I think Elias Pettersson might be NHL-ready.
I know, that’s a bold thing to say about a raw, 19-year-old rookie, playing his first ever NHL game, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s capable of, at the very least, playing on the fourth line.
That might sound crazy, I get it. Very few 19-year-olds are capable of playing a regular shift in the NHL, but Pettersson might — and I emphasize might — be one of them. You could tell that Travis Green agreed, because he gave him fourth-line minutes, which is, for Green, a sign of respect. After all, Green loves his fourth lines.
You could also tell that Pettersson is NHL-ready because he nearly tore a hole in the net, and the roof off Rogers Arena, with his very first NHL shot.
I watched Elias Pettersson arrive when I watched this game.
- That was fun. Say what you will about the negative predictions for the Canucks and the desire of some in the fanbase to see the team #loseforHughes, it sure is a pleasure to see the Canucks snuff the Flames. That’s particularly true when it’s the kids leading the way. All five goals were scored by the under-25 crowd.
- “It’s nice to see the young guys get rewarded,” said Green. “Young guys want to feel good, especially at the start of the season. Guys that have been in the league for a little while understand that it doesn’t have to happen in game one, two, sometimes it doesn’t happen right away. I think with young guys, they press to score, so to see five young guys get goals tonight is nice to see.”
- The first of those goals came 13:48 into the first period and it was the moment of the game. It’s hard to capture just how loud the building got when Elias Pettersson scored. Somewhere in between death metal concert and jackhammer.
- Pettersson came up the right wing with the puck on a 2-on-1. He sold the potential of the pass, then ripped the puck upstairs on Mike Smith, hammering the back bar. Like a small drink at a bar that has failed its health inspection, it was a filthy shot. More disgusting than a Troma film. Nastier than when Janet Jackson demands a beat. It was utterly sickening. More, please.
- After Pettersson scored, the camera caught him on the bench grinning, then, as the crowd roared, the grin turned into a eyes-wide, satisfied nod. Some might interpret that as being self-satisfied; instead, he seemed to be impressed with the crazed response of the Rogers Arena crowd. It was more of an “I’m going to like it here” nod than a “Yeah, I’m that good” nod.
- Let’s talk about the other Canucks who helped make that goal happen: Nikolay Goldobin and Loui Eriksson, who had the assists, and Derrick Pouliot, who created the space for Pettersson to release his shot. Goldobin made a great play on the breakout, tipping the puck off the boards to beat his man, then Eriksson got the pass by Michael Frolik to spring the rush. But it was Pouliot reading the play and jumping up in the rush that made it a 2-on-1. With defenceman Michael Stone forced to play the pass, Pettersson had enough room to pick a corner and snipe.
- “Maybe he’ll give me a backdoor tap-in some other time,” said Pouliot with a smile when I suggested he might deserve an honorary assist for jumping up in the rush on Pettersson’s goal. “If I don’t jump up in the play there...for Petey’s goal, the d-man can just play him 1-on-1. All the D need to do that. It really adds that second layer to the rush and it throws teams off.”
- The shot at Green in the intro about Pettersson playing fourth-line minutes is meant in good humour. It’s understandable that Pettersson’s minutes were limited in his debut. He is an unproven 19-year-old and the Canucks took about a million penalties, so the penalty killers played more. It’s not a terrible idea to ease Pettersson into the NHL like Calvin easing his way into an ice-cold lake, but sometimes you have to just leap in like Hobbes. Take the plunge, Green. It’s worse to drag it out.
- Green hated the question about Pettersson’s ice time as soon as I asked it. “Come on guys, Jesus,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Elias is going to play plenty. Tonight, obviously, there was seven shorthanded situations, one power play. He’s going to get a lot of power play time, I’m going to get to know him, I’m sure he’ll play 9+ and I’m sure he’ll be fine with his ice time, you don’t have to make a big deal out of it.”
- It wasn’t just the penalty kill, of course. Pettersson played 8:27 at even-strength; Tyler Motte played 14:36. This isn’t surprising. This is a Travis Green team. He likes to hard-match his checking line against the top lines of the opposition, so they’re going to play more than the sheltered second line. This isn’t making a big deal out of it, it’s just acknowledging that this is the way it’s likely going to be. Whether or not you’re okay with the electrifying Pettersson playing less than the checking line is up to you. Tonight, you’re probably pretty okay with it.
