It was Star Wars night at Rogers Arena, which meant the Canucks were casting themselves as the plucky, underdog Rebels and the Arizona Coyotes as the evil Empire. I’m not quite sure that metaphor works.
After all, if you’re looking for an NHL team that parallels Luke Skywalker, who grew up on the desert planet of Tatooine, wouldn’t you go with a team literally from the desert? If you want plucky underdogs, how about the team that has made it out of the first round of the playoffs just once in their history with a team name that is literally a relative of a dog?
As for the evil Empire, that ought to be an Original Six team. Someone like the Toronto Maple Leafs or, particularly in Vancouver’s case, the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers. How could you possibly described the Coyotes as an empire, lower-case or upper-case?
That said, the Coyotes were rescued from oblivion by Gary Bettman, who could stand in for Grand Moff Tarkin, and were literally owned and operated by the NHL for a couple years. Maybe the real evil Empire is the NHL itself and the Coyotes are their proxy. The Canucks can’t defeat the Empire itself, but they can defeat a representation of it, at least in the first movie...er, game.
That would make the Coyotes the Death Star. Hang on, this metaphor has gone back to not working. Though the Canucks, in overtime, did “blow this thing and go home.”
“Into the garbage chute, flyboy,” said a voice in my head before I watched this game.
- There were some fans who were dismissive of Star Wars Night, but when it comes to game presentation, I firmly believe the Canucks need to do more silly, stupid stuff, not less. So the cosplayers, padawan drummers, and Obi-Fin Kenobi were all welcome. They had a band playing a sincere, irony-free metal cover of a Star Wars song! The band, Opus Arise, has two violinists! There was headbanging! It was great! Anything you can do to liven up a dreary mid-season game against the Arizona Coyotes is welcome.
- My one complaint: the Star Wars trivia was way too easy. Who became Darth Vader? Come on, guys. Get esoteric. I want you to ask who was the guy carrying the ice cream maker in Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.*
- This was the first time I’ve been able to go to a game in the press box for quite a while, as a pre-Christmas cold kept me home to avoid infecting the Canucks, then they went on the road. I picked a good time to come to a game, apparently, as Sportsnet had major issues broadcasting the game on TV, so if I hadn’t gone to the rink, this would have been an I Watched This Game in Staticy Half-Second Bursts Interspersed With a Basketball Game.
- If you weren’t able to watch the first period, you didn’t miss much. It was dire. The Canucks didn’t have a single shot on goal for the first 15 and a half minutes of the game, but the Coyotes weren’t much better. It was stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf hockey.
- “The first period definitely wasn’t a great offensive period for either team,” said Travis Green in an understatement after the game. “I don’t think there was a scoring chance. We had it 0-0.” For context, one of the Canucks’ five shots was a slap shot from the neutral zone by Chris Tanev, which is the least-threatening thing since the MSE-6 Mouse Droid.
- The dreariness of the first period got to the point that I prepared myself to write 500 words about the poise Adam Gaudette showed on the breakout on his first shift. Under pressure, he smartly held onto the puck until his check skated past, opening up an easy passing lane to Jake Virtanen. It was the highlight of the first period for the Canucks.
- “He made some nice plays in the neutral zone,” said Green about Gaudette. “I thought he looked a little more confident...He’s not a different player because he played three games down there [in the AHL], but he looks confident. I think he was playing pretty well when he was here before too.”
- The Canucks’ puck management in the defensive zone was like the CGI in the Special Editions of the original Star Wars Trilogy: sloppy and ill-advised. Even Chris Tanev wasn’t immune, coughing up the puck on the Coyotes’ first goal. In the chaos that ensued, Erik Gudbranson took too long to take Richard Panik in front of the net and Vinnie Hinostroza’s spinning backhand feed found him for the one-time goal.
- Am I too mature to chortle at Richard Panik’s name? Dear reader, I am not.
- Tanev made up for his gaffe with a fantastic play on his next shift. He read Hinostroza’s pass perfectly in the neutral zone and picked it off, then sent Sven Baertschi the other way. With Jakob Chychrun breathing down his neck, Baertschi cut back, putting the puck through Chychrun’s legs, then whipped a wrist shot under Darcy Kuemper’s blocker.
- “When I got the puck,” said Baertschi, “it fumbled on me a bit. I didn’t quite catch it clean, so it wasn’t a nice flow, so I just kinda had to figure something out. I saw him coming and I think it was just the right distance from me to him for me to stop up and make him go past me...I think any D would be a little surprised if someone just stops up. I just tried something new and it worked out.”
- The Coyotes’ second goal was controversial in a couple ways. First of all, just before the goal, Nikolay Goldobin drove to the net at the other end of the ice and was hooked down by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The infraction went uncalled, sparking boos from the Rogers Arena crowd, which just got louder when the Coyotes immediately scored.
