Is it too much to say that this game felt like a changing of the guard or a passing of the torch? There was something serendipitous about Quinn Hughes’s first NHL game coinciding with the Canucks’ current best defenceman breaking a record by the team’s previous best defenceman.
Mattias Ohlund was a beast on the backend for the Canucks for eleven seasons. When he left the Canucks and joined the Tampa Bay Lightning to end his career, Ohlund was the Canucks’ leader in goals and points, but was better known for his physical shutdown game. He was the steady backbone of the Canucks’ defence for a decade: a complete player that gave everything for his team.
It makes you wonder what might have been if he didn’t suffer a bad eye injury in the preseason before his third year in the league. It not only caused him to miss many games to eye surgeries and recovery, but also limited vision in his right eye. Without that particular injury, perhaps Ohlund could have been even more dominant.
In Ohlund’s ninth season with the Canucks, he was joined on the blue line by another big Swedish defenceman: Alex Edler. While Edler isn’t the most loquacious person, he’s quick to speak to the impact Ohlund had on him on and off the ice. In Ohlund’s final years with the Canucks, he was Edler’s most common defence partner, showing him the ropes as he acclimated to the NHL.
Now Edler is the one with franchise records to his name. He has the most games played, most points, and, after scoring against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, the most goals by a Canucks’ defenceman. With the 94th goal of his career, Edler passed his mentor and staked his claim as the Canucks’ greatest defenceman of all time.
Who was looking on from the bench as Edler scored: Quinn Hughes, who represents the future of the Canucks’ defence. If all goes well, it will be Hughes someday breaking the records set by Edler. Is that placing too high expectations on a 19-year-old kid who just made his NHL debut? Absolutely, but it’s hard to avoid high expectations when you watch him play. Hughes is a special talent, with monumental upside: getting insanely overhyped seems to me the only rational response.
It doesn’t help lower expectations when Hughes tallies a ridiculous assist for his first career point in his first career game. Hughes got a headstart on those franchise records when I watched this game.
- If you didn’t realize just how much Canucks fans have been craving a defenceman that can cleanly break the puck out of the defensive zone, all you had to do was listen to the appreciative roar in Rogers Arena when Hughes, during his first shift, won a puck battle with good body position and made a smart, but simple, pass for a zone exit. It was great to see a 19-year-old look so calm and poised for his first shift, but when there’s a near standing ovation for a breakout pass, you can see how low the bar has been set over the past few years.
- I kid, but Hughes was legitimately fantastic to watch. His skating is simply sublime, whether he’s evading a forechecker and bursting up through the neutral zone or effortlessly getting back on defence after joining the rush. It was delightful.
- Meanwhile, the numbers matched the eye test. The Canucks out-attempted the Kings 26-12 when Hughes was on the ice at 5-on-5. They outshot the Kings 15-8 and out-chanced them 13-6. That led the Canucks in each of those categories. Sure, he didn’t start many shifts in the defensive zone, but even when he was in the defensive zone he rarely spent much time there, constantly moving the puck up ice.
- Okay, but forget the numbers. Look at this. Just look at how easy he makes this look. So smoove, and he refuses to slow down.
quinn hughes szn pic.twitter.com/k5T38YHdXQ— Olivia Lin (@oliviaylin) March 29, 2019
- The Kings, however, got on the board first thanks to an odd bounce off the boards. Kurtis MacDermid missed the net from above the right faceoff circle and Thatcher Demko slid to his right expecting the puck to carom off the boards in that direction. Instead, the puck hit the back of the net and Austin “No Relation” Wagner tucked it in the short side on his second attempt. Demko might have been able to make the save if he had been more under control: he missed the far post with his skate, so had no purchase for pushing back across to the near post.
- It was an unfortunate error for Demko, as he had an otherwise stellar game. He made 37 saves — the most of his young career — on 39 shots, then went on to stop every shot he faced in the shootout. Sure, he was helped out by the Kings hitting six goalposts, but goaltenders are also called netminders for a reason: they mind the net. If you hit the post, he doesn’t mind.
