IWTG: Canucks fall flat against the Senators

The Senators got an emotional boost from Bobby Ryan playing in his first game in Ottawa in three months.

The Canucks sent a message on Saturday that they are ready to compete with the best teams in the NHL by defeating the top in the league: the Boston Bruins.

Rather, they didn’t just beat the Bruins; they wiped the floor with them. They scored more goals in a game than they had scored since 1996. It was immensely satisfying for fans that still have the 2011 playoffs embedded in their bones. 

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So, if the Canucks can run up the score on a team like the Bruins, they should have no issues with a team like the Ottawa Senators, who are in 29th place in the NHL. Because that’s bad, and they’re bad. Surely the Canucks could easily handle such a team, right? Right?

Perhaps the Canucks took the Senators too lightly, because they came out flatter than Stan Podolak. Or perhaps the Canucks just didn’t take into account the emotional boost the Senators would receive from Bobby Ryan playing his first game in Ottawa in three months.

Bobby Ryan went into the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program in November to get help for his struggle with alcohol abuse. After years of trying to deal with his addictions on his own, he finally accepted that he needed help.

“It’s something I’ve been battling for a while. I’ve tried on my own and I was already getting help for it,” said Ryan after he returned to the team. “What I was doing wasn’t enough. I was trying to white knuckle things and trying to do things the wrong way. I’d have 20 days of nothing and one real bad one. You just can’t get better without [help].”

Ryan’s decision to get the help he needed is one that should be commended and the Senators fans were obviously happy to see him back on the ice. And Ryan seemed very happy to be back in Ottawa, scoring a hat trick, throwing four hits and dropping the gloves for a fight. 

He was all over the ice for the Senators, and the fans gave him a standing ovation after his hat trick and a raucous “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!” chant, long after the goal horn and music ended. His teammates responded in kind, banging their sticks on the boards, as Ryan tried to keep from crying on the bench. It was a magical moment.

But it was a magical moment only made possible by the Canucks losing, which was not the desired outcome when I watched this game.

  • This was a rough game for Tyler Myers, who was on the ice for all four goals the Senators scored on Thatcher Demko. His pairing with Oscar Fantenberg was particularly bad, as the two defencemen struggled to move the puck out of the defensive zone, leading to extended stays in their own end, much like a politician.
     
  • The Senators’ first goal wasn’t exactly Myers’ fault — it was a softie on Demko that shouldn’t have gone in — but it did involve an odd Myers play. Instead of letting Fantenberg play Connor Brown skating in on the right wing, Myers cut across from the right side and Fantenberg backed off. Because Myers didn’t have the right angle, however, Brown was able to get a clean shot off to beat Demko under the right arm.
     
  • Demko had no time to shake off the soft goal, as the Senators scored again 31 seconds later. Fantenberg gave the puck away with a pass out of Adam Gaudette’s reach, and then got hit into the boards by Ryan. That gave Ryan a clear path to the net and he tipped in Nikita Zaitsev’s pass from the point. It was Ryan’s first goal since opening night, back on Oct. 2. 
     
  • That’s a goal where Demko was arguably playing the original shot too aggressively. Demko was out above the top of his crease, leaving him vulnerable to the tip at the side of the net by Ryan, as he couldn’t get back in time. Getting his toes back into his crease would have given him a better opportunity to react to the pass.
     
  • It feels like it goes without saying at this point that one of the Canucks’ young stars got hit in some illegal manner during the game without a penalty call, but I’m going to say it anyway. In the first period, Thomas Chabot punched Pettersson in the face away from the play and the ref, standing about 30 feet away and looking directly at them, evidently thought, “Yep, that’s normal,” and let play continue.

 

 
  • Some will say, “That’s just hockey! Players should expect to get a gloved punch to the face away from the puck now and then.” But why? You hear complaints all the time about “cheap shot artists” from NHL fans, but then there’s such a resistance to tightening up the officiating and actually calling all those cheap shots. Just get them out of the game and free up the star players to actually be stars.
     
