It was another eventful week in Canuckland filled with many things to talk about. The week started with a game against the San Jose Sharks. Prospect goalie Mike Dipietro was pressed into action when Jacob Markstrom reported to the team that he was experiencing soreness. More on that later. Prospect forward Zack MacEwen was also in the lineup Monday, after being recalled by the team for a lengthy look with Sven Baertschi likely gone for the remainder of the season with post-concussion syndrome. The game against the Sharks was for the most part one to forget. The Canucks hung Dipietro out to dry, leaving players wide open and losing many puck battles. The only real positives from the game was MacEwen collecting his first NHL point on a beautiful centering feed. Elias Pettersson also had an assist as he continues to be one of the Canucks most consistent players. On Wednesday, the Canucks opened a three game California road trip facing the lowly Anaheim Ducks, who came into the game having lost 19 of their previous 21 games and had just fired their head coach Randy Carlyle. Anaheim had a rookie goalie, Kevin Boyle, in goal. The Canucks also sent Dipietro back to Ottawa prior to the game, having acquired Marek Mazanec from the NY Rangers for a 7th round pick. Unfortunately, the Canucks could not solve Boyle and were shut out by the Ducks. Many of the shots were aimed at Boyle’s crest and other shots were taken with no traffic. Credit to Anaheim, who helped Boyle out big time with 21 shot blocks. Chris Tanev (ankle) and Jake Virtanen (upper body) were both injured by Ryan Getzlaf. By week’s end, both players would end up on the IR. Ryan Kesler was his usual surly self, mixing it up with Josh Leivo. On the second leg of the road trip, the Canucks took on the LA Kings, who have been struggling about as bad as Anaheim this season. The Canucks had a much better response, taking an early lead. However, on the first two times the Canucks scored, they were not ready for the response after the goal. LA tied the game at 1 literally eight seconds later, they tied it at 2 three and a half minutes after the Canucks scored. Pettersson, Adam Gaudette and Brock Boeser all had strong nights, and Markstrom stood tall in goal. The Canucks capped off the week with a rematch of Monday’s loss to the Sharks. Prior to the game, the Canucks traded Sam Gagner to Edmonton for Ryan Spooner (more on that later). The Canucks also recalled Luke Schenn, who was a healthy scratch. The Canucks had a much better effort than Monday’s game, but they still fell short in the end. Brock Boeser hit the 100 point plateau with a goal. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks open a three game home stand Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes, who are two points back of the Canucks after Sunday’s games. Like the Canucks, the Coyotes have been decimated with injuries and seven of them are season-ending. The Canucks have lost both of the first two meetings against Arizona this season. On Saturday, the Canucks wrap up the week with a game against the surprising NY Islanders, who are leading the Metropolitan division. The loss of John Tavares, who chose to sign with the Maple Leafs in the off-season, has NY playing more of a team game that has seen them spread the scoring around more evenly. It will be a tough test for the Canucks. Here are ten random thoughts from week 20 of the NHL.
1. Talk about bad luck. The Canucks were completely healthy coming out of the all-star break, and in a span of 2 weeks, they lost seven players to injury. First, Sven Baertschi experienced a recurrence of post-concussion syndrome that plagued him for two months. BTW, I still think Baertschi should seriously think of retiring so he can be there for his young family. Then Alex Edler suffered a brutal facial injury slamming his face into the ice. In the same game, it was learned that backup goalie Thatcher Demko had injured his knee, apparently brushing his teeth. This forced Jacob Markstrom to play an extra game that Demko surely would have started. Markstrom experienced soreness and was unable to play Monday, forcing OHL goalie Mike Dipietro to make his first career start (more on that later). Brandon Sutter also suffered a groin injury that will force him to miss at least a couple of weeks. Most of the current injuries weren’t really preventable. Edler’s injury was a freak accident, Demko’s injury came doing an ordinary task, Tanev’s injury was the result of a player falling on him, and Virtanen was blindsided. Sutter’s injury might have been prevented through better conditioning and focus on core strength. As for Baertschi, maybe he needs to avoid playing in high altitude, much like LA Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen, who has a heart condition that flared up towards the end of the season when playing the Colorado Rockies. We are nearing the point where players who are playing hurt and possibly needing surgery might get shut down. Brock Boeser has been playing with his hand heavily taped for a while now. If the Canucks are out of the playoffs in a few weeks, the Canucks may shut Boeser down. Injuries are part of the game and will happen. The trick is minimizing them and the amount of time said player is out of the lineup.
