I Watched This Game: Jacob Markstrom shuts one door, Canucks blow the other wide open

Canucks 5 - 1 Blues

Pass it to Bulis

Last time the Vancouver Canucks played the St. Louis Blues, they crushed them with their most lopsided win of the season thanks to some puck luck and truly awful goaltending from the Blues.

Like “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” or “Judy is a Punk,” it was second verse, same as the first on Thursday night in Vancouver. Instead of 6-1, the Canucks won 5-1, but everything else was pretty much the same, right down to the Blues actually having a strong start that was stymied by Jacob Markstrom.

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Remember when Jake Allen was good? I don’t mean morally good, as I’m not here to make an ethical judgements about him as a human being — I’m sure he’s mostly fine, with pockets of evil constantly clawing at the cracks in his psyche, just like the rest of us — but good in a hockey sense.

Back in 2013-14, Allen won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for the most outstanding goaltender in the AHL. The St. Louis Blues must have been thrilled. Here he was, their goaltender of the future.

For a while, it worked. He had a .920 save percentage in 2015-16. In the 2017 playoffs, he stole a series from the Minnesota Wild and finished the postseason with a .935 save percentage. He was inconsistent, sure, but when he was on, Allen could hold his own with the best goaltenders in the league.

It’s been downhill ever since.

Allen had an ugly .906 save percentage last season and you could pretty easily argue he was the primary reason the Blues missed the playoffs by a single point. This season, he’s been even worse: an .898 save percentage, worst in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 starts this season.

He didn’t help his case against the Canucks, with an .857 save percentage when I watched this game.

  • The Canucks were awful in the first period. Sorry, that’s not quite right: the Canucks, with the exception of Jacob Markstrom, were awful in the first period.
  • The shot count in the opening 20 minutes — 15-5 in favour of the Blues — was generous to the Canucks. Two of the “shots” were from the Canucks’ own zone — clearances by Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton. That leaves three shots on goal by the Canucks from the offensive zone and not one was from within 30 feet of the net.
  • Fortunately for the Canucks, Markstrom was ready right from puck drop. Like a sword forged by Hattori Hanzo, Markstrom was incredibly sharp, but also graceful and well-balanced. John Garrett praised him for his “quiet feet,” which is an accurate summation of his economical movements in net, making every safe look easy. He made 15 saves in the first period alone, and allowed just one goal on 30 shots, only losing the shutout on a great goal by Vladimir Tarasenko.
  • Travis Green evidently let the Canucks know just how poorly they were playing during the first intermission, and it seemed to fall on attentive ears. The Canucks dominated the second period to the same extent the Blues dominated the first, out-shooting the Blues 14-3. The only difference is that Jake Allen wasn’t a Hattori Hanzo sword; he was more of a dollar store steak knife.
  • The real sign that the Canucks were dominating early in the period wasn’t the shots, but the way they drew penalties with their puck possession in the offensive zone. Antoine Roussel kept his feet moving to draw the first penalty two minutes in, then Bo Horvat drew an interference penalty a few minutes later while going hard to the net for a rebound.
  • Horvat opened the scoring on the power play he drew, but it was Elias Pettersson’s pass that rightly got the praise and adulation, as well as a truly fantastic finger-point from Horvat. Pettersson drew the puck back like he was going to control it and look for options, but instead immediately fired it to Horvat at the back-post, who just had to be firm on his stick to redirect it home.

 

 

  • Half a minute later, the Canucks’ other rookie got involved in the scoring. Adam Gaudette’s first shot off the rush was blocked by Joel Edmundson, but Gaudette kept after the puck. After stripping the puck from Rob Thomas, Gaudette made like Min Woo Lee and drove it through Allen’s legs.

 

 

  • Gaudette nearly got another in the third period, but Allen busted out some of the old magic, sliding across to rob Gaudette after giving up a rebound on a Derrick Pouliot shot. In some games, a save like that can be a turning point, keeping the score close so your teammates can mount a comeback. In this game, it was just delaying the inevitable.
  • Not long after that fantastic save, Allen gave up an absolute groaner to Josh Leivo, who shot from two feet behind the goal line and banked it in off Allen’s back. Usually when you hit someone in the numbers, you’re risking a penalty, not scoring a goal. It was intentional too, as Leivo spotted Allen leaning off the post and bet Larry Bird a Big Mac he could bank it in. Nothing but net.

 

 

  • Vladimir Tarasenko has 150 goals in his last four seasons. Now he’s suddenly the subject of trade rumours, as if he’s the problem in St. Louis. The guy can still score goals, even if got off to a rocky start this season. He drove around Gaudette, evaded Chris Tanev’s stick as he cut in front, and tucked the puck around Markstrom for the Blues’ only goal.
  • Jake Virtanen set a new career high in goals, scoring his 11th of the season on a set play off a faceoff won by Horvat, similar to a goal Boeser scored against the Philadelphia Flyers. Virtanen rotated up to the top of the zone, while Loui Eriksson set up shop in front of Allen. Seeing Eriksson lay out his wares to sell to passersby must have been extremely distracting to Allen, who never seemed to see Virtanen’s shot.

 

 

  • The crowd erupted in chants of “Shotgun Jake! Shotgun Jake!” after the goal. The Canucks have studiously avoided acknowledging the growing #ShotgunJake movement, perhaps concerned about promoting the rapid consumption of alcohol to their young, impressionable fans. If that’s the case, it does send somewhat of a mixed message that the celebratory gif posted after Virtanen’s goals on the Canucks Twitter features the winger with a Budweiser Red Light and their post-game highlights are likewise sponsored by Budweiser.
  • Loui Eriksson’s empty net goal seemed like a karmic reward for a strong game. He helped the Canucks to another perfect penalty-killing performance, giving them 20 straight successful kills, played a shutdown role at 5-on-5 against the Tarasenko line, and provided the screen on Virtanen’s goal. All-in-all, a tidy, detailed game from the veteran, who Green was quick to praise post-game: “This is the best I’ve seen him play.”
     

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