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ten weekly random thoughts – Week 3: January 25-31

What a difference a week makes! Coming into the week, the Canucks were floundering, having lost 5 of their first 7 games to start the season. Their opponent this week was the Ottawa Senators, who were off to an equally rough start to the season. Both teams had one common issue they were dealing with: goaltending. To be fair, Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko weren’t horrible, but they weren’t making the timely saves. It didn’t help matters that the Canucks were turning the puck over like it was a hot potato. Several of the forwards, especially Elias Pettersson, were off to terrible starts. On Monday, the Canucks came out flying with their most complete effort of the season. Unlikely heroes carried the day (Brandon Sutter got his first career hat trick, Tanner Pearson had a goal and an assist, Tyler Myers had a strong defensive effort, and Olli Joulevi got his first career goal). Thatcher Demko looked like the goalie who nearly carried the Canucks to the Western conference finals in the return to play tournament in August with a 35-save effort. Two days later, it was the Lotto line’s time to shine. JT Miller scored twice and added an assist. Petey looked like his confidence had returned. He was making smart plays, and on his goal, he took his time and wired a laser beam over Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg. Demko turned in another outstanding performance with a 42-save effort, including  23 saves in the 1st period. The Canucks completed the sweep Thursday on another strong goaltending performance, this time by Holtby. The Lotto line had another strong night, combining for seven points. Jake Virtanen was a healthy scratch (more on him later). Brady Tkachuk  lost his mind in the 3rd period, with his team about to lose their 6th straight game and was being outscored 16-3 (more on that later). On Saturday, the Canucks began a tough 6 game road trip with a tilt in Winnipeg. Coming into this one, the Jets had won 14 of the last 15 meetings between the two squads and 10 straight overall. The Canucks had a bit of a break with Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was still completing his 14-say quarantine after being acquired  from Columbus a week ago, not being in the lineup. The Canucks finally broke the curse and beat Winnipeg with a structured effort and two strong period in the 2nd and 3rd. Thatcher Demko remained hot, stopping 23/24 shots, giving him an even 100 saves this week. Boeser tallied twice and added an assist. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks start the week with back-to-back games versus Montreal, who torched the Canucks in Vancouver a week ago. Old teammate Tyler Toffoli torched his former team to the tune of 5 goals, including a hat trick on January20, and a pair of assists. The Bell Centre has been a house of horrors for the Canucks, who last won in Montreal since December 2011. The Habs should be the fresher team, given they have played just twice last week, and the Canucks will be on their 5th game in 8 days. Expect both goalies to play given the back-to-backs on tap. The Canucks end the week with a pair of games in Toronto. Again, the Canucks haven’t won in the center of the universe in a decade and they have just 2 regulation wins since 2014. The Maple Leafs are off to a hot start with an 8-2 record (through Saturday’s games). The Maple Leafs will be well-rested, as they don’t play again until Thursday against the Canucks after Saturday’s tilt against Edmonton.  Here are ten random thoughts from week 3 of the NHL.

1. With his hat trick on Monday, Brandon Sutter became the 6th member of the Sutter clan to record a hat trick. The Canucks became the only team to have two Sutter’s score hat tricks while playing for them (Rich Sutter scored a hat trick as a Canuck back on October 20, 1989 in New Jersey. Brandon Sutter had 46 career goals before he scored his hat trick. He’s had 2 20 goal seasons in his career, scoring 21 goals in the 2009-10 and 2014-15 seasons for Carolina and Pittsburgh respectively. He’s scored twice in a game 12 times, including 4 times in a Canucks uniform. Sutter was traded to the Canucks from Pittsburgh back on July 28, 2015 in exchange for Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening. Sutter has had a rough time with injuries since joining the Canucks. In the 2015-16 season, he missed 33 games after sports hernia surgery, then 4 games after returning broke his jaw blocking a shot. Sutter missed 21 games the next season with a groin strain. The following season, Sutter separated his shoulder, then injured his groin shortly after returning, and required a second sports hernia surgery. Last season, Sutter missed three games with a lower body injury in November and twelve more games with an upper body injury  three games after returning. Sutter is in the final year of his contract, and it’s unlikely the Canucks will re-sign him, unless he takes a substantial pay cut.

