The start of the preseason is always full of hope and optimism. Presented with a blank slate, a passel of promising prospects, and a fun new free agent or two, fans can quickly buy in to what the team is selling.
If all goes well, a team can keep those good vibes flowing throughout the preseason, even for a team with limited potential for the season ahead. All it takes is a prospect or two getting hot for a couple games, an unexpected depth player scoring a pretty goal, or a few meaningless wins.
The preseason can also turn sour in a hurry. For the Canucks, Elias Pettersson has been undeniably fun to watch and there are a few other positives available for gleaning, but you can practically feel the hope and positivity draining away from the fanbase as the preseason progresses.
Other than Pettersson, all the other rookies are gone. The Canucks have been outscored 23-to-10. The only game they won came in a shootout against a split-squad Los Angeles Kings team that didn’t dress their best players. And the most exciting forward other than Pettersson has been Tyler Motte, whose ceiling appears to be third-line checking winger.
On Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks just couldn’t compete. The Oilers, despite having arguably the best player on the planet, finished 17 points out of the playoffs last season, and made minimal moves to upgrade their lineup. When you can’t keep up with that team and lose 6-0, even in preseason, that should get your attention.
Even if it threatened to put you to sleep, this game was a wake up call. And I watched this game.
- Perhaps I’m overreacting. It is just preseason, after all. But it’s not that they lost, or even that the loss was against the Oilers. It’s that the Canucks looked all too familiar. They struggled to create scoring chances and, when they did, they weren’t Grade A scoring chances. And when they were, their shots found a logo or missed the net. The Canucks looked like the same team that has been struggling to score goals for the past three seasons.
- Meanwhile, the defence and goaltending don’t look any different either. That’s mainly because they’re bringing back literally the same exact players. Travis Green has made it clear he’s not enamoured with any particular lines or pairings, repeating, “We had 73 points last season” to hammer home that everything and everyone can be questioned. And yet, the same exact defence corps is back, along with the same exact goaltenders.
- I would argue that Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev are one of the Canucks’ best options as a pairing. “Best” is a relative term, however, and that immediately becomes apparent when you ask them to shutdown the likes of Connor McDavid. Hutton actually had a couple pretty nice plays on McDavid, as the Oilers understandably targeted Hutton more than they did Tanev, but the pairing sometimes seemed overwhelmed by the Oilers’ superstar and got pinned down like a carpenter in a wrestling match.
- It was Ty Rattie that dominated the scoresheet, as he has all preseason. After his hattrick against the Canucks, Rattie now has 7 goals and 10 points in just 3 preseason games. The Canucks could have claimed him off waivers back in 2017, but claimed Reid Boucher instead. Now Rattie is playing with Connor McDavid. I wonder if Boucher has ever considered that particular fork in the road.
- Elias Pettersson remains excellent. He drew his fourth penalty of the preseason, completely undressed Kris Russell, made a couple great defensive plays, picked off passes in the neutral zone, and set up one of the Canucks’ best chances. Are you prepared for approximately 50 articles per week about Pettersson because there won’t be anything else to be positive about this season? Haha, I SURE AM!
- Okay, I’m starting to get manic. Everything’s going to be okay. It’s good that Pettersson is good and other players will be good too and the team will be good sometimes and there will be other good things too. Good.
- The Canucks’ best chance came on the power play, as the Canucks tried something a little different: instead of setting up the play through Pettersson on the right half-boards, Boeser quarterbacked from the left half-boards, with Pettersson as the potential trigger man on the opposite side. In all honesty, it makes a lot of sense: the Canucks have a lot more left-handed shots, and setting up the play from the left opens up one-timer options from the point and slot, as well as the right faceoff circle. At the very least, it’s an option the Canucks can keep hidden up their sleeves like an embarrassing tattoo.
- Boeser sent the puck across to Pettersson. Cam Talbot, expecting a quick shot, came across aggressively, but Pettersson sent a one-touch pass to Horvat at the backdoor for the open net. Unfortunately, like an impatient gamer skipping the tutorial, Horvat missed an important tip, and sent the puck wide. “You’d know how to use the jetpack, Bo, if you had played through the tutorial missions first! Way to go, Bo!”
- Loui Eriksson returned to the lineup after missing a week with a bone bruise, and he was quickly eviscerated by Canucks fans online for the first goal, as the goalscorer, Rattie, appeared to be his check. To my eyes, that was more on Michael Del Zotto, who stepped up on Ryan Nugent Hopkins up high along the boards, instead of taking Rattie and allowing Eriksson, as the first forward back, to take RNH. That’s a switch that needs to be communicated, and neither Del Zotto nor Eriksson said a word. Eriksson’s probably a big Fortnite player and they’re giving each other the silent treatment over Del Zotto’s recent comments about the game.
- Derrick Pouliot looked pretty good on the point on the power play, keeping the puck zipping around the top of the zone. Where he didn’t look great was everywhere but the point. As the lone defenceman on the power play, he had to be responsible any time there was a chance the Oilers could break the other way, but like MxPx, he couldn’t handle the responsibility, running into trouble multiple times, but particularly when Jesse Puljujarvi skated right around him and cut to the net, only to ring the puck off the post.
- The Canucks need to work on their line changes. Bad changes led to two of the Oilers goals. On the 3-0 goal, a quick up by Evan Bouchard didn’t give Troy Stecher enough time to get into the play. If his teammates had been a bit quicker off the ice, he would have had more time. Then, on the 6-0 goal, it was Stecher not getting the puck in deep before the change, though his teammates behind him should have waited to ensure the puck got in deep before vacating the ice. I have a feeling there might be some hard practices ahead for the Canucks.
- It wasn’t a great night for the fourth line of Tim Schaller, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Motte. They frequently got pinned down in the defensive zone and finished the night with the worst corsi on the Canucks. Schaller struggled the most: the Canucks were out-shot 8-1 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. For a guy hoping to make an impression on his new coach, Schaller has been largely invisible this preseason; this isn’t the way he wanted to get noticed.
- Erik Gudbranson mostly had a bounce back game after struggling on Monday night. He had a couple solid body checks on Milan Lucic and Alex Chiasson, then had one of the Canucks’ best chances when he caught the Oilers flat-footed on a delayed offside and led an odd-man rush the other way. He played over 20 minutes, had five hits and three shots on goal. In the tale of Dr. Gudbranson and Mr. Badbranson, he was the good doctor for most of the evening.
- Unfortunately, he was paired with Del Zotto, and the DJ and the doctor didn’t make sweet music together. That was mostly on Del Zotto. Like Godot following a traveling production of Samuel Beckett’s most famous work, Del Zotto was chasing the play, but never arrived in time to make it worth it.