Up until the final three minutes, Michael Del Zotto was having a great game.
The defenceman was aggressive offensively, jumping up in the rush with aplomb, providing some much needed vim and vigour to a tired Canucks team after a long road trip. He wasn’t perfect, by any means, but the puck was moving in the right direction when he was on the ice, with the Canucks out-shooting the visiting Canadiens 10-6 at 5-on-5.
Del Zotto even scored his first goal of the season after ringing several posts during the road trip. On top of that, his flood pants were keeping his cuffs bone dry. Everything was coming up Del Zotto!
And then he took an absolutely awful penalty with three minutes left in a tie game.
There’s no excusing the penalty: Del Zotto hit Jesperi Kotkaniemi long after the puck was gone. He wasn’t “finishing his check” as he claimed after the game, as he didn’t start skating into his hit until the puck had already left Kotkaniemi’s stick. The penalty alone would have launched a thousand facepalms across BC, but the timing just made it worse.
You simply can’t afford to take a dumb penalty in the final minutes of a tie game. I mean, you should avoid dumb penalties at all times, but at least a penalty early in a game gives you time to make up for the mistake.
Of course, the Canadiens scoring eight seconds into the subsequent power play made the penalty that much more indelible. Instead of a relatively solid outing for Del Zotto, complete with a goal, being locked into people’s memories, the lasting impression will be of him sitting in the penalty box as the Canadiens scoring the gamewinning goal.
I may have yelled at my TV when I watched this game.
- Jacob Markstrom deserved a better result in this game, as he seemed to be refreshed after Richard Bachman gave him a day off on Thursday. The Canucks’ defence still seemed to be feeling the effects of their six-game road trip, giving up a number of dangerous chances that Markstrom turned aside. He may have wound up with a .903 save percentage, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story in this one.
- Heck, the first shot of the game came 13 seconds in, when Phillip Danault snuck in behind the defence while Chris Tanev made like Buster Keaton and executed a perfect pratfall. When Tanev, of all players, is looking comically inept, you know you’re in trouble.
- The Canucks had some new line combinations after the road trip: Markus Granlund moved to the wing with Bo Horvat. Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette, and Jake Virtanen formed a fast, hard-forechecking third line. Brendan Gaunce drew back into the lineup centring the fourth line. Now forget all of that, because the lines were jiggered, rejiggered, and re-rejiggered on a shift-by-shift basis.
- As an example, Horvat played over two minutes at 5-on-5 with seven different Canucks forwards and played 1:49 with an eighth, Brendan Leipsic. This wasn’t just jumping on the ice for a defensive zone faceoff, though he also did that; he played multiple shifts with eight different wingers, which, you might notice, is ALL THE WINGERS.
- It’s pretty unusual to see a forward lead a team in ice time ahead of all of a team’s defencemen. It’s definitely unusual to see two forwards ahead of every defenceman, but Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson managed that feat in this game. Horvat had a whopping 23:13 in ice time, while Pettersson clocked in at 21:17. A big reason why: Travis Green doesn’t appear to have a lot of trust in Brendan Gaunce, who played just short of five minutes and was benched in the third period.
- Horvat continues to take all the defensive zone faceoffs, or at least as many as humanly possible. He took 18 of the Canucks’ 24 defensive zone faceoffs and two of the other four were after icings. Someday, all these defensive zone faceoffs will be compiled into an epic 80’s-action-movie training montage all leading up to a crucial defensive zone faceoff in overtime of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, going through the events of a montage in real time is rather tedious.
- It was interesting to see Ben Hutton have the inverse of Michael Del Zotto’s game. Hutton struggled for most of the game, with Canadiens forwards getting in behind him several times for chances, but what will stick in people’s heads was a stunning defensive play to save a goal, diving out to deflect a pass, then pulling the puck away from Brendan Gallagher while splayed out on the ice. It was a stunning defensive play, one that makes it easy to forget that Hutton was also on the ice for all three of the Canadiens’ goals.
- The Canadiens opened the scoring when Tomas Tatar snuck in behind Hutton and Erik Gudbranson and Jeff Petry sprung him on a break away with a fantastic stretch pass. Tatar took the Petry dish and sent it upstairs to the lab for analysis.
- Del Zotto tied up the game by doing what a defenceman isn’t supposed to do, thereby confusing the Canadiens’ defencemen. After a nice move at centre, Del Zotto gained the offensive zone and laid the puck off to Horvat, then just kept going, skating through the Canadiens’ defence and planting like Ann Veal beside the net. Horvat set up Tyler Motte for a one-timer from the point, which Antoine Roussel deflected and Del Zotto tapped in.
Right place, right time. Right to the back of the net. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/DufJbbzFeD— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) November 18, 2018
- The Canucks finally made some changes to the first power play unit after struggling for weeks, moving Ben Hutton and Jake Virtanen to the first unit and bumping Derrick Pouliot and Adam Gaudette to the second unit. While they still struggled to gain the offensive zone and get set up, once they did, they seemed to move the puck a little better and they came through with a goal. We’ll see if it lasts.
- During the preseason, Ben Hutton talked about the challenge of setting up a good one-timer on the power play: “Everyone likes to hit a one-timer different, whether it’s off their back foot, off their front foot, like to have one step in on it, or whatever.” He added that he had asked Pettersson where he likes his passes, but said, “In practice, you ask him and he’s a little on the shyer side right now. He said to just put it anywhere.” Well, Hutton seemed to figure it out, placing several passes right in Pettersson’s wheelhouse.
- Pettersson broke his brief slump with authority. After whiffing on a one-timer earlier in the game, he hammered two in quick succession in the third period. Carey Price stopped the first one, but had no chance on the second, which went against the grain like Juror 8. Pettersson’s shot was picture perfect, zipping straight into the top corner.
- The Canadiens quickly responded, tying the game 2-2 off a fortunate bounce. Gudbranson did what he was supposed to in front, tying up Andrew Shaw’s stick, but the puck deflected in off Shaw’s foot instead. Regrettably, tying up feet is frowned upon in the NHL and, in any case, requires learning special knots from an expert.
- The Canucks had plenty of chances to get another goal in the third, but, like The Beatles, they couldn’t score. Granlund had a chance immediately after Pettersson’s goal, but was stoned by Price, then Horvat had a chance after a superb shift by his line and sent the puck wide. Even Pettersson had another chance to score off the rush, but sent his usually reliable snap shot over the net.
- Then Del Zotto took his ill-timed and ill-fated penalty, hitting Kotkaniemi so long after the puck was gone that even Don Cherry post-game said it was late. Eight seconds into the power play, a Jonathan Drouin point shot beat a screened Markstrom.
This might be the most blatantly stupid penalty I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/pEob1MNXIo— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2018
- The Canucks continued to press, with Nikolay Goldobin hitting the post with the Canucks’ net empty behind him, but that was as close as they would come. How utterly unsatisfying.