NHL hockey, or at least something vaguely approaching NHL hockey, returned to Rogers Arena on Tuesday night. The preseason is a time for tuning up, getting back up to gamespeed, and hopefully finding some chemistry. That goes not just for the team on the ice, but the team in the arena as well.
There were some changes to the Canucks’ in-arena presentation: more drums, a new host, different graphics on the jumbotron, and other changes. It didn’t all go off without a hitch — some of the music cues came in at the wrong time, the host’s microphone was awkwardly dead for a few excruciatingly long seconds, and I thoroughly disagree with their choice of winner in the dance contest — but it’s preseason for them as well.
The new banners for the 50th anniversary look fantastic and the “Colourful past, bright future” is a clever way to subtly poke fun at themselves and their multi-hued jersey history, while simultaneously celebrating it. It’s a clever piece of graphic design that somehow manages to make some clashing colours work together seamlessly.
Now all that remains is for the clashing elements of the Canucks to work together on the ice. The team’s lineup was a little more representative of what we might see on opening night compared to Monday’s split-squad games, including franchise forward Elias Pettersson, but the lineup looked a little out-of-sorts against a more rag-tag Edmonton Oilers team. Fortunately, they still have plenty of time to work out the kinks over the next couple weeks and I refuse to kink-shame them after I watched this game.
- The Oilers dressed a player with the last name of Hebig, but I’m not going to make a bunch of jokes and puns out of his name. Far too easy.
- For Quinn Hughes’ first preseason game, the 5’10 defenceman lined up alongside the 6’8” Tyler Myers. In other words, it was the Hebig/Hesmall pairing.
- Okay, that was the only one, I promise.
- My gut feeling is that Myers is not the right defence partner for Hughes. The rookie will undoubtedly deal with some defensive issues and could use a steady partner to cover his defensive miscues and stay at home while he roams up ice. That’s not Myers, who has his own defensive struggles at times and is prone to giveaways in the defensive zone. Sometimes people see “big” and immediately think “stay-at-home,” but Myers is a roamer himself at times and better offensively than he is defensively.
- I got momentarily excited when I saw Myers with Alex Edler on the Canucks’ first power play, thinking this indicated they might be together on the second unit in the regular season, leaving the first unit for Hughes. Then I remembered Hughes temporarily left the game after taking a high stick to the face. Crestfallen, I abandoned my dream of Hughes starting the season on the first power play unit.
- Then again, in the second period, Hughes was back out with Pettersson and his group on the power play. Do I dare to hold out hope that Hughes might actually start the season on the first power play unit? Should I dream the impossible dream? Can we avoid the silliness of Brock Boeser not being on the first unit in his rookie season?
- Brandon Sutter opened the scoring for the Canucks, taking advantage of an ugly Oilers giveaway in the neutral zone to get a breakaway and draw a penalty shot. His move was perfectly patient, as he deked to the backhand, but paused before shooting, leaving Oilers goaltender Shane Starrett helpless on the ice like an octopus at a Detroit Red Wings game.
- Despite icing the weaker lineup, the Oilers carried the play for most of the game. Apart from some nice shifts by the Pettersson line, an end-to-end rush by Alex Biega, and Sutter’s break, the Canucks didn’t muster much in the first period. The message from the coaches during the intermission: they must muster more.
- Thatcher Demko kept the Canucks in the game, however, with a calm and poised performance in net. Demko made 14 saves in the first period alone and a total of 35 on 37 shots. His rebound control was exquisite: he was absorbing pucks like a gelatinous cube absorbs unwary adventurers.
- At the other end of the ice, Starrett looked as unbeatable as Demko. Apart from Sutter’s penalty shot, the Canucks just couldn’t seem to put the puck past Starrett for most of the game. The nice thing is that the Canucks won’t have to face Shane Starrett when they play the Oilers during the regular season. Not when the Oilers are paying Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith a combined $6.5 million.
- I admit that I chuckled when I saw Vincent Arseneau borrow a stick from Alex Biega on the bench when he lost his in the neutral zone. He looked down and realized it was a wrong-handed stick for him and then it didn’t matter at all, as Arseneau didn’t touch the puck once the entire shift.
- While the Oilers had lots of players fighting for jobs, perhaps explaining why they out-played the Canucks for most of the game, the Canucks had a few of their own. One of those is Nikolay Goldobin, who had a solid game, particularly away from the puck, where he played sound positional defence and even bailed out Myers after the lanky defenceman gave the puck away. Goldobin dove out to get his stick on the subsequent shot, potentially saving a goal. Goldobin led the Canucks in corsi on the night and chipped in an assist as well. Not bad, considering he was one of a handful of players that had played the night before.
- Zack MacEwen on the other hand, was a little more up-and-down. He made some crisp passes and set up Tanner Pearson for a great chance only to be robbed by Starrett, but he also looked to be chasing the game at times, including on Edmonton’s second goal. MacEwen got back on the backcheck, but looked to make a hit instead of picking up the trailer, Patrick Russell, who scored. I’d like to see more stops and starts from him: he sometimes takes wide loops to get into position instead of taking a more direct line.
- Pettersson has been skating all training camp with Micheal Ferland on his wing and the two combined for the tying goal midway through the third period. It was a crisp transition: a nice outlet from Alex Edler to Goldobin, a pass into the middle to Ferland, and a nicely-placed shot low on Starrett’s pads, forcing a rebound right onto the stick of Pettersson for the put-back jam.
Pettersson bangs home a juicy rebound from a Ferland shot to tie it at 2-2. Last night it was Horvat and Miller, now it's EP and the Ferk Daddy getting on the scoresheet. #Canucks pic.twitter.com/S6nDVjncym— Grady Sas (@GradySas) September 18, 2019
- Green couldn’t have asked for a better goal to emphasize the importance of a simple game: a shot and a rebound. “We talked about that at the beginning of the game, in the first period, after the first, in the second, and at the start of the third,” he said. “Sometimes simple plays are very valuable in the NHL. And that was a good example of it.”
- “We talked right over the game and neither of us was happy with our own game,” said Pettersson about him and Ferland. “I lost too many pucks… the puck was just slipping from me… Gotta work on it. I'm gonna get better.”
- Meanwhile, Green said of Pettersson after hearing how hard he was on himself, “Man, he was picture perfect in my eyes.” I’m getting the feeling Pettersson is a lot harder on himself than Green could ever be.
- The Canucks quickly scored the winner a minute later. Sutter won the faceoff, then his opposing centre, Colby Cave, evidently forgot Sutter existed. From Colby’s Cave, he could merely see the shadow of Sutter and believed it to be Sutter himself, missing out on the true reality of Sutter. Freed from the Cave, Sutter was wide open at the backdoor and easily deflected in a great pass from Edler.
- Two goals is a nice start to the preseason for Sutter, considering he’ll be called upon to score more with some likely more offensive-minded wingers, but he downplayed the importance of getting goals. “When you score, everyone talks about the scoring,” he said, “but I think tonight, the focus is to just get your feet under you a bit and get your timing… you still kind of feel lost a bit when you're out there, it takes takes a few games, for whatever reason, to find your way."