The final game of the preseason represents one last chance for bubble players to present their case to be on the opening night roster.
There’s no easy way out for the Canucks as they pare down their roster. Whatever decisions they make, players are going to have to go on waivers, where they could be lost to another team in need of a creative playmaker like Nikolay Goldobin, a savvy defensive forward like Tim Schaller, or a hard-working forechecker like Tyler Motte.
There’s also the difficult decision over whether they can afford to cut Adam Gaudette, who has done everything he possibly could to make the Canucks out of camp on merit. There is an easy way out in Gaudette’s case: he’s waiver-exempt, which makes it simplicity itself to send him to the Utica Comets and wait for an injury.
If they keep Gaudette, that will just make their other decisions more complicated. That’s one more player that has to go through waivers and then the Canucks have to figure out where he fits in the lineup. Would Travis Green play Gaudette as the third-line centre ahead of Brandon Sutter. Is that something you realistically see happening?
All of those decisions lie in the near future. For the moment, let’s focus on the near past, when I watched this game.
- I honestly have no idea what direction the Canucks are going to go with Jake Virtanen. He could get traded, start the season in the press box, or start the season on the first line if Brock Boeser doesn’t return in time, and none of those options would really surprise me. He had such a strong start to the preseason, scoring two goals in his first game, but after that seemed to disappear or show up in the wrong way because of poor puck management.
- Virtanen ended up spending a lot of time on prospective bottom-six lines centred by Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle. The message seemed pretty clear: with the addition of J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland to the top-six, there was simply no room for Virtanen in a primarily offensive role. The coaches seemed to be challenging him: what else can you bring? To his credit, he was more physical on Thursday, but some untimely giveaways likely raised the ire of Travis Green.
- Micheal Ferland got back on the ice for the Canucks after a nasty illness knocked him out of commission for a few days, and he got right to work on a line with Elias Pettersson and Josh Leivo. What’s refreshing about Ferland is he has such a clear identity of who he is as a hockey player and he doesn’t deviate from that identity. He battles hard to win pucks, gets the puck quickly into the hands of a skilled linemate, and gets to the net. It ain’t rocket surgery.
- Ferland opened the scoring by following the script. He got in hard on the forecheck along with Leivo and the two battled the Coyotes along the boards before Pettersson swooped in to pick up the puck. He fed it to Leivo down low, who relayed it to Ferland, who was, of course, going to the net. Ferland’s first shot hit the post, but like an entrepreneur starting a flypaper company, he stuck with it.
- This was not a good game for Loui Eriksson. Quite frankly, it wasn’t a good preseason as a whole. If the Canucks’ roster decisions were based solely on the preseason, he’d already be on a flight to Utica. Or, rather, Syracuse, because Utica doesn’t have an airport.
- On the Coyotes first goal, Eriksson was the guy missing the pass from Tyler Myers that sprung the shorthanded chance in transition. Jacob Markstrom made a pair of great saves on Hudson Fasching, but had no chance on the third shot from Lane Pederson, who was wide open because Quinn Hughes is still a rookie and didn’t pick him up on the backcheck. Perhaps he mistook Pederson for Petterson. Pro-tip: Pederson was the one not wearing a Canucks jersey.
- Adam Gaudette refuses to go gentle into that good night, but continues to rage, rage against the dying of the light. If the Canucks are going to send him down to the Utica Comets to start the season, it’s not going to be in spite of his preseason performance and not because of it. There is one more thing he can add to his argument for making the team: puppy dog eyes. Hit Green and Jim Benning with big, adorable eyes and a slight pout; really make it take a toll emotionally to give him bad news.
- Gaudette added a fantastic assist to his already great preseason. He chased down a flip-in from Sven Baertschi, looped behind the net, then suddenly spun a blind backhand to Zack MacEwen in front of the net for the finish. It was a stellar set up and we’ll just ignore for the moment that the Coyotes defended the play as if Gaudette was the only Canuck on the ice.
- John Shorthouse had an all-time great call during a second period scrum. When Ferland got into the face of defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin, Shorty said, “I think he might be saying ferme Lyubushkin,” referencing the only phrase that literally every Canadian remembers from french class.
- Jacob Markstrom had a couple shaky moments, but he was mostly very good, including a couple spectacular saves when the defence broke down in front of him. He robbed Michael Bunting with the blocker when Ferland left him alone in front during the second period. Maybe if he was named Michael Homerunning, he would have had more luck.
- Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield stuck around for the entire preseason, but, in my opinion, neither of them looked fully NHL ready. They frequently got caught out of position or chasing in the defensive zone. The 3-2 goal was a case in point: Chatfield never seemed to find where he was meant to be as the Coyotes flung the puck around the zone and he got caught in no-man’s land when Barret Hayton took his shot. The puck hit Chatfield’s stick and deflected between Markstrom’s legs.
- After a rough second period, the Canucks pushed back in the third, but just couldn’t beat Adin Hill. At one point, Elias Pettersson fired a shot so hard that it knocked Hill’s stick right out of his hand. You’d think he’d want to shoot the puck into the net instead, but since it’s the preseason and the result of the game really doesn’t matter, it’s clearly more valuable to intimidate opposing goaltenders instead. Classic Pettersson: playind 3D chess while everyone else is playing hockey.
- Markstrom’s best save of the game came courtesy of a brutal turnover by Loui Eriksson. After a nice effort by Goldobin to gain the zone, he passed the puck off to Eriksson, who immediately gave it directly to Conor Garland for a 3-on-1 the other way. Markstrom made the first save low on the left pad, then robbed Nick Schmaltz with his glove on the rebound. It was such an unlikely save that Shorthouse was caught speechless for a moment, as he couldn’t believe Markstrom actually made the save.
- The Canucks were out-attempted 10-2 when Eriksson was on the ice at 5-on-5, the worst mark on the team. Worst for shots on goal, however, was Tim Schaller: the Canucks were out-shot 10-1 when he was on the ice. He and Beagle struggled to contain the speed of the Coyotes.
- With Markstrom pulled for the extra attacker, Goldobin put the puck on the right guy’s stick. He made a fantastic cross-ice saucer pass to Pettersson, but since the Swedish sniper was on the left side, he couldn’t one-time it and had to take a moment to settle the puck, giving Hill time to come across. With such a small target, Pettersson had to cut it too tight like Red Leader, hitting the post: “Negative, it didn’t go in, just impacted on the surface.”