I Watched This (Preseason) Game: Flames burn Canucks, but Pettersson picks up points

Pass it to Bulis

It’s becoming evident that there will be games this season where we don’t so much watch the Canucks, but just watch Elias Pettersson.

Yes, the Canucks have other good players that are enjoyable to watch, but it really feels like Pettersson is something truly special. Every time he steps on the ice, it feels like you’re about to see something that you will later describe to your grandchildren with the phrase, “I was there when…”

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I hate to overhype a 19-year-old kid, but he just won’t stop doing the types of things that lead to hype. He’s a hype-causer. He doesn’t need Flavor Flav, because he’s his own hype man. Unlike Five Iron Frenzy, he doesn’t have to buy hype; he produces it himself. It’s a naturally-occurring byproduct.

So really, it’s not the fault of Canucks fans if they’re getting hyped up about Pettersson. There’s just all this hype lying around after every game he plays and what are you going to do: not jump into the hype like Scrooge McDuck into his money bin? That would be like this game happening and me not watching it, which I definitely did: I watched this game.

  • Before this IWT(P)G turns into I Watched This (Pettersson) Game, let’s talk about some other things that happened and people who also played in this game. It turns out that there were other players on the ice. Weird, right?
  • Poor Brendan Guance had a rough night. First he got a high stick in the face that went uncalled. He had to leave the game and came back with bloody wads of gauze stuffed up his schnoz. Later, he lost his stick and saw Tyler Motte show him up with a great shot block on his check.

 

  • There’s something that’s been bugging me about the Canucks’ penalty kill and I saw some people concerned with the same thing after the Flames’ opening goal. Chris Tanev came out aggressively on Dillon Dube at the left faceoff circle, ostensibly to block a shot or pressure him, but when he did, he left a 3-on-1 down low behind him. Perhaps it's a rotation issue with the rest of the power play, but you can see the problem developing in the screenshot below.

Penalty kill issue - Vancouver at Calgary, preseason 2018

  • After the pass got by Tanev to Matthew Tkachuk, it just took two well-executed one-touch passes to give Austin Czarnik a wide open net at the backdoor. It appears to be a tactical choice, not a bad read by Tanev, as the defencemen on the penalty kill were frequently coming up to the hashmarks and above and leaving an out-numbered situation in front of the net. Shots from outside the faceoff dot are low-percentage shots and it seems far from ideal to be that aggressive; it looks like something that will be repeatedly exploited.
  • Pettersson tied up the game with his first goal of the preseason, though it wasn’t as pretty as he might have liked. On a 5-on-3 power play, Pettersson tried to thread a pass through to Sam Gagner at the backdoor. It never made it, deflecting into the net off Dalton Prout’s skate. Pettersson actually looked disappointed, probably because he invests so much of himself in every one of his passes. When one of them doesn’t connect with its intended target, it’s like your child becoming a successful ventriloquist: you’re proud of them, but it’s just not what you wanted for their life.
  • Darren Archibald needs a lesson in gap control. Covering for Chris Tanev on defence, Archibald backed into the defensive zone and allowed Tkachuk to walk in unopposed and drop the puck to Czarnik. Left in no man’s land, Archibald could only go down to one knee and hope Czarnik hit him; instead, he hit the net to make it 2-1.
  • Pettersson nearly prevented that goal, coming just short of lifting Czarnik’s stick on the backcheck. He was a lot more successful early in the second period, when Mikael Backlund split the Canucks’ defence to create a breakaway: Pettersson got back and got his stick in on Backlund, tying him up and knocking the puck loose, all without taking a penalty.
  • People are throwing around all sorts of hyperbolic comparisons for Pettersson — Henrik Sedin and Wayne Gretzky among them — but his sneakily good defensive game reminds me of Pavel Datsyuk.
  • Thatcher Demko likely needed a lights-out performance this preseason to make the Canucks even think about keeping him up in the NHL out of camp. Like Stevie Starr swallowing a lightbulb, Demko has been thoroughly lights-in. It’s hard to judge a goaltender in the sloppy chaos of preseason action, but Demko’s struggles will make it easy for the Canucks to start him in Utica.
  • Demko wasn’t at fault on the 4-1 goal, as Adam Gaudette lost track of his check, Czarnik. You could see Gaudette look over his shoulder and see Czarnik, decide he wasn’t a threat, and focus on the puck-carrier. As soon as he did, Czarnik made a beeline for the net and Tkachuk found him with a pass that Czarnik directed into the net with his skate without kicking it in. Some fans are expecting Gaudette to make the Canucks, but there are little moments like this that suggest a start in the AHL would do him some good.
  • The power play didn’t look great in this game and it will be interesting to see what combination they end up with for the first unit. You have to think the Canucks will go with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi rather than Brandon Sutter and Sam Gagner, who skated on the top unit in this game. The more intriguing question is who will play the point: Alex Edler, Derrick Pouliot, or Ben Hutton?
  • Whatever defenceman ends up on the first power play unit, he’d do well to just get Pettersson the puck as much as possible. He created the second goal with a pinpoint pass to Sutter on the doorstep, who did well to angle his stick and deflect the puck upstairs. Like Lou Carter feeding DeMarcus Tillman in American Vandal, whoever plays the point on the first unit should rack up assists.

 

  • Pettersson snaps passes on the power play like a locker room bully snaps towels. There’s an audible “crack” when a player receives a Pettersson pass because it arrives at such high velocity. You sometimes hear the phrase “crisp puck movement,” but you can actually hear the crispness.
  • One of the best Pettersson moments in the game didn’t end up on the scoreboard. At one point in the third period, a slick little backhand pass didn’t reach its intended target, so Pettersson turned it into a pass to himself, skating onto the puck, then toe-dragging it around Backlund, who nearly fell to the ice. He topped it off with a tape-to-tape pass to Brock Boeser on the zone entry.

 

  • Speaking of Boeser, he’s been quiet in the preseason. He picked up an assist on Pettersson’s goal and had 12 shot attempts, so it’s not like he was terrible, but he still seems to be getting back up to game speed. It’s nothing to worry about just yet — getting up to speed is one of the purposes of the preseason — but it’s something worth noting.
     

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