- To help you keep from getting too hyped, Hughes did have one bad shift. Dustin Brown reached a milestone of his own, as he became the Kings’ franchise leader in games played, and he did everything he could to celebrate it in style. In the second period, Brown burned Hughes around the outside, but Demko made the stop. Later in the shift, he was wide open behind Hughes for an open net, but he put the puck off the post. Even inanimate objects don’t like Dustin Brown.
- I had to chuckle when Wagner (again, no relation) jumped on Luke Schenn’s back and dragged him to the ice, simply because it brought to mind one of Jan Bulis’s most infamous moments, when he piggybacked on Niklas Hagman of the Dallas Stars. Like Bulis, Wagner didn’t receive a penalty despite very obviously committing an infraction deserving a penalty. Unlike Bulis, Wagner had the good sense not to immediately go and shove the goaltender to the ice to get a penalty anyways.
- Schenn was paired with Hughes in this game and provided a little intimidation, for whatever it’s worth, getting in the face of anyone that tried anyone that dared touch his rookie partner. He didn’t even need Alka Seltzer to do it. It helps that he’s basically a double-wide version of Hughes when it comes to size. Schenn has had a good run recently as he pushes to earn a job for next season. Just be careful not to overpraise him. Schenn as a cheap depth option? Great. Schenn as an everyday defenceman on a long-term contract? No bueno.
- The Canucks scored their goals in the space of a minute in the second period. Jonathan Quick is still looking for Edler’s record-breaking goal. Bo Horvat won the faceoff and Pettersson poked the puck back to Edler, who flung the puck on net for Josh Leivo to tip. Leivo whiffed on the puck, which seemed to confuse Quick, who looked around in bewilderment after the puck, untouched, slipped between his legs. It’s like the classic toilet paper magic trick. Everyone else was in on the joke, but Quick thought it was real magic: the puck disappeared!
- No, the real magic was still to come. Less than a minute later, Hughes got the puck at the blueline and started to do a lap of the offensive zone. Trevor Lewis tried to keep up, so Hughes lost with him with a ridiculous bank pass to himself off the back of the net. Then he made a spread eagle pivot above the goal line and ripped a shot off Quick’s shoulder. Boeser, battling with Alec Martinez in front, was first to the rebound and chipped it under the bar for the ridiculous goal.
- Hughes is 19, you guys.
- The Kings tied it up in the third period with Hughes on the ice, though he wasn’t at fault. Loui Eriksson’s clearance got cut off by Lewis at the blue line and he fed Adrian Kempe, who had a great game for the Kings. Kempe cut across the zone down to the left faceoff circle and Demko couldn’t adjust his angle in time, leaving enough room for Kempe to score on the blocker side.
- The tying goal gave fans a treat, however: 3-on-3 overtime featuring Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes. They came out for the Canucks’ second shift and dominated, showing instant chemistry, like baking soda and vinegar. It took a big pad-stacking save by Quick to keep the score tied.
- That Quick save was good. This Quick save was even better. Pettersson set up Boeser on the 2-on-1, but Boeser took a fraction of a second too long to get the shot off. Quick, in the splits, shot his glove up to rob Boeser again. The last time I saw someone commit robbery in the splits like that, it was Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment, when she dipped beneath lasers (oh-oh-oh).
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) March 29, 2019
- Boeser couldn’t score on Quick and the Kings looked hapless on a 4-on-3 power play, so the game went to a shootout. Demko was fantastic, with his best save coming off Anze Kopitar, as he dragged his right skate behind him to stop the puck after it slipped through his five-hole. Pettersson, Hughes, and Boeser were all stopped, but Tanner Pearson came through against his former team, snapping a shot that caught a piece of Quick, but still tumbled over the goal line.
- Of course, all that really matters is that the Canucks got rid of the Crap Mantle and are no longer the worst team in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings are officially the worst. Edler breaking a record? Hughes making his debut? Meaningless compared to the relief the Canucks must feel at no longer having the Crap Mantle weighing them down. It's literally the only thing that matters right now.