It was another crazy week in Canucks land. After being seemingly days away from being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Canucks kept their ever so slight playoff hopes alive with two huge wins to start the week. On Monday, a day after beating Dallas in a shootout, the Canucks traveled to Chicago. Alex Edler played a prominent role in more ways than one. He scored the game tying goal for the Canucks early in the 2nd period, was responsible for the Blackhawks tying the game with three minutes to go and he set up the game winning goal in OT. Elias Pettersson surpassed Pavel Bure for first place all-time in rookie scoring with a secondary assist on the goal by Markus Granlund. Thatcher Demko was strong in net, stopping 29 of the 31 shots he faced. Wednesday’s game was even crazier. The Canucks jumped out to a 5-0 lead against former teammate Anders Nilsson. Ottawa looked like they were going to go quietly into the night. But then the Senators scored 8:54 into the 3rd period. They struck three more times in the next ten minutes and all of a sudden it was a 1 goal game with two minutes left in the game. A few seconds later, Senators defenseman Christian Wolanin took a Brock Boeser clearing attempt off his face. The play was blown dead effectively for the length of time of a typical time out. The incident allowed the Canucks to take a breath and regroup. They immediately scored off the ensuing faceoff and Loui Erickson, who had his best game as a Canuck with a 4 point night and a blocked shot, added an empty-netter. Markstrom could not be faulted on the first three goals, but he should have had the last one. A caveat: Ottawa is the worst team in the league. On Saturday, the Canucks took on division rivals Calgary Flames. The Canucks had won three of the first four meetings vs. the southern Albertans. This was a tough game. The Canucks fell behind by a pair of goals thanks to poor defensive coverage. Jacob Markstrom let in one goal he would want back, but come one, the goalie has bailed out his team so often this season, I think we can forgive him for one bad goal. Brock Boeser continued his hot streak, scoring the only Canucks goal of the night. The loss all but ended any hope of a miraculous playoff spot. The Canucks won’t be mathenatically eliminated for a few days, but there are too many teams to leap frog and there are not enough games remaining. The next day, the Columbus Blue Jackets rolled into town with their playoff lives on the line. Columbus went all in at the trade deadline, acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Senators, as well as backup goalie Keith Kinkaid from the Devils and Adam McQuaid from the Rangers. The Blue Jackets also kept pending UFA’s Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. Columbus was 1 point back of Montreal for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. This game also marked the final time the Canucks faced an Eastern Conference opponent this season. Sven Baertschi made his return to the lineup, in place of an ill Josh Leivo. Derrick Pouliot was also given an opportunity to get out of the dog house as Guillaume Brisebois was injured the night before. Finally, Nikolay Goldobin get another chance with Tim Schaller scratched after being benched much of the game vs. Calgary. The Canucks were never really in this one as Columbus took full advantage of the mental errors the Canucks made. Nikolay Goldobin did not take advantage of another chance to play. The Russian winger appeared to shy away from the tougher aspects of the game and turned the puck over 4x. He may get to stay in the lineup due to a Tyler Motte injury. All in all, a very disappointing effort in a game where the team should not have lacked motivation. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks have a trio of games. On Tuesday, the Canucks take on the Anaheim Ducks. Quinn Hughes, who skated for the first time Saturday, may play in this one. Ex-Canuck Ryan Kesler, who is battling a hip injury, will not. The Canucks shut out the hapless NoCal team a month ago. They’ll need that kind of effort again. On Thursday, the Canucks take on the LA Kings, who are playing out the string of games left, having been mathematically eliminated a week ago. Ex-Canuck coach Willie Desjardins, who has been the interim coach for the last half of the season, is unlikely to be retained after this season. The Canucks cap off the week with a game against the Dallas Stars, who the Canucks beat in a shootout a week ago. Dallas is looking like a strong bet to grab one of the two wild card spots. They have 82 points, three points clear of the 9th place Minnesota Wild. Yours truly will be at this game with the facebook group Vancouver Nuckleheads. Perhaps I will try live tweeting at the game. Here are ten random thoughts from week ten of the NHL.
The Canucks are all but certainly going to miss out on the playoffs this season (they are not quite mathematically eliminated). There are countless reasons why the Canucks won’t see playoff action this year. First and foremost, the Canucks once again suffered through a rash of injuries. All told, they had a grand total of 4 games where the entire team was healthy. Further, they were terrible defensively for much of the season. Countless goals were the direct results of costly turnovers, players not checking their men, and on and on. On the bright side, the Canucks had some good things happen this season. Jacob Markstrom emerged as a legit #1 goalie. Elias Pettersson took the NHL by storm and will likely be the Canucks 2nd Calder trophy winner, and Bo Horvat separated himself from the pack as the true leader of the Canucks. He’ll all but certainly be named captain in the near future.
How many more wins will the Canucks get? I actually had to change this random thought because I thought the Canucks had a legit chance to win out. After two lacklustre efforts this weekend, especially Sunday vs. Columbus, it’s entirely possible the Canucks lose out. Tyler Motte, Guillaume Brisebois and Josh Leivo (illness) joined the walking wounded. Sven Baertschi returned to the lineup, but we shouldn’t expect him to carry the team on his back after such a lengthy absence. The Canucks will have to dig deep to find motivation with the remaining six games essentially meaningless.
A couple of injury updates to discuss this week. Prospect defenseman Quinn Hughes got good news when the repeat CT Scan confirmed the findings from last week’s MRI. even better, Hughes took to the ice for the first time since his arrival in Vancouver last week on Saturday. Hughes sure looked like he was skating problem free in the solo skate he took ahead of the morning skate this morning, but I’m sure the team will monitor how he feels before putting him in a game. Expect Hughes to play Thursday or Saturday at the earliest as the team wants him to get a couple of practices in before playing a game. The Canucks are off Monday, so Wednesday will be Hughes’ first official practice with the team.