- I don't mean to pick on Motte, who had a fine game. He played a whopping 21:45, bested only by Sutter’s 22:43 among Canucks’ forwards. That line matched up against both top lines for the Flames and largely kept them to the outside. Motte even created some chances with his speed, powering around his check 1-on-1 for his best chance of the game, then setting up Troy Stecher for a clear scoring chance out of a board battle. I’d go as far as to say Motte was...notte bad.
- I’ll leave it to Green to asses the line of Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser: “Horvat’s line was (INSERT THE LONGEST PAUSE IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS INTERVIEWS) decent. Okay. Average, is what I would call it. Average.”
- The 1-0 score stood until the second period, when Pettersson added a little dash of spice to his already delicious debut. Loui Eriksson’s shot from the point got blocked, but Pettersson was Johnny on the spot in the slot, picking up the puck and sliding it backdoor to Goldobin, who made no mistake on the sprawling Mike Smith, elevating the puck like it was a mundane ingredient given to a Masterchef contestant.
- That meant two points for Eriksson in his first game on Pettersson’s wing. “It’s good to play with someone that has been in the league a long time,” said Pettersson post-game, and Eriksson is definitely the old man on that line. We could call him Papa Loui, perhaps? It has a nice ring to it.
- Before the 2-0 goal could even be announced, Brendan Leipsic added another. It was just a pure bad read by the Calgary defensive pair of Juuso Valimaki and Michael Stone, who assumed the Flames had possession and started jumping up to join the non-existent rush. That left Jay Beagle and Leipsic alone in front of Smith. Eric Gudbranson did a great job holding the line and threw the puck on net, where Beagle tipped it, and Leipsic cleaned up the rebound.
- What a weird game for Gudbranson. He gave the arena and Canucks bench some energy with his physical play, but that also meant taking a bad penalty in the neutral zone and dropping the gloves with Travis Hamonic when Pettersson had possession of the puck in a dangerous area in the offensive zone. He and partner Pouliot ended up on the right side of puck possession, leading the Canucks in corsi, but Gudbranson also put the Canucks on the penalty kill twice. On the whole, it was a solid game for Gudbranson, even if there were some messy moments.
- Jake Virtanen had a bad neutral zone penalty of his own: he stopped moving his feet and lazily stuck his stick into Sean Monahan’s skates. But then he scored a fantastic goal immediately after coming out of the box, burning past Mark Giordano and tucking the puck five-hole. Maybe that should be a set play for the Canucks: Virtanen can take a penalty, then be ready to use his speed on the breakaway two minutes later.
- Props to the hoisted pass by Brandon Sutter on Virtanen’s goal. The puck landed perfectly in the offensive zone for Virtanen to skate onto it. We’ll call that one the sky-hook in honour of the signature shot of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who recently joined the writing team of the new Veronica Mars reboot. Now there’s a modern-day rennaisance man: legendary basketball player, occasional actor, brilliant non-fiction writer, pop-culture critic, and now cult-classic-reboot-writer. Give that man an Emmy to go with his NBA MVPs and championship rings.
- Jacob Markstrom was fantastic. He made 33 saves on 35 shots, including 15 of 17 shots in the third period. Markstrom was quick to praise the players in front of him, but he made some superb saves on breakaways and backdoor plays, whether it was closing down his five-hole or shooting out his pad to get his toe on a shot. He made more stops than the lone police officer in Estelline, Texas.
- The two goals that did beat Markstrom were hardly his fault. Perhaps you could blame him for being too aggressive on the first goal, as he was out of position to recover when the puck bounced off the boards to Matthew Tkachuk, but Bo Horvat was also too slow to get to Tkachuk. And the second goal changed direction off Sven Baertschi’s stick, so we’ll give him a pass on that one too.
- Just to get on the ice-time train again: Virtanen was the only player who scored on a goalie to play more than ten minutes. The other three scorers — Pettersson, Goldobin, and Leipsic — all played under ten minutes. I’m just saying.
- Finally, the penalty kill was on point in this game. They limited the Flames’ zone entries to prevent clean setups, and kept a disciplined, tight box in front of the net, while still aggressively challenging the Flames for the puck. They allowed just six shots on goal on seven power play opportunities. It was a penalty killing clinic and they were taking new patients all night long.