The biggest story in the NHL today wasn’t Andreas Johnsson scoring a first period hat trick for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nor was it Patrik Laine winning someone one million dollars by scoring five goals for the Winnipeg Jets.
No, the biggest story in the NHL was Jacob Markstrom going back to his notorious Ear Mask.
The Ear Mask is a contentious subject among the Canucks fanbase. It seems like most hate it, citing the fact that the ears are off-putting, unnatural, an abomination in the sight of God, and just generally creepy. Others love it because it’s a little different or because it pays tribute to the old-school goalie masks of the past.
While Markstrom refused to comment on going back to his old mask, it stands to reason that he made the switch for somewhat superstitious reasons. After all, Markstrom has yet to win a game in his new mask.
The last game that Markstrom wore the Ear Mask was the eight-goal game against the Boston Bruins. He switched to his new mask on November 10th and promptly lost in the shootout to the Buffalo Sabres after giving up a two-goal lead in the final minutes.
That was the start of the Canucks’ eight-game losing streak and Markstrom was 0-5-1 in that stretch. Including tonight’s win over the Kings, Markstrom is now 8-3-1 in his Ear Mask this season. Honestly, it’s surprising he hasn’t embraced it and added more ears to his mask.
Here’s the thing: Markstrom hasn’t really performed differently in either mask. In the Ear Mask, he has an .897 save percentage. In his new mask, he had...an .897 save percentage. It’s just that the Canucks bailed him out with more goal support before he made the switch.
On the other hand, a big part of goaltending is confidence. If a goaltender lacks confidence, they start to second-guess their reads and save selections, which leads to reacting a split-second too late to make a save. As a result, goaltenders often end up a little superstitious, repeating certain routines or using specific equipment. If it takes a little superstition for Markstrom to feel more confident, there’s nothing wrong with that, and it might actually help him perform better.
All that is to say, the only reason the Canucks won this game was because of the Ear Mask. Obviously. I watched this game.
- Alex Edler made his return to the lineup, which was a sight for sore eyes, though not a cure for sore eyes. If your eyes are hurting, go see an eye doctor: it could be a sign of an injury or something worse, like glaucoma.
- Travis Green made the odd decision of pairing Edler, who hasn’t played in a month, with Alex Biega, who also hasn’t played in weeks. In order to do this, Green scratched Derrick Pouliot, which makes sense given his recent performance, and Troy Stecher, which doesn’t make any sense at all. Frankly, based on their past history, Edler and Stecher should be playing together.
- The recently recalled Reid Boucher got into the lineup and started with a prime spot: right wing with Elias Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin. They looked decent together, but the line lasted about five minutes before Green went back to Jake Virtanen and, for a few shifts, Tyler Motte. Boucher played just 5:28 in his season debut, or approximately a “Lose Yourself” by Eminem amount of ice time.
- Virtanen was more engaged than Maggie Carpenter, and he likely has Dion Phaneuf to thank. The Kings defenceman sat Virtanen down with an open-ice check in the first period and Virtanen responded, whalloping Phaneuf with a hit of his own later in the period, then creating offensive chances throughout the rest of the game with his speed and some surprising playmaking.
- Adam Gaudette made the most of his minimal minutes, scoring the first goal of his NHL career in the second period. Virtanen got in hard on the forecheck, freeing the puck up for Nikolay Goldobin, who slipped it back to him off the boards. That’s when Virtanen made the best pass of his career, faking a slap shot before slap-passing the puck onto Gaudette’s tape as he streaked to the net. Gaudette buried it so hard that Virtanen had trouble getting it out of the net to give to him after.
- The Kings quickly responded on the power play. They took the man advantage to the next level by borrowing a couple Canucks penalty killers to help them score. Drew Doughty’s point shot deflected first off Chris Tanev, then Michael Del Zotto to beat Markstrom, who was expecting the puck to travel in a straight line instead of taking the scenic route towards the net because it wanted to see the ocean.
- While Ben Hutton has performed admirably on the power play, it was great to see Edler back on the first unit. The Canucks’ puck movement was crisper than a Preppy’s collar.
- The Canucks took the lead on a power play drawn by Biega. Goldobin out-battled Carl Hagelin for the puck along the boards and fed Edler, who moved it across to Pettersson. From there it was just like they drew it up: Bo Horvat moved down low and fired Pettersson’s pass to Sam Gagner in the slot, who one-timed it inside the far post past Calvin Petersen. Ah, the benefits of a right-hand shot in the slot on the power play: it’s almost like he should have been there all along.
Pettersson to Horvat to Gagner on the PP! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/16XBy4eNRV— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) November 25, 2018
- While Virtanen had a great game, he did make on egregious error, missing a rotation when Chris Tanev pinched down the boards in the offensive zone. Instead of staying back at the point, he drifted towards the net, leaving his man, Matt Luff, all alone. Now, you might ask, “What’s Luff got to do with it?” but that’s when Hagelin sprung Luff on a breakaway. Luff came walking in and undressed Markstrom with a deke to the forehand, but it’s hard to blame the Canucks goaltender: Luff moves in mysterious ways.
- My favourite oddity on the scoresheet: Nikolay Goldobin played 30 seconds on the penalty kill. It wasn’t intentional: he got stuck on the ice after a 4-on-4 and it honestly looked like he was trying to learn the Canucks’ penalty kill system on the fly. It wasn’t pretty and Jeff Carter ended up hitting the post on a great chance from the slot, but Goldobin escaped his brief shorthanded stint without giving up a goal.
- Elias Pettersson can turn a game on a dime. It took one second for him to score the game-winning goal, from the moment he picked off a Phaneuf breakout pass to the moment the puck hit the back of the net. It was a fantastic read by Pettersson, jumping up to intercept the puck just inside the blue line, but his wrist shot was even better, as he sent a laser over the pad like he was The Katayanagi Twins. He tore the roof off.
- Alternative joke: Pettersson beat Petersen through the power of extra consonants.
- Tyler Motte iced the game because he didn’t have to worry about icing. A late delay of game penalty by Edler — he knocked the puck over the glass with his glove — gave the Kings a power play in the final minutes, but it was Motte that got the goal. He poked the puck away from Anze Kopitar and hit the middle of the Kings’ empty net from the defensive zone.
- It was great for the Canucks to finally get a win, but it should probably be kept in mind that the Kings are bad right now. Like, really bad. Jonathan Quick is out indefinitely after knee surgery; Anze Kopitar hasn't just lost a step, he's lost a whole staircase; and Ilya Kovalchuk has become a ghost, both invisible and intangible. The only sign that he played in this game was the disembodied voice that occasionally whispered over the ice, “Drew Doughty’s 8-year, $88-million contract doesn’t kick in until next season, when he’ll be turning 30 and on the downside of his career. The Kings are screwwwwwwwwwed.”