.
I was taken aback. That seemed like an entirely inappropriate song to play during that moment. Sure, the song is ostensibly about scuba diving, but the chorus just repeats, “Where is my mind?” over and over. Is that the right song to play on a night devoted to mental health awareness and reducing the stigma of mental illness?
Maybe it was just because I was now hyper-aware of it, but there were two songs later in the night that included lyrics about losing your mind.
Maybe I’m being too sensitive. It just caught me off guard and made me wonder if it wasn’t just a fluke, but an intentional choice. It rubbed me the wrong way, but maybe I'm overthinking things.
I spent too much time pondering the music as I watched this game.
- This was such an odd game. Most of regulation was dull, but there were spurts of thrilling action that seemed to come out of nowhere. Then the 3-on-3 overtime was electrifying, with back-and-forth chances, desperate defensive plays, and stunning saves. And then no one could score in the shootout to save their lives. It was a rollercoaster ride, but it was mostly the part where a chain lifts you up a hill, except with less anticipatory excitement.
- Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen were the Canucks best players early on. They were forechecking so hard that it ought to be called fivechecking.
- You’re welcome for that joke.
- Sutter freed up the puck on an early forecheck, allowing Virtanen to centre for Antoine Roussel, who couldn’t touch it. Then Sutter drew a penalty in the battle along the boards that ensued. Later, it was Virtanen’s turn, throwing a nice hit on Caleb Jones on the forecheck, then setting up Sutter for a scoring chance in front, forcing a great pad save by Mikko Koskinen on a puck labeled for the far corner. Then the refs had to spend five minutes peeling the label off the puck; they thought they had it coming off in one piece, but then it tore in half.
- Unfortunately, the Oilers opened the scoring on the penalty Sutter drew. The Canucks had four skaters back when Jujhar Khaira moved into their zone, but he still somehow found a way to shake Bo Horvat and cut in front to roof the puck top corner. The Canucks showed less urgency than a narcoleptic sloth.
- Sutter ensured that the Canucks didn’t finish the power play with a negative goal differential, however, walking in off the top of the right faceoff circle and snapping a shot short-side that seemed to catch Mikko Koskinen napping. He did the classic two-step save that goaltenders do when they don’t see the shot: drop down into the butterfly, then try to react. It didn’t work.
- The Canucks created some amazing chances; they just couldn’t finish them. Bo Horvat had a wide open net after his initial shot was blocked, but sent the puck through the crease behind Koskinen. Later, Sven Baertschi set him up at the back door with space, but he whiffed on the one-timer. In the second period, Tyler Motte lost control of the puck with a wide open net, then had a second chance at it and poked it off the post. Finally, in overtime, Sutter had a wide open net off a rebound, but Darnell Nurse blocked it on the goal line with his skate.
- I was baffled when Antoine Roussel received the extra minor in an altercation with Matt Benning in the first period, particularly since it was Benning that approached Roussel and threw the first punch, but it became clear when I saw Benning had a small cut on his face. The referee must have taken one look at his bleeding cut and thought, “Benning’s uncle is in the arena: I better give his nephew a power play for this or I’ll never hear the end of it.”
- “They thought it was a double minor; I didn’t,” quipped Travis Green about the Roussel call, then added with a laugh, “and that’s the explanation.”
- The Oilers took the lead on that questionable power play because Connor McDavid is the hockey equivalent of an Age of Empires cobra car cheat. The Canucks got the clear on the penalty kill, but that just gave McDavid room to wind up, drive in 1-on-1 against Chris Tanev, and fire a bullet between the defenceman’s legs and past Jacob Markstrom, destroying the Canucks’ Town Centre.
- The line of Tim Schaller, Markus Granlund, and Josh Leivo didn’t play much, but they made the most of their minimal minutes. Midway through the second period, Schaller and Leivo went in hard on the forecheck, forcing a terrible turnover by Caleb Jones to Granlund in front. He wasted no time, rippling the twine behind Koskinen before anyone could even register the turnover.
- Granlund had one of his best games of the season. He had a goal and an assist to go with his four shots on goal and 4-for-5 night in the faceoff circle. On top of that, the Canucks out-shot the Oilers 8-2 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. Someone once described Granlund as the beige of hockey players; tonight he was at least a burnt umber.
- The Canucks’ first power play unit was a mess. With both Elias Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin out of the lineup, they had no playmaker on the top unit to quarterback from the half-wall. Sven Baertschi might have been the best bet, but he was in the slot. Instead, the Canucks had Josh Leivo and Brock Boeser on opposite sides and neither could calm the play down and get things set up.
- The second power play unit, however, scored two goals. Sort of. Sutter got one in the first period, then Ben Hutton added another in the second, except it was wiped out by a coach’s challenge. It makes sense: the Canucks’ second power play unit isn’t allowed to be good.
- Hutton seemed to take inspiration from Elias Pettersson on his non-goal, ripping the puck top corner on the short side much like the Swedish underbarn. Hutton has never shot the puck like that in his life and technically, he still hasn’t, as the goal was overturned because Jake Virtanen was offside. They rewound the clock, so Hutton never actually took that shot. He’ll be chasing that shot for the rest of his life.
- That Virtanen offside was incredibly frustrating, but simultaneously understandable. Virtanen wasn’t expecting the Canucks to be able to re-enter the zone so quickly after the Oilers cleared the puck, so took a few seconds too long to get to the bench. With the door to the Canucks’ bench inside the zone, Virtanen got caught on video review.
- At one point, with Alex Edler in the box for slashing, Ben Hutton played nearly an entire two-minute penalty kill. His shift lasted 1:51, with much of that against Connor McDavid. By the end of it, he looked exhausted, but the Oilers didn’t score, so mission accomplished. Hutton finished with 22:36 in ice time.
- Overtime was Greased Lightning: systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic. McDavid played 3:51 of the five-minute overtime, while the Canucks countered with Sutter, Virtanen, and Tanev. There were chances both ways, with Markstrom robbing Leon Draisaitl on a breakaway, then Horvat busting out the patented BoHoToeDrag, only to be robbed in turn on his backhand chance. Rogers Arena was deafening, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the excitement that would hit this city if the Canucks could make a legitimate playoff push this season.
- Jacob Markstrom was outstanding in this game. He made 28 saves on 30 shots, including a Tobias Rieder breakaway late in the first. In overtime, he made five crucial stops, including some highway robbery on Kris Russell on a rebound. He saved the best for the shootout, breaking out the René Higuita scorpion save to stop Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
- Regrettably, none of the Canucks’ shooters could solve Koskinen in the shootout, despite lighting him up in regulation all season. Koskinen has an .842 save percentage against the Canucks in his three starts against them, giving up nine goals on 57 shots. But he stopped all five shooters he faced in the shootout.