I feel for any Canucks fans that might have a heart condition.
For 54 minutes, this game was mind-numbing, as the Nashville Predators took an early lead, then strangled the life out of the game. Then, for six glorious minutes, the game was a thrilling affair, with moments seemingly tailor-made to spike your heart rate and increase your blood pressure.
These wild swings from excruciatingly dull to pulse-quickeningly exciting can’t be good for Canucks fans with a frail disposition. Just pick one or the other: good or bad. Don’t be like Katy Perry’s on-again, off-again boyfriend or like whatever inspired the Vengaboys’ eurodance hit “Up and Down.” Just pick a direction and stick with it. One or the other.
Instead, the Canucks seem intent on bouncing up and down like the elevator at the Shanghai Tower. In one moment, the Canucks look awful, like the basement-dwelling, lottery-picking team many predicted prior to the start of the season. The next moment, they’re a hard-scrabble, comeback-kid team of destiny that refuses to lose.
For the optimists among you, this is a great sign. Of course a young, rebuilding team is wildly inconsistent. As they grow and gain experience, they’ll become more consistent, and those highs will start to become the norm.
For the pessimists, all these last-minute points gained are just taking the Canucks further away from a top draft pick in 2019 and preventing them from gaining one more key piece to the rebuilding puzzle, thereby cementing their status as mediocre also-rans for the next decade.
Let’s just say there’s a bit of a divide between the optimists and the pessimists in the Canucks fanbase right now. In the middle of that divide, I watched this game.
- The Predators smothered the Canucks for most of this game in a goldenrod-coloured blanket. Everywhere the Canucks turned, a golden sweater was already there, like a character in a horror movie that opens a mirrored medicine cabinet, then when they close it and look in the mirror, the monster is right behind you, look out!
- Side note: I’d love to see a movie where you can see the monster getting in position for all those perfect jump scares: awkwardly sneaking up behind the person as they’re washing their face and, instead of striking while they’re unaware, quietly standing there, looking vaguely threatening until they look up and see them in the mirror.
- Anders Nilsson got the start despite Jacob Markstrom carrying the team to three straight victories with some of his most inspired play of the season. That looked like a mistake when the Predators scored two pillowy-soft goals in the first ten minutes. It wasn’t quite as devastating as the first ten minutes of Up, but it still wasn’t great.
- Sometimes a great shot will be a goaltender cleanly. When it happens twice in three minutes, though, it’s pretty frustrating. At the very least, you hope that Nilsson can save one of those two shots, most likely the one from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat him on the short side. The second goal was from closer, with more puck movement and a couple passing options, but that first one — woof.
- After that, Nilsson was fantastic, like those two goals honed him to a fine edge. He was sharp throughout the rest of the game, keeping the Canucks in it with multiple fantastic saves, including a glove stop on a seemingly-sure goal from Kyle Turris, and a ludicrous stick/skate save on Roman Josi with ten minutes to go that enabled the late comeback. At the same time, Nilsson finished with an .882 save percentage and was the reason the team was in a hole early. Like the rest of the team, Nilsson was more inconsistent than the size of women’s clothes between brands.
😱 NILLY 😱 pic.twitter.com/5TQsdnPQj9— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) December 14, 2018
- I’ve criticized Markus Granlund’s penalty killing, but one area where’s he’s legitimately good is in the neutral zone. The issues start when the opposing power play enters the zone and gets a chance to set up, but Granlund is pretty good at preventing that zone entry in the first place. Granlund must be a fan of Ru Paul’s Drag Race because he read Mattias Ekholm to perfection, picking off his pass in the neutral zone to create a short-handed 2-on-1 with Jay Beagle.
- Granlund sent the pass to Beagle like a tennis ball and Beagle surprisingly showed some soft hands, cutting to the backhand for the finish, leaving Pekka Rinne completely flummoxed. He shouldn’t have been surprised: there ain’t no rule that says a dog can’t play hockey.
- There was plenty of forgiveness for Nilsson on the Predators’ third goal: the Canucks’ fourth line got hemmed into the defensive zone like a long pair of trousers and the Predators zipped the puck around like a needle through thread. The combination of the puck movement, traffic in front, and a tip from Calle Jarnkrok gave Nilsson no chance to make the save.