- To top it off, Lawson Crouse pretty clearly kicked the puck into the net after Markstrom gave up a rebound on a Richard Panik slap shot. “I had enough views to know it was kicked in,” said Green. He challenged the goal for goaltender interference, not because there was any, but because he wanted the refs to take another look at the goal and spot the kick. “I was hoping they’d see something, yeah,” when asked if that was his tactic.
- Coaches can’t challenge for a kick — they’re limited to challenging for offside and goaltender interference — but the war room in Toronto is supposed to instigate a review if there’s a kick. I guess they only had the Sportsnet feed as well and couldn’t see the kick through the static.
- Goldobin’s rotten luck wasn’t limited to the missed call. He had numerous chances on the power play, but just couldn’t find a way to get the puck past Darcy Kuemper, who seemed to have Jedi reflexes when it came to Goldobin. Green was quick to praise Goldobin’s play on the first power play unit, noting that he made some great plays that helped give the Canucks some momentum, though he added, “He wasn’t great 5-on-5.”
- Green’s not wrong. The Canucks were out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored with Goldobin on the ice at 5-on-5, though neither of the two goals scored with him on the ice could be pinned on him. Green bumped Goldobin down to a line with Adam Gaudette, while Sven Baertschi was reunited with his 99-B Line teammates, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser.
- Gaudette got the tying goal for the Canucks late in the second. After Brandon Sutter’s shot off the rush was blocked, Gaudette picked up the puck and swung it up to Ben Hutton at the blue line. Antoine Roussel tipped his point shot, which ricocheted to Gaudette with a wide open net. Just like he used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home, Gaudette scored his third goal of the season.
- Jacob Markstrom wasn’t amazing in this game, but he did make a stellar stop on Laurent Dauphin early in the third period. Jay Beagle got a little too fixated on the puck, leaving Dauphin plenty of time to try to deke around Markstrom, but the big goaltender stretched back his right pad and held the puck out.
- The Canucks’ lousy puck management struck again in the third. One failed zone exit led to Sutter taking a tripping penalty in the defensive zone. Frustrated, either by the call or his part in failing to get the puck out, Roussel tried to slap the puck off the boards, only he shot it directly into linesman Lonnie Cameron’s shins. He was quick to apologize and the refs let it go, but they definitely gave him some serious side-eye. Dianoga-level side-eye.
- Gaudette took responsibility for the Coyotes’ third goal, as he had the puck near the blue line and failed to get it out of the zone. Alex Galchenyuk took the turnover and fed it backdoor to Conor Garland for the tap-in, but not before Gudbranson got a piece of the pass. He almost picked it off, but the bad luck bug has bitten Gudbranson, as the puck instead just settled down perfectly for Garland, who, like his namesake, was the finishing touch.
- The Canucks pushed hard for the tying goal and got rewarded, as Baertschi won the puck on the forecheck, rimmed it around to Troy Stecher on the far boards, then got in position at the side of the net to swat home the rebound off Stecher’s shot. It was a well-earned goal for Baertschi, who got two even-strength goals after doing most of his damage on the power play this season.
- The talking point of overtime will be Markus Granlund, who got two shifts in the extra frame, which was two shifts too many in the eyes of some fans. When Jeff Paterson asked about the decision to use Granlund, Green pushed back: “[Granlund’s] had success and he’s someone you trust,” said Green. “Why, you’d like to see someone else there?”
- For most fans, the answer to that question is yes. Using Granlund because he’s “responsible” (another word Green used in response to Paterson’s question) and trustworthy seems like playing not to lose in overtime, rather than playing to win. “There’s a lot of guys where the offence isn’t flowing. You’ve gotta put six forwards out there,” said Green. “I’m not trying not to score, I can tell you that.” It didn't help Green's case regarding Granlund's trustworthiness when he got burned on the outside twice by the Coyotes at 3-on-3.
- Here are the forwards that didn’t play in overtime: Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Motte, Nikolay Goldobin, Jay Beagle, and Adam Gaudette. See anyone you’d want out there more than Granlund?
- Brandon Sutter also played in overtime, which was criticized by fans on Twitter, but Sutter makes more sense than Granlund. Sutter can be dangerous off the rush and faceoffs are a little more important in overtime, where puck possessions off the draw can last a lot longer.
- The overtime game-winner came on a long shot from Richard Panik that Markstrom would probably like to have back. Unfortunately for him, time travel is one of the few science-fiction tropes that isn’t in Star Wars. Or is it?
- Erik Gudbranson was once again on the ice for a couple goals against in this game, making it 7 of the last 8 goals against the Canucks. While Gudbranson wasn’t solely to blame for either goal, he and Ben Hutton had the worst corsi on the Canucks’ defence, giving their opponents more opportunities to create some luck. Some post-game comment from Green suggest the pairing might be split apart in the near future.
- “They’ve gotta play better,” said Green. “You look at the last game in Toronto, Guddy had a rough night in the plus/minus, but...when you look at all five goals, I think he’s a little bit unlucky as well. I know they’re worried about it, they don’t like it, and we’ll see where we go from there as far as the pairings go.”
- Finally, let’s say it together: Help us, Elias Pettersson. You’re our only hope.