Just 11 games into the season, the Canucks have been devastated by injuries. That has to be frustrating given how much time Jim Benning and the Canucks spent looking at their injury woes during the off-season. Benning even justified his free agent signings on the basis of injury prevention, claiming that more size could help the Canucks avoid injuries and that their ability to get in on the forecheck would mean less time in the defensive zone, where injuries can be a little more likely thanks to blocking shots, taking hits, and grindining along the boards and in front of the net.
It’s not just that the Canucks have multiple players out of the lineup with injuries; it’s who’s injured. Half of their top-six forward group is gone. Both members of their top defence pairing were knocked out of the lineup in one game. And don’t forget that their fourth-line centre, the prized free-agent acquisition Jay Beagle, is out for multiple weeks with a fractured forearm.
Beyond Beagle, the Canucks are missing Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Sven Baertschi, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev. While Pettersson and Boeser could return soon, Edler is undergoing an MRI and could be out long term, while Baertschi and Tanev have an unknown timetable.
The removal of just one of those players would have a butterfly effect on the Canucks’ lineup; take out all five and it’s more of a Mothra effect.
Pettersson, Boeser, Baertschi, and Edler are four-fifths of the top power play unit. Edler and Tanev are the team’s workhorses at both even-strength and on the penalty kill. Trying to cover for the loss of those five players seems like an impossible task.
And, well, it pretty much was an impossible task, as witnessed when I watched this game.
- Honestly, the Canucks played a pretty decent brand of low-event hockey throughout most of the game. If their intent was to keep things close and grind out a 1-0 or 2-1 win — a reasonable goal given their injury situation — they were on the right track. If not for a few costly mistakes, the Canucks could have conceivably won this game, or at least taken it to overtime. Of course, if it weren’t for a few costly mistakes, Russia would still own Alaska. Costly mistakes make history and they’re also how hockey games are won or lost.
- Through the first period, the Canucks kept things tighter than Amy Santiago and Jake Peralta’s nups. They largely limited the Coyotes to chances from the outside and created a couple great chances of their own. Loui Eriksson got robbed on a 2-on-1 off a great pass by Bo Horvat, while Derrick Pouliot rung the post on a power play slap shot.
- The Coyotes opened the scoring early in the second period, however, thanks to a mistake by Michael Del Zotto. It was DJ Del Zotto’s first game in nearly three weeks and the rust showed. He backed in way too deep while marking Alex Goligoski, giving the veteran defenceman a clear path to the slot, which he happily took, then fooled Anders Nilsson with a backhand shot.
- A couple minutes later, the Canucks responded, as Adam Gaudette picked up his first career NHL point. Gaudette won a faceoff cleanly back to Troy Stecher at the point and he pulled the puck in and sent it towards the net. Along the way it took a detour courtesy of Darren Archibald, who redirected it back against the grain on Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper. It was Archibald’s first game of the season after getting the call from the Utica Comet, which means he's averaging a goal-per-game, so I guess the Canucks have found their replacement for Elias Pettersson.
- Things got a little weird in the second period. Antoine Roussel got engaged with Lawson Crouse in front of the Canucks’ net at one point — not engaged to be wed, but engaged in fisticuffs. Even that’s not accurate, as only Crouse dropped the gloves and fed an uppercut to an unprepared Roussel. Somehow the referees decided that was worth coincidental minors.
- Later in the period, Roussel again tried to get under the Coyotes’ skin, which seems like a problem better solved by a taxidermist than a hockey player. He got young star Clayton Keller in something approximating a headlock and pulled him to the ice, leading to a massive scrum that somehow wound up with Erik Gudbranson lying on top of Lawson Crouse like Thor’s hammer on Loki.
- Arizona got a power play out of that scrum, which was the right call, but it was still harder to swallow than a billiard ball considering the coincidental minors on Roussel and Crouse’s previous encounter.
- In the final moments of the second period, Keller did the weirdest thing of the game. On the forecheck, he turned and ran directly into Gudbranson, colliding face first with Gudbranson’s arm. It was bizarre. I’m honestly not sure if he was trying to draw a penalty or if he just didn’t see Gudbranson there, but Gudbranson looked completely confused.
- Keller likely went through the concussion protocol during the second intermission, as he didn’t return to the Coyotes’ bench until three minutes into the third period. When he did get back on the ice, he immediately scored. Derrick Pouliot double clutched with the puck on a breakout, losing the puck to Galchenyuk on a horrible turnover. That quickly became a 2-on-0 for Keller and Nick Cousins. Nilsson had to anticipate a pass in that situation, so couldn’t challenge Keller or go into his butterfly, leaving room for Keller to beat him along the ice.
- Ben Hutton had a fantastic game, as he and Gudbranson filled in for Edler and Tanev on the top pairing. Hutton played a team-high 24:33 and played big minutes against the top two lines for the Coyotes. Gudbranson was okay, but Hutton was noticeably driving the bus, particularly in the third period when he aggressively jumped up the ice as the Canucks pushed for a tying goal. This was arguably Hutton’s best game as a Canuck, even if he didn’t show up on the scoreboard.
- Brendan “Waterbug” Leipsic is a fantastic skater and was skimming all over the ice on Thursday. That’s why it was such a surprise to see him fall flat on his fanny when Nikolay Goldobin passed him the puck on a third period power play. He looked more like “Icepick” Leipsic on that one, and it sent former Canucks Brad Richardson and Michael Grabner on a shorthanded 2-on-1 the other way.
- Pouliot managed to get his stick on Richardson’s pass, but he poked it past the backchecking Nikolay Goldobin to the trailer, another former Canuck in Kevin Connauton. His backhand was stopped, but Richardson cleaned up the rebound like Dennis Rodman to make it 3-1, officially putting the game out of reach with the shorthanded goal.
- Just to cap things off and make Canucks fans unnecessarily point fingers at Goldobin, Crouse scored an empty net goal from his own end after Grabner picked off an ambitious pass from the Russian winger. With the Canucks down by two with two minutes left, it was the right time for an overly ambitious pass — I’m not going to blame Goldobin for taking a risk in that situation.