This wasn’t exactly the friendliest schedule to start the season for the Canucks. While there’s something to be said for an early road trip to help with team bonding and cohesiveness, it wasn’t ideal to head out on the road for six games after just one game at home. That’s particularly true when you look at the Canucks’ opponents, including three legitimate Cup contenders in Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Winnipeg.
With that in mind, there was a lot to like about the six-game road trip. There’s no shame at all in going .500. Anders Nilsson earned a longer look and more starts. The team put their bodies on the line to block a ton of shots. Elias Pettersson continued his point streak. Brock Boeser broke out of his early slump.
These are all good things.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course. I’m not just talking about losing Pettersson to a concussion, though that certainly didn’t help. There are also troubling signs in the Canucks’ underlying numbers, as they’ve been crushed in puck possession and scoring chances. They’re blocking a ton of shots because they’re giving up a ton of shot attempts.
Nothing puts a damper on a good road trip, though, like losing the final game of the trip, particularly by multiple goals. It’s a demoralizing end, even if it shouldn’t kill the good vibes from the previous three games.
As is getting to be a habit, I watched this game.
- The Canucks played the first two periods of this game exactly the way a coach like Travis Green would want them to play. At the tail end of a long road trip, against a difficult opponent, sometimes you’re content to just keep things tight and hope for the best. It was going perfectly until the Canucks made like shawty in the third period and got loose.
- Anders Nilsson got his fourth start in a row and was, like a keen radio listener entering a contest, dialled in early. He kept the Canucks in the game with 19 saves on 20 shots through the first two periods, including some dandy stops on Patrik Laine and a Dustin Byfuglien breakaway.
- Even when the wheels fell off the bus in the third period, Nilsson wasn’t to blame. He was just the driver desperately trying to maintain control while the players in front of him were the wheels careening wildly in all directions. Despite the 4-1 loss, Nilsson still deserves to get some starts at home in Vancouver.
- Adam Gaudette’s minutes were again limited in his second game this season. A big reason why is that Travis Green appears to be protecting him from defensive zone faceoffs. Gaudette took just one faceoff in the defensive zone this game and it was after an icing call when the Canucks couldn’t change. Bo Horvat, meanwhile, took 13 faceoffs in the defensive zone. When your coach is unsure if he can trust you to start a shift at one end of the ice, that limits the number of times he’s going to send you over the boards. Gaudette went 3-for-11 on faceoffs, so that’s an area where he’ll have to improve to win over Green.
- Erik Gudbranson and Ben Hutton should not play together. I feel very strongly about this. The Canucks keep trying it and the pairing generally looks okay for a little while, but over time their individual flaws seem to compound each other until, eventually, the pairing is almost entirely composed of flaws. At some point, the Canucks need to realize there’s no diamond in that rough. It’s just rough.
- Gudbranson was on the ice for all four Winnipeg goals. Hutton was on the ice for three of them. Like Sheila from Army of Darkness, it got real ugly.
- Honestly, we should have seen this coming when, in the first period, Gudbranson missed Hutton with a D-to-D pass by a good 15 feet. It was the first sign that the two of them were not only not on the same page, but in completely different books.
- The Jets opened the scoring on the power play by finding Patrik Laine open at the left faceoff circle for a one-timer. The first one went over the net, but the second one beat Nilsson just inside the post. You can’t let that pass get across to Laine twice. Once is bad enough. There’s blame to spread around the penalty killers: Hutton was too aggressive on Blake Wheeler with the puck, forcing Gudbranson to sag towards the net instead of cheating towards Laine, while Markus Granlund and Tim Schaller did little to clog up the passing lane across the seam.
- Random oddity: on a delayed penalty in the first period, Green sent out Hutton as the extra attacker. That’s Ben “One Goal in his Last 78 Games” Hutton. I mean, I guess he did score in his last game, so maybe you ride the hot hand?
- Green wrinkled the lineup after the first period, likely looking for an offensive spark. Without Pettersson to play off of, Nikolay Goldobin’s offensive talent has been dormant, so Green bumped him up to the top line with Horvat and Brock Boeser. The trio created some chances and Baertschi looked good with Gaudette and Loui Eriksson, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Green come back with those lines until Pettersson returns.
- The Canucks tied things up midway through the second period on a great individual effort by Horvat. Weirdly, he couldn’t have done it alone, which is not what you usually say about an individual effort. Derrick Pouliot made a stunning breakout pass to send Horvat away with speed, then Horvat did the rest, challenging Jacob Trouba one-on-one, then swatting a bouncing puck past Connor Hellebuyck.
- I can finally spell “Hellebuyck” without looking it up. I am inordinately proud of this fact.
- The scoring chances are starting to come for Brock Boeser. He only had two shots on goal, but they were both golden scoring opportunities. One came after a surprisingly great rush by Gudbranson at 4-on-4 that created a rebound chance that Boeser sent off Hellebuyck’s shoulder. Eventually Boeser will bury those chances. Like Brook Benton said, it’s just a matter of time.
- I had to laugh at Travis Green shouting at the referee after Alex Edler was called for tripping — “It was a ****ing battle,” read his lips — after which the slow motion replay clearly showed Edler getting his stick in between Adam Lowry’s legs and, well, tripping him.
- The Jets took the lead on that power play, as their speed on the zone entry caught Chris Tanev and Gudbranson, filling in for the penalized Edler, flat-footed. Tanev, playing on his off-side with Edler in the box, got completely turned around, which gave Bryan Little enough space to send a backhand shot past Nilsson.
- That’s when defensive coverage went kablooie. Fresh off scoring the go-ahead goal, Little somehow ended up wide open between the hashmarks, while Jake Virtanen, who should have been checking him, seemed so befuddled at where he was supposed to be that he actually gave Chris Tanev a little crosscheck in the back. Little’s shot hit both the crossbar and the post, but somehow stayed out of the net, leading to a wild scramble in front.
Things have fallen apart pic.twitter.com/L96SfRxojr— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) October 19, 2018
- Gudbranson may have been on the ice for the previous two Jets goals, but he wasn’t directly at fault. That’s not the case on the 3-1 goal, however, as he chased a hit along the boards on Andrew Copp, accidentally taking himself out of the play in the process. Copp beat Gudbranson back to the net and got to a loose puck in front. Gudbranson finished his check; Copp finished his chance.
- Then there’s the 4-1 goal, which was just a disaster. An unusual rotation off the faceoff left Hutton and Gudbranson utterly befuddled as each of them second-guessed which man they were supposed to take. Eventually, both jumped towards Little, who once again had the puck in the slot with no one on him. That’s when Little found Dustin Byfuglien jumping up in the play for the easy tap-in goal.
Just to be fair on that 4-1 goal, everyone pretty much looked like poop on that play, not just the d-men. Entire face-off situation turned into a disaster of non coverage. pic.twitter.com/HJeM3cbjgK— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) October 19, 2018
- What a complete clustercuss. The biggest issue is a lack of communication. Gudbranson and Hutton need to be yelling at each other simple instructions so it’s clear who has whom. Instead, neither had nobody.
- Of course, it’s easy to blame the defence for a defensive breakdown, particularly when both of them are so comedically out of sorts, but Byfuglien wasn’t their check. Antoine Roussel, who was far too aggressive attacking the point and completely lost containment on Byfuglien, somehow escaped blame from the fans on that goal. I’m willing to bet he won’t escape blame from the coaching staff.
- Look, the Jets are a great team, with a dangerous group of forwards that are excellent at forcing opposing teams to make mistakes. The Canucks were a tired team at the end of a long road trip missing their best player, and still held their own through the first two periods. You can’t get too low after a loss like this.