It’s far too early to draw any conclusions about the 2019-20 Vancouver Canucks. Two games isn’t anywhere near enough time to accurately assess a team and pass judgement on whether they’re good or bad, a playoff team or battling for the first-overall pick.
There’s no need to panic after two losses on the road to kick off the season. Plenty of teams start the season on a negative note and go on to success and the Canucks have a lot of new players and new line combinations that might take a bit of time to gel.
At the same time, when a team has the chutzpah to cut a proven top-six forward like Sven Baertschi and justifies the decision by saying he lost his spot on the power play and the team has enough skill, that sets up a certain expectation.
What you might expect to see is some demonstration of that skill in the form of scoring goals or, at the very least, creating dangerous chances. When the team is on the power play, they ought to prove that a power play specialist like Baertschi isn’t needed. And, when that doesn’t happen, it feels fair to question the decision-making process that led to the current lineup.
In other words, to quote Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
The claim that the Canucks have enough skill and goalscoring was certainly extraordinary, coming off a season in which they were 25th in the NHL in goals. In addition, the Canucks were 22nd in the NHL on the power play last season and it certainly didn’t help that they were missing Baertschi, one of their most efficient and effective players on the power play, for most of the season. You’d think that for Baertschi to lose his spot on the power play, it would have to be to someone obviously better than he is on the power play.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, the evidence hasn’t been all that extraordinary so far. The Canucks have two goals in their first two games and are 0-for-10 on the power play.
That could change in the future, of course, potentially in the very-near-future. They could get extraordinary in a hurry and prove that they are good enough, they’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like them. It’s just that things aren’t going so well at the moment.
Now, behold as I provide extraordinary evidence for my extraordinary claim that I watched this game.
- It wasn’t like the Canucks were outright terrible on Saturday against the Calgary Flames. They just looked unpolished. The breakout was sloppy, line changes were sloppy, the power play was sloppy; as a whole, the Canucks were sloppier than the Brownout on American Vandal. If they can polish things up over the next couple weeks, maybe they’ll be fine.
- One thing the Canucks had no issues with in this game was drawing penalties. Quinn Hughes got things started just 33 seconds in, drawing a hook from Elias Lindholm. Elias Pettersson drew an interference call, Jake Virtanen drew a trip, Troy Stecher drew a hook, J.T. Miller drew a trip, and Jay Beagle drew a hold. Unfortunately, the Canucks went 0-for-6 on the power play, including a minute-long 5-on-3. Drawing power plays doesn’t mean much when you capitalize worse than millenials in a group text.
- One thing I don’t understand: Josh Leivo on the first power play unit. I understand him being on the ice for a two-man advantage even less. Leivo, for all his prowess as a possession-driver at 5-on-5, just doesn’t make sense on the power play: he’s neither a creative playmaker nor a great finisher and his ability to win puck battles just doesn’t come into play much with the man advantage.
- At some point, the Canucks have to put Quinn Hughes on the first power play unit, like they practiced in training camp. He’s just too bloody good to be wasted on a second power play unit: get him with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser to see if they can make some magic together, like Shin Lim with a deck of cards.
- One positive about the Canucks’ power play is the variety they’ve added to their zone entries. Instead of relying primarily on the drop pass, they’ve added some more aggressive stretch passes to their repertoire and created a couple dangerous chances in transition. One of these aggressive stretch passes also drew the penalty that led to the 5-on-3.
- Adam Gaudette got back in the lineup after he was a healthy scratch in the season opener. Frankly, it was odd to see him scratched after a preseason that was evidently strong enough to necessitate keeping him on the roster over Baertschi. Gaudette’s ice time grew as the game progressed, from 2:09 in the first period to 5:57 in the third. He earned the increase with his sparkplugginess, working hard every time he hit the ice to justify his spot in the lineup. If anyone comes out after this loss, it shouldn’t be him
- Tyler Myers didn’t have a bad game; he had a bad moment. The problem is the bad moment was a really, really bad moment. Myers had trouble with a bouncing puck — the ice seemed really choppy at the Saddledome — then took too long to move the puck when he got it under control. By that time, a forechecking Johnny Gaudreau, who isn’t exactly known for his long reach, got his stick on the pass, redirecting it to Elias Lindholm, who one-timed the puck past Jacob Markstrom.
- Myers seemed galvanized by the goal and repeatedly tried to make up for his gaffe, getting six shots on goal, including one of the Canucks’ best chances of the game not long after Lindholm opened the scoring. Myers jumped up in the play and J.T. Miller found him wide open in the slot, but Flames goaltender David Rittich charged out and robbed Myers like Leonardo Notarbartolo. Rittich's glove is nicknamed "La Scuola di Torino."
- A tap of the stick to the Flames’ DJ, who busted out “These Are the Daves I Know” by Kids in the Hall after “Big Save Dave” robbed Myers.
- Later in the game, Myers got hoodwinked by Mark Giordano. After Myers took a hard hit from Lindholm, Giordano gave Myers an extra shot on the way to the bench. That was enough for Myers to give Giordano an extra shove, and the Flames’ captain toppled over like a Ming Vase in a comedy after its owner has gone to great lengths explaining just how rare and valuable it is. Fortunately, Travis Hamonic negated the penalty by roughing up Myers for being so horribly mean to his captain.
- The Flames took a 2-0 lead early in the second period after pinning the Canucks in the defensive zone for a long shift. Neither Hughes nor Chris Tanev could get the puck out of the zone and it proved costly: Tanev chased Sean Monahan to the boards, then was streets behind as Monahan drove back to the net to finish off a pass from Gaudreau.
- Despite the goal against, it’s intriguing that the Canucks are not shying away from using Quinn Hughes against tough competition. Against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, the defenceman that saw the most 5-on-5 ice time against Connor McDavid was none other than Hughes. Likewise, against the Flames, Hughes was the defenceman that played the most against Johnny Gaudreau at 5-on-5. That’s a really positive sign for how highly they view Hughes and how much ice time he’s likely to get in his rookie season.
- The most awkward moment of the game wasn't on the ice: it was on the television broadcast, which showed Nikolay Goldobin's Audi commercial. "Vancouver has made me feel very at home," says Goldobin right at the start of the commercial, which made me visibly cringe. Let's start by getting Baertschi back in Vancouver, then work on Goldobin as well, just in case they show the commercial again.
- After a too many men penalty in the season opener, the Canucks added two more against Calgary, which is a sign of the overall sloppiness of their game right now. Like Mokiki, the Canucks do the sloppy switch. No wait, that’s the Sloppy Swish. Close enough.
- It seems appropriate that this game ended on an incredibly sloppy turnover. With Markstrom pulled for the extra attacker, Alex Edler moved the puck up to J.T. Miller in the neutral zone, who tried to pass the puck back to Edler, but instead put the puck right on the tape of Gaudreau, who had no issues hitting the empty net.
- There were some positives, for the optimistic among us. Boeser had six shots on goal and will surely break through at some point. Markstrom kept the Canucks in the game with some great saves. Horvat, Miller, and Pearson were once again strong in puck possession. And maybe this start will lead to the Canucks calling Baertschi back up again. See? Lots of positives.