2. A wacky week last week with regards to the Canucks goaltending situation got even wackier on Monday when Jacob Markstrom was unable to play Monday due to soreness from playing too much, forcing junior goalie Mike Dipietro to make his first career start. To recap, in mid-January, the Canucks traded backup Anders Nilsson to Ottawa for Mike McKenna and recalled Thatcher Demko to serve as Markstrom’s backup. The plan was to send McKenna to Utica as the Comets starting goalie. One problem: Philadelphia claimed him, thus leaving the Canucks in a bind as they had no goalie signed to an NHL contract in Utica. Demko played once before the all-star break. On the road trip immediately after the break, Demko tweaked his knee, forcing the Canucks to recall Mike Dipietro on an emergency basis, with the hope that Demko would be back in ten days and Dipietro would serve as the backup in Demko’s absence, while gaining valuable knowledge of how the NHLers prepare and how Markstrom handles the games. However, Markstrom was injured enough that he could not play, forcing Dipietro to play his first career game against one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference in the San Jose Sharks. To be blunt, the Canucks hung the junior prospect goalie out to dry and Dipietro was lit up for seven goals on 24 shots. To his credit, Dipietro got better as the game went on. The Canucks immediately rectified the goaltending situation, trading for NY Rangers minor leaguer Marek Mazanec, who is on an NHL contract until the end of the season and will not need to clear waivers, provided Demko’s injury does not stretch much into March, as having cleared waivers already, Mazanec has about 17 days where he does not need to be put on waivers. One thing’s for sure, the Canucks need to make it a priority in the off-season to sign or acquire another goalie with NHL experience because Dipietro needs time to develop. Richard Bachman should be healed by training camp, but he had a disastrous game @ Minny back in November, so may not be a viable option for an extended recall where he would be expected to play (i.e. Demko or Markstrom going down with an injury longer than a couple of weeks.
3. The Canucks made a second trade this week, sending Sam Gagner back to Edmonton for Ryan Spooner, who was on the move for the second time this season. To say the least, Spooner hasn’t exactly been living up to his $4 million contract. He has a mere 5 points in 41 games split between the NY Rangers and Oilers. Sometimes a change in scenery can do a player some good. However, in this case, Spooner has already been traded once and his numbers in Edmonton and NY are pretty similar. I’m skeptical if he is going to help the Canucks substantially offensively. I would rather see the Canucks play their prospects like MacEwen and Gaudette, as opposed to bringing in a rental who likely won’t resign with the Canucks anyway. Draft picks are also important with a draft that is expected to be deep with talent. Gagner played 7 games this season for the Canucks at the apex of the 1st injury crisis, finishing with a goal and 2 assists, as well as 2 blocked shots, 5 hits, a forced turnover and 3 giveaways. In his first game back with Edmonton, he was -1, with 2 shots, and a 50% faceoff success rate. The Canucks face the Oilers in Edmonton March 7th. Gagner will not be returning to play in Vancouver this season.
4. John Gibbons, Kevin Boyle, Wayne Thomas. Three goalies making their NHL debuts against the Canucks, three shutouts. It seems uncanny, but seemingly every time an opposing goalie makes his debut against the Canucks, he looks like the next Marty Brodeur or Patrick Roy. Is it that the Canucks are taking the wrong approach, bad luck or something else? I think the unprecedented number of stellar performances occur due to a couple of factors. First, you have to be good to be lucky/lucky to be good. In Wednesday’s game, Elias Pettersson hit the crossbar. Another big reason why the Boyle got the shutout is Anaheim was blocking a ton of shots (21 in total). You have to find a way to get your shots through, period. Many of the shots that did get through to Boyle hit him in the crest of his jersey, or he had an unobstructed view. To be frank, this might have been an easy shutout for Boyle, who was never truly tested, save for a scramble in the middle frame and the crossbar shot. What’s frustrating about this loss is the Canucks only had to score one measly goal to earn at least a point and they had ample opportunity as the Canucks weren’t exactly facing world beaters. I mean, Anaheim came into the game having lost 19 of their previous 21. Oh, by the way, the Ducks were shut out 3-0 their next game to add insult to injury.
5. How about the St. Louis Blues? Just a few short weeks ago, they were looking like a team that had plans to tank for projected #1 draft pick Jack Hughes. The Blues are basically on the reverse run the Anaheim Ducks are on. They have won 14 of their last 17 games, including TEN STRAIGHT GAMES! The complete turnaround has put the Blues 3rd in the central division, six points back of Nashville and a full seven points clear of the 2nd wild card spot. Thankfully the Canucks don’t play the Blues again until the final game of the season.
