The primary question heading into this game against the Pittsburgh Penguins: how would the Canucks perform without Elias Pettersson in the lineup? Could the Canucks win without their 19-year-old star putting up points, particularly when he’s been the catalyst for the offence, scoring their first goal in four of their five games?
Turns out the answer is yes. The Canucks can win without Pettersson, even if it’s less flashy and takes a lot more grinding, neutral-zone-trapping, and a pinch of overtime.
Honestly, the Canucks played well, particularly considering the opponent: the ever-dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins. Sure, the Penguins are off to a rocky start this season, but they’re still the Penguins: they were one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL last season, boasting stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. While not a Stanley Cup favourite, according to Vegas oddsmakers, they’re still a Cup contender.
So, it had to feel pretty good for the Canucks, sans-Pettersson, to walk into Pittsburgh and leave with two points. It also felt pretty good to have entered my living room and leave having watched this game.
- The Canucks came out flying in the first period, perhaps looking to respond to those who wrote them off without Pettersson in the lineup. They out-shot Pittsburgh 6-0 through the first six minutes of the game. Unfortunately, on the seventh shot, they rested.
- The Penguins opened the scoring on their first shot of the game, a snapshot from Jake Guentzel that snuck under Anders Nilsson’s arm. To some, Nilsson allowing a goal on the first shot he faced would have indicated that we were about to get the bad version of Nilsson, but remember: if Nilsson doesn't give up a goal in the first five minutes of the game, he’s about to be a brick wall. Sure, the first shot went in, but it was 6:24 into the first period.
- No, I still haven’t run the numbers on that. With the way Nilsson is performing, I think I’ll have to.
- For the third game in a row, Nilsson was fantastic. Apart from that first goal, which seemed eminently stoppable, Nilsson looked calm and poised in the net, absorbing shot after shot. His best save came late in the second period, when he stole a goal from Dominik Simon in the slot, getting just enough of the puck with his glove to send it wide.
- Adam Gaudette made his season debut, called up in place of the injured Jay Beagle. At least, that’s who he replaced on the roster; who he replaced in the lineup was Elias Pettersson, skating with his usual linemates Nikolay Goldobin and Loui Eriksson. In his limited 8:22 of ice time, Gaudette looked pretty good, including on this solo coast-to-coast dash up the ice for a scoring chance.
- Ben Hutton had himself a game. He played over 21 minutes and was a beast in the neutral zone, breaking up multiple Pittsburgh rushes and turning the puck up ice. He also scored his first goal in 77 games and rung another shot off the crossbar. It looks like he might finally have earned the confidence of Green: he tied with Alex Edler with a team-high 33 shifts, which is frankly a lot of chemises to fit into your closet.
- Friend-of-the-blog Darryl Keeping put together a great thread of gifs on Twitter to demonstrat Hutton’s excellent work in this game. Click through to view the entire thread.
What a game for Ben Hutton who is looking as confident as we've seen him under Travis Green. His elite neutral zone defensive game continues while leading the team in controlled zone exit percentage and shot assists for #Canucks blue-liners. He also scored his 1st G in 77 GP! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/Ev0PsnM2e7— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) October 17, 2018
- Tim Schaller continues to impress with his play from the fourth line. He combined with Markus Granlund at centre and Tyler Motte on the opposite wing to form one of the Canucks’ most effective lines and had the primary assist on both the Canucks’ goals in regulation. He was dealing out hits like Max Martin, finishing with a game-high seven, a testament to his aggressive work on the forecheck.
- It was Schaller’s speed to beat out an icing that led to the Canucks’ first goal. After some Canucks’ pressure, Erik Gudbranson kept the puck in at the point and flung it towards the net. It was tipped, sending Pittsburgh goaltender Casey DeSmith off-balance. By the time Markus Granlund’s centring pass was deflected by Schaller to Hutton, DeSmith was DeScrambling and couldn’t make DeSave on Hutton’s snappy shot.
- May I just say, it’s really not fair that the Penguins started DeSmith instead of Matt Murray. It robbed me of all sorts of luck-related jokes at Murray’s expense. Poor form, Penguins. Poor form.
- The Canucks took the lead heading into the first intermission thanks once again to Schaller’s hard work down low. He out-battled Brian Dumoulin along the boards and skated behind the net with the puck, drawing a penalty on Dumoulin in the process. He then swung the puck out front, where it reached Brandon “Old Lamplighter” Sutter at the backdoor, who lit the lamp like he’d been listening to Sammy Kaye on the bench.
- That was it for scoring for a while. Markus Granlund had a great chance to score in the second period, but couldn’t raise the puck high enough on a down-and-out DeSmith, while Nilsson had to be sharper than Tim Minchin on a Pittsburgh power play and chances for Malkin and Crosby. Beyond that, the Canucks seemed to listen to Alan Tudyk and Kristen Wiig and made everything a little tighter.
- Pittsburgh pressed hard in the third period, but Vancouver seemed to have things under control, playing a brand of hockey that might be deemed “dull” or “boring” by those who aren’t well-versed in the fine art of Not Getting Any Scoring Chances But Not Giving Up Any Either. It’s not a very popular artform, to be sure.
- The Canucks made a crucial error late in the third period, however. Jake Virtanen rushed up the ice, but made an ill-conceived pass to the point instead of keeping the puck deep. Hutton took a gamble, pinching down the boards to keep the puck in, but Malkin picked off the puck and sent Phil Kessel away on a 2-on-1. Odd-man rushes are poisonous when you’re defending a one-goal lead and you can bet Green was livid about giving up one with three minutes left.
- What made matters worse was how Erik Gudbranson played the 2-on-1. A defenceman needs to commit to either taking away the pass or aggressively playing the puck-carrier, and Gudbranson was less committal than Maggie Carpenter. Since he didn’t take away the passing lane, Kessel was able to give Carl Hagelin a backdoor tap-in. Nilsson had no chance.
- The mistakes of Virtanen, Hutton, and Gudbranson did have one benefit: they gave Brock Boeser a chance to be the hero, reminding everyone that Elias Pettersson isn’t the only young superstar on the Canucks’ roster. Boeser took a pass from Chris Tanev in the defensive zone, eased his way into the Pittsburgh zone, then ripped a wrist shot right through DeSmith. Boeser practically punched a hole through DeSmith like he was an extra in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.
- In case there was any doubt, Brock Boeser can still shoot the puck.