  • Of all the players on the Canucks, the one I’d least expect to fight is Chris Tanev. He has a preternatural calmness about him, never getting too riled up, and a laser focus on the details of the game, such that fighting wouldn’t even occur to him: “Why’s he dropping the gloves, I have to get into position to block this next shot!” But a hit from Ryan as the first period horn sounded got Tanev sufficiently irked and he dropped the gloves with Ryan for his first career fight, which likely had Canucks fans begging him to not get hurt.
     
  • Tanev didn’t get hurt during the fight, but he got a puck in the ear later in the second period, causing him to leave the ice with a bleeding head, which is always a worrying sight. Fortunately, he returned for the third period, with slightly less blood in his body and no blood on his head.
     
  • Demko settled in after the tough start, but the damage was already done and the Canucks were playing catch-up, which momentarily got John Garrett excited until he realized it wasn’t ketchup. After the first period, Myers moved to a pairing with Quinn Hughes, something the Canucks have done frequently when trying to come back from a deficit, while Loui Eriksson was dropped from the Bo Horvat line and replaced with Tyler Motte, which is the least-exciting setting on the Line Blender 3000™.
     
  • The trouble for the Canucks is that they stood around watching the Senators get chances instead of more actively pressuring them to prevent dangerous shots, create turnovers, and move the puck up ice. The Canucks out-shot the Senators 34-to-25, but the Senators had the clear edge in scoring chances, 40-to-29, according to Natural Stat Trick.  
     
  • The Canucks did get chances, however, but struggled to beat Marcus Hogberg, who was making his 23rd career start. It took until their 25th shot with 15 seconds left in the second period for the Canucks to finally solve Hogberg. J.T. Miller slammed a slap shot past the Senators’ net minder using a seldom used trick: shooting where the goalie isn’t. 
     
  • Hughes had the primary assist on Millers’ goal, which means he’s already set a franchise record: most assists by a rookie defenceman. He now has 43, one more than Dale Tallon had in the Canucks’ inaugural season. Actually, he now holds the outright record for most assists by a Canucks rookie, as no forward has more than Pettersson’s 38 from last season. Two records in one blow!
     
  • Today I nearly got stranded in Chilliwack by a flat tire, because a piece of glass from a mirror got lodged in my tire. Someone else broke a mirror, but I got all the bad luck. I bring this up because I’m about to talk about poor Demko on the Senators’ third goal.
     
  • The goal came 14 seconds into the third period, killing the potential momentum from Miller’s last minute goal in the second period. Brown sent a shot wide that took a Senator bounce off the boards to Chris Tierney, who swatted it across to Rudolfs Balcers to tap into the open net. Fantenberg didn’t have position on Tierney and Myers didn’t have position on Balcers, so the Senators were able to easily convert on the lucky bounce.
     
  • That was the last shift Myers and Fantenberg played together and it almost makes you wonder why they were reunited after getting split up in the second period. They’re like oil and water, toothpaste and orange juice, Buffy and Riley: they just don’t belong together.
     
  • A lot of Canucks were bad in this game, but Miller wasn’t one of them. He was the Canucks’ best player and helped get them back within one when Tyler Toffoli tipped in his one-timer from the point. That extended Toffoli’s goal-scoring streak to three games, his point streak to six games, and, later that evening, he probably extended his Snapchat streak with Tanner Pearson to 372 days.
     
  • Unfortunately, no one else on the Canucks could beat Hogberg: he was a Hog-blur, making save after save. Then no one picked up Ryan on a counter-attack — Toffoli and Myers seemed to actively avoid him — and Ryan kicked a pass up to his stick and went bar down for the 4-2 dagger.
     
  • Finally, Ryan added the empty-netter for the hat trick, as Hughes, anticipating an icing call, was a little too casual going back for a puck and had it stolen by Brady Tkachuk. He centred to Ryan, who put it in the net and had a massive smile on his face that he unsuccessfully tried to contain.

 

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