6. As if the Edmonton Oilers season couldn’t get any worse. In recent days, head coach Ken Hitchcock has been watching practice from the stands, as opposed to running the practice. Rumor has it that he is considering jumping ship. Who could blame him? The Oilers look like a team who can’t wait for the season to end. They have lost seven of eight since the all-star break and have just one win in their last 11 games. A big reason why they have done so poorly is they are literally a one line team. Connor McDavid leads the team in scoring with 83 points, followed by linemate and fellow all-star Leon Draisaitl who has a respectable 69 points and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 53 points. After that, there is a big drop off in scoring to defenseman Darnell Nurse (28 points). The Oilers have just 4 players with double digits in goals (Alex Chiasson is the 4th Oiler with 17 goals and he is likely to be traded in the next week). By the way, the soon to be fired Peter Chiarelli screwed his team over, signing 30 year old backup goalie Mikko Koskinen to a three year contract! The Canucks needn’t worry about Edmonton being a threat anytime soon because they are destined to be bad for years to come.
7. Here’s the situation the Canucks are in with respect to making the playoffs. After Sunday’s games, they sit one point back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot. Arizona, Chicago, and Colorado are all two points back of the Canucks. All four teams have at least one game in hand (Colorado and Chicago have two games in hand). The Canucks must finish ahead of the Wild in points, they cannot finish tied with Minnesota because the Wild have one more regulation win and that is the 1st tiebreaker. The Canucks face the Coyotes twice in the next ten days (Thursday in Vancouver and a week later in Arizona) and travel to Colorado on the 27th. Consider all three games must-wins. Basically, in a nutshell, the Canucks do not control their own destiny. They must win as many games as they can and rely on other teams to beat the teams they are fighting for a playoff spot. Will the Canucks prevail? I wouldn’t count on it with the injuries the Canucks are dealing with.
8. Aside from Michael Dipietro’s unfortunate 1st career NHL game, two other Canucks made their NHL debuts this week. Zack MacEwen was recalled after Brandon Sutter went down with injury. Coach Travis Green played it coy prior to Monday’s game, but eventually MacEwen was announced as playing that night. He was actually one of the better Canucks on Monday. He got his first career point, an assist on a beautiful no-look pass to a wide open Derrick Pouliot. He also had 2 shots on goal, a hit and a blocked shot. On Thursday, Guillaume Brisebois made his NHL debut after Chris Tanev went down with an ankle injury the night before. Brisebois’ debut occurred because Olli Joulevi underwent season-ending surgery exactly two months ago and Quinn Hughes cannot join the Canucks until his season in Michigan is over. Brisebois is actually probably behind both Joulevi and Hughes on the depth chart and had one of the two prospects been available, he probably would not have been recalled. His debut was made more difficult by who he was partnered with (Erik Gudbranson, who leads the Canucks and is 3rd in the league for being on the ice for most goals against). Brisebois was -2 on Thursday with 2 hits and a blocked shot in 9:24 of ice time. It is telling that the Canucks recalled Luke Schenn prior to Saturday’s game. While Brisebois played that game, it’s possible Schenn gets an opportunity to play if Brisebois isn’t seen as a viable option. Brisebois received only 7:00 of ice time Saturday.
9. Finally, don’t look now, but Cory Schneider is making a comeback. The former Canuck has two wins in a row after returning from an abdominal strain ten days ago. Schneider has been decimated by a severe hip injury that plagued his play the past 2-3 seasons. Schneider has just 3 wins this season, one in a game he started. However, it is encouraging that he got credit for 2 wins in a row. The embattled goalie has fallen mightily since his days platooning with Roberto Luongo. Schneider is 2-7-2 in 14 games played (11 of them starts) with a 883save% and a 3.69GAA. Schneider’s numbers have been steadily declining since the 2014-15 season when he was 26-31-9 with a .925save% and 2.26 GAA.
10. Canuck of the week: Elias Pettersson. Mr. consistency had points in every game this week, but the one vs. Anaheim. Petey nearly scored in that game too, but for some bad luck with the cross bar. Pettersson will break virtually every rookie scoring record in Canucks franchise history before the season is out. Pettersson is just six points back of Pavel Bure for the rookie scoring record and needs to score 8 more goals to surpass the Russian rocket’s goal-scoring total from 1992.