It was the best of periods, it was the worst of periods.
It was a tale of two cities — Vancouver and Pittsburgh — but it was also a tale of two periods: the first period, when the Canucks held the Penguins to zero shots on goal, then the second period, when the Canucks gave up a whopping 20 shots on goal.
Zero shots in a period is, of course, an NHL record. It’s rare to hold a team to zero shots on goal in a period, but not unheard of. Meanwhile, 20 shots on goal in a period is a lot, but far from the NHL record, which is 33 shots on goal by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period of a 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
I’m guessing, however, that it is extremely rare to go from allowing zero shots on goal to giving up 20 the next period. That’s a pretty wild swing in shots. The Canucks, on the other hand, were a lot more consistent with their shots for: 5 shots on goal in the first period, 6 shots on goal in the second, then just three in the third period, which has evaded mention thus far.
Yes, the Canucks managed just 14 shots on goal all game against the Penguins, which would normally be a sentence I’d write about a loss. Fortunately for the Canucks, they had Jacob Markstrom in their net and the ever-unlucky Matt Murray in Pittsburgh’s.
Markstrom was sparkling in the Vancouver net, making 28 saves on 29 shots, while Murray looked a little dingy, giving up 4 goals on those 14 Canucks shots. It was the epoch of belief in Markstrom and the epoch of incredulity in Murray when I watched this game.
- This was Markstrom’s seventh-straight start since Thatcher Demko’s injury. Maybe the Canucks worked extra hard to prevent any shots against in the first period so he could have a little rest for once.
- With Josh Leivo out with a fractured kneecap — which sounds both horrifying and like he wronged a mafia kingpin — Loui Eriksson got in the lineup. Let’s just say that not all Canucks fans were happy to see him, as there were quite a few boobirds heard in Rogers Arena when his name was announced for the Canucks’ starting lineup.
- Last time these two teams met, they combined for 14 goals. You could tell that neither coach wanted to see another 8-6 game, as it took over 10 minutes for the game’s first shot on goal, an Antoine Roussel deflection on a Jordie Benn point shot. The shot got a Bronx cheer from the crowd, who seemed a little restless to see the home team go 10:24 without a shot. It’s okay, the Penguins went 21:02 in the first period without a shot.
- Yes, 21:02. The two teams actually played more than 20 minutes in the first period because an offside challenge on the Canucks’ opening goal wiped out over a minute of action. The Canucks drew a plethora of penalties midway through the first and J.T. Miller cashed in on the 5-on-3, only to have the goal called off because Quinn Hughes was offside a minute earlier. That minute never happened, but still, Pittsburgh didn’t get any shots during that non-existent minute.
- It seemed particularly cruel to negate that minute of action because it returned us to the timeline where there was only one shot on goal in the game, courtesy of Roussel, 10:24 into the game. For a minute, the game was thrilling and exciting and action-packed, but an offside review slapped us in the face: “How dare you start to enjoy yourself! Go back to begging for a second shot on goal!”
- Fortunately, the Canucks delivered a little more excitement in the replay. The Canucks had so much time at 5-on-3 with the Penguins filling up the penalty box that the second unit got a little time with the two-man advantage. Jake Virtanen, who’s been getting a little power play time lately, shook up the champagne bottle and uncorked a one-timer that rocketed past Murray. It was an incredible shot.
- Side note: you’re apparently more likely to be killed by a flying champagne cork than a poisonous spider.
- Miller may have felt wronged to have his opening goal taken away, so he went out and got another one. Towards the tail end of the Canucks’ power plays, Miller was out with what he called a “hybrid unit” and what I call, “Hey, why are Oscar Fantenberg and Chris Tanev on the power play?” It worked out. Tanev took Miller’s faceoff win and passed across to Fantenberg, who sent a hard pass into the slot for Miller to tip off the bar and in. Just like those three have practiced dozens and dozens of times when practicing the power play together, like they always do.
- There was a great post-game moment with head coach Travis Green when The Athletic’s Thomas Drance asked a question about their 5-on-3 power play set up and whether Miller rotating to the point was “by design.” Green got a twinkle in his eye, and replied, “We don't do anything by design, we just let them roam around out there.”
- Markstrom was incredible in the second period, making 19 saves on 20 shots. He was impressively focussed given that he hadn’t seen a single shot since the pre-game warmup.
- This game could have taken a bad turn, but Markstrom kept the Canucks in the lead, though he had a little help on what might have been his best save. An ugly Horvat giveaway turned into a 2-on-1 for the Penguins’ two most dangerous forwards, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. Malkin set up Guentzel with a great pass, but Markstrom got his toe on the shot to keep it out. He couldn’t have done it without an assist by an unlikely source: Loui Eriksson, who backchecked hard and checked Guentzel’s stick right as he was shooting, keeping Guentzel from getting good wood on the shot.
- It was a sure goal for Guentzel without Eriksson, who added some uncertainty with his stick check. “[He] did a great job,” said Markstrom. “It wasn't that hard of a shot after [Malkin] passed it across, so he bought me time to get back and stop it.”
- The Penguins finally beat Markstrom on the power play, but the Canucks’ top line responded less than a minute later. Miller gained the zone, then pulled up to set up a one-timer for the trailing Tyler Myers. Murray couldn’t handle his hot shot, kicking out a rebound to Elias Pettersson, who somehow elevated the puck up under the bar from his backfoot while stumbling backwards. It was an insane finish, like using high-gloss water-based polyurethane on a hardwood floor likely to get a lot of scratches and scuffs. Crazy: you need an oil-based polyurethane finish for high-traffic areas.
- “Not many guys pull that one off, especially with the velocity he got on it,” said Miller about Pettersson’s shot. “Doesn't really make any sense.”
- The Lotto Line was digging in like a coin into a scratch-and-win, getting gritty on the forecheck and along the boards. That led to the 4-1 goal, a beautiful piece of skill from Pettersson and Brock Boeser that started with Pettersson getting in hard on the forecheck and Boeser cutting off the clearing attempt along the boards. Boeser caught the puck, fed Pettersson down low, then got ready to shoot, rifling Pettersson’s backhand pass just inside the far post.
- “We don't want to play like a skilled line,” said Miller. “I think when we play well and break other teams down, then the skill takes over and things start to open up. When we're skating and creating turnovers, it's a contagious thing.”
- As for Boeser, he had a theory for why he’s been so good in his career against the Penguins — he has 7 goals in 6 games: “I don't know, maybe it's just luck.”
- In an interesting turn, Jake Virtanen was on the ice defending the lead in the final minutes. Sure, it was a three-goal lead, so perhaps it wasn’t all that much trust being placed in the young winger, and the Canucks were out-attempted 15-to-3 when he was on the ice at even-strength and out-shot 6-to-1, but still. There’s development there.
- “Structurally, [Virtanen’s] been a lot more solid,” said Geen. “I think he's feeling good about his game too which is a big thing...he's starting to bring a bit more of a physical element than we've seen in the past. I think you're just seeing the growth of a player. Hopefully...he can keep that consistency in his game.”
- It’s hard to assess Bo Horvat right now. He just looks a little off, putting passes into bad areas, unable to get the puck to the net with any consistency, and chasing the game defensively. He was matched against the Malkin line for much of the game, which is a tough assignment, but he and his linemates got buried in shots and shot attempts. On the other hand, Malkin’s line didn’t score at even-strength, so you could say Horvat and his linemates did their job.