- Tim Schaller appears to have played himself into Travis Green’s doghouse. The winger played a game-low 4:12 in this game, with just one shift in the third period and no time on the penalty kill. You have to wonder if it was something Green saw when he was on the ice for the 3-1 goal: Schaller played just two shifts after that.
- Dan Murphy served up a blast from the past during the second period, revealing that Nick Bonino’s Nashville teammates have discovered a blast from the PITB past: “Holding Out For Bonino,” which is better known for its hook in the chorus, “I Need Bonino.” Apparently Bonino’s teammates have taken to playing it in the locker room, much to Bonino’s dismay. The song has now followed him to two different teams, as it became a minor hit in Pittsburgh when he was with the Penguins in the playoffs.
- It looked like the Predators had put the game out of reach early in the third period after some pretty tic-tac-toe passing off the rush, but a savvy challenge by Green and the Canucks for offside overturned the goal after a quick review. Fortunately for the Canucks, Kevin Fiala lifted his foot instead of dragging it before he scored his backdoor goal. Fiala’ll feel awful, I’m sure.
- Bo Horvat sparked the comeback for the Canucks, first drawing a penalty on Roman Josi, one of the Predators’ key penalty killers. Then he held back Jake Virtanen from exacting retribution to make sure the Canucks actually got the power play. Why, that’s the kind of thing a captain would do: so go vote for him to be an All-Star Game captain, why don’t you.
- Earlier in the game, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser were on the opposite of their usual sides on the power play. I’m sure there’s a sound rationale for switching things up, but it was just awkward, as neither could unleash a one-timer. By the third period, they were back on their regular sides, just in time for Alex Edler to put a puck in Boeser’s bailiwick: he ripped a one-timer over Rinne’s glove to make it a one-goal game.
The other angle. pic.twitter.com/rMAMo6VLoL— J.D. Blitzen (@JDylanBurke) December 14, 2018
- Pettersson had the secondary assist on Boeser’s goal, extending his point streak to five games: he has three goals and 11 points in those five games. Several Canucks rookie records are still in jeopardy.
- With one goal separating the two teams, things got confusing. Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis got typically charitable, donating another power play to the Canucks by clearing the puck over the glass. Then Edler took a slashing penalty to take the Canucks off the power play, while Nashville killed off a minute or so of their own penalty by controlling the puck on the delayed call. As a result, the two teams played 4-on-4, but the Canucks pulled Nilsson for the extra attacker to make it the equivalent of a 5-on-4 power play.
- Confused? Apparently so was Austin Watson, as he iced the puck, seemingly forgetting that the Canucks weren’t actually on the power play. That gave the Canucks an offensive zone faceoff, allowing them to keep Nilsson on the bench for the extra attacker. It was a crucial error in judgement by Watson, likely because he didn’t have Sherlock around to correct him.
- After Hamhuis exited the box and forced the puck out, Pettersson took matters into his own hands, flying into the Predators’ zone and circling the net to allow his teammates to get set up. He fed the puck down to Nikolay Goldobin, whose centring pass was picked off, but Ben Hutton blocked the clearing attempt and gave it back to Goldobin. His quick shot was stopped, but Horvat jumped all over the rebound and also put it into the net, because you don’t get points for jumping on things in hockey.
- Perhaps the Canucks don’t play the way they did in those final six minutes because it’s impossible to keep up that pace. They certainly looked gassed in overtime. First Edler, Pettersson, and Boeser got pinned down in the defensive zone, with their shifts lasting nearly two full minutes. Then, as Colton Sissons burst past him in the neutral zone, Horvat seemed to have nothing left in his legs, leaving Sissons open, which is a bad idea: never leave Sissons open, never run with Sissons, and always pass Sissons to someone else handle first.
- Is that the second time I’ve made a Sissons/scissors joke in the last week? Perhaps. Am I going to apologize for that? Nope. In any case, Bonino passed to Sissons, who scored. Game over.