The other, somewhat surprising, injury update is Sven Baertschi returned to the Canucks lineup after recovering from post-concussion syndrome. The Canucks winger experienced symptoms after the second game following the all-star break. When healthy, Beaertschi is an immediate upgrade over players such as Markus Granlund, and he can help on the PP. I still think Baertschi really needs to think about his playing future in the off-season because the next concussion he suffers could be devastating. I’ve been through post-concussion syndrome myself and know the battle it can be from a physical, emotional and mental perspective. I noticed his first game back that Baertschi wasn’t having any of the Blue Jackets’ attempts to make dirty plays on him. In one sequence in the 1st period, a Blue Jacket was skating up the ice and nudged Baertschi from the blindside. Baertschi immediately turned around and shoved the Blue Jacket hard. I don’t blame Baertschi for reacting that way one bit. I only hope that he won’t experience more of these dirty plays because everyone in the league knows his concussion history.
Well, the NHL actually did something right for a change, suspending Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau one game for this hit on Canucks defenseman Ashton Sautner. This is another example of the NHL being inconsistent with their suspensions. Elias Pettersson took a similar hit from Chris Kreider ten days ago. I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but for any illegal hit that results in an injury, the league should automatically review it. Further, the guilty player should be out as long as the injured player is out of the lineup. Right now, there is far too much inconsistency where similar incidents receive different punishment, depending on the players and teams involved. This is why George Parros, a former enforcer himself and retired just five years ago, should not be the one susoending players. Guys he played against are still playing. Also, Parros likely has a bias against teams he played against and might favor teams he played for. Player’s safety is a joke!
Next I want to talk about the enigma that is Nikolay Goldobin. The perplexing winger has been in Travis Green’s doghouse. Acquired in a trade deadline deal in the 2016-17 season that sent Danish winger Jannik Hansen the other way, Goldobin was expected to be in the mix for the top six forward lines. He was known to have defensive shortcomings that were to be tolerated. Here’s the thing though, Green has been giving Goldobin mixed signals all season. He told Goldobin to be more responsible defensively and he was trying to do that at the expense of the offense. The thing is, Goldy is currently tied for 6th in team scoring with 27 points, seven of them being goals. He is -10, which is pretty bad. I fully expect Goldobin to go back to the KHL at the end of the season. He is an RFA at the end of the season and the Canucks have other viable options in the minors, such as Zack MacEwen and, assuming he is healthy, veteran Sven Baertschi. It’s really too bad, because Goldobin has shown flashes of being a dangerous player, just not consistently enough to be a mainstay in Green’s lineup.
There are rumblings that the NHL is looking into changing the current playoff format. The way playoff seeding works now, the first three teams in each division are guaranteed playoff spots, and the remaining two playoff spots are wild card spots up for grabs. To a lesser extent, the MLB uses this system, except in the MLB the top teams in each division make the playoffs and two wild card spots are up for grabs. In the MLB, the two wild card teams play a one game playoff and the winner of that game then faces the top seed in a best-of-five series. In the NHL, the 2nd wild card team faces the top seed in the conference and the second wild card team faces the 2nd best team in the conference. The flaw in the current playoff format is strong teams are forced to play equally strong teams. For example, Toronto is going to be stuck facing arch rivals Boston. Avery good team will be out 1st round. The 2nd place team in the Pacific division will get Vegas, who could make another deep playoff run. The NHL should go back to the playoff system they had before they adopted the current system in use back in 2013. Then, it was a conference-style playoff format, much like the NBA utilizes where the best team in each conference faces the 8th best team, 2nd best faces off against 7th best, 3rd best against 6th best and 4th against 5th. A team that works hard all year to achieve the best record should have an easier opponent and path to the Stanley cup. Under such a system, Toronto would be facing the NY Islanders first round and Tampa Bay would face Montreal. In the west, San Jose would avoid facing Vegas and would instead have Dallas, a weaker opponent. Is this system perfect? No. No matter what playoff system is used, there are pros and cons, but this current format isn’t working. Some big market teams will be out found one.
The Canucks should consider trying Brock Boeser at center some shifts. Boeser is the second option when the primary center gets kicked out of the faceoff circle and he has been very effective. In two of the last five games, Boeser has won four of the five draws he has taken. I think if he took some shifts as the primary center, his line with Elias Pettersson and Josh Leivo could be lethal. Pettersson has struggled for much of the season to hit the ideal 50% success rate you want your centers attaining each game. He has been improving as the season has gone on and he won a very strong 75% in Chicago on Monday. I just think long-term, the line might be more effective if Petey and Brock switched positions every so often. Also, Petey shoots left and Boeser shoots right, so that could throw the defense off as well.
Finally, I want to address a topic that’s been trending on social media. There is a small faction of fans that want to see Jim Benning fired at the end of the season. I think Benning should stay on. Next year will be an important one though, and the Canucks need to make a significant jump in the standings for him to survive past next season. It’s going to be telling the moves he makes in the off-season. If the Canucks don’t win the draft lottery, does Benning trade up to pick 1st or second overall, especially if Colorado gets the 1st 2 picks (one being Ottawa’s 1st round pick). He also needs to make significant changes to the roster, because right now the Canucks are a good three or four pieces from contending. Benning has made solid draft picks, but has signed questionable free agents. Consider the next year to be big for Benning’s future.
Canuck of the week: Brock Boeser, who saw his nine game scoring streak end. Boeser had a pair of goals and an assist this week and he won 10 of the 13 faceoffs he took.The Canucks should consider letting him take more faceoffs. Boeser has earned a big raise on his next contract.