2. It’s unusual for lineup changes, other than maybe the goalie and in the case of injury, when a team is on a losing streak. That’s exactly what happened Thursday when the struggling Jake Virtanen was scratched in favor of the struggling Adam Gaudette. It’s unfortunate because Virtanen had a golden opportunity to get in the coaches good graces with JT Miller in Vancouver after Jordie Benn was presumed positive for COVID-19 after a pair of positive tests towards the end of training camp. Virtanen started on the second line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, but was demoted to the 3rd line by the 1st period of the Canucks second game. Drafted by the Canucks 6th overall in the 2014 NHL entry draft, Virtanen has been a bust. He’s shown up to multiple training camps out of shape. This might have been acceptable back in the 80’s or 90’s, but now players are expected to train year round and come into camp fit. Training camps nowadays are there to reinforce structure and start skating the rust off. Virtanen has also gotten himself in trouble off the ice. He was caught distracted driving back on May 27, and he was out at a nightclub with no mask or apparent social distancing just before training camp opened ahead of the return to play tournament. On Wednesday, Virtanen took a bad penalty in the 1st period and was largely invisible the rest of the game, recording 2 hits and 2 shots on goal. It’s time for the Canucks to move on from Virtanen and let him walk at the end of the season.

3. One factor is going to be a big hindrance to the Canucks playoff chances and it is something the Canucks have little control over: games in hand. Heading into Saturday’s slate of games, the Canucks had already played 10 games, the most in the NHL. A caveat to note: several teams had games postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases. Dallas and Carolina have both played just 4 games (before Saturday) as a result. Vancouver’s playoff fate could be decided by other teams. To be sure, playing  .500 hockey probably won’t be enough to make the playoffs. After Saturday, the Canucks had played every team in the division at least once, except Toronto. As was largely predicted by the hockey experts, Toronto and Ottawa were the best and worst teams in the division and the other five teams were somewhere  in between. Montreal has the best goal differential (+13), thanks in large part to their offensive explosion in Vancouver. The Senators are the worst in terms of goal differential (-10). It’s imperative that the Canucks play better than .500 hockey because they need to have a cushion in the standings later on, when teams start playing games while the Canucks sit idle.

4. Early Canucks MVP: JT Miller. The 1st line left-winger missed the 1st 3 games of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. As a team, the Canucks lost two of those three games. The bigger impact might have been to Elias Pettersson, who looked lost without him. Rarely, if ever, has Pettersson passed up on a shot attempt. He also had trouble controlling passed on the PP. Since Miller returned, the Canucks started turning their season around. The PP looked more dangerous, scoring three times in the home opener vs. Montreal. Pettersson has looked more like himself. Personally, Miller has 2 goals and 7 assists in the 7 games he’s played. He is -3, but that stat is deceiving because it only says who has been on the ice when a goal  was scored. He displayed quite a potty mouth this week when frustrated after a shift.

5. The Tkachuk brothers made their mark on the NHL this week, and not in a good way. Both brothers had temper tantrums near the end of games this week. First, last Sunday, Matthew Tkachuk fell on Leafs backup goalie Jack Campbell, who was already trying to play through a lower body injury suffered a few minutes earlier. Campbell is now going to miss several weeks. The worse infraction came the next night when Tyler Ennis flipped the puck at Tkachuk at the end of the game. Tkachuk picked a fight with Ennis and proceeded to pound the wall at the bench as he exited the ice. Matthew then picked a fight with the Habs Ben Chariot as he and his team were having another frustrating night. For Brady Tkachuk, his frustrations of a tough week boiled over in the second period of the third game against the Canucks. Tkachuk had a collision at center ice with Jalen Chatfield, then tried to attack the Canucks defender. Chatfield would up with the extra penalty. Then in the final minute, Tkachuk picked a fight with Zack MacEwen, who won the bout handily. Tkachuk then got into a verbal exchange with the Canucks bench before storming off the ice. Jay Beagle didn’t help the situation by laughing at Tkachuk. Neither one of these hotheads did anything to further their team’s chances of winning. Hopefully their respective coaches/team captains sat them down afterwards and gave them a good talking to. Both are luckily to not get fined by the league for their poor behavior.

6. One more thing I want to address from the Ottawa series that the league should be cracking down on is players taking runs at players during blowouts. I noticed during the 1st games this week vs. the Canucks that the Senators were taking runs at some of the Canucks players. I especially didn’t like seeing Alex Edler take an unnecessary hit towards the end of the game, given he missed a couple of games with an upper body injury and his previous injury list. The referees know who the agitators are on each team. When the game is a rout, or it’s obvious that one team has won, the refs should be watching out for those players who could try to stir things up or take out their frustrations on other players and get them out of the game at the first opportunity. The last thing anyone wants to see is the winning team’s star (say Pettersson or Miller) injured by an unnecessary hit. I also think Jay Beagle should have faced supplementary discipline for whatever he said to Tkachuk as he was leaving the ice. The game was over and the Canucks were going to win.

7. February 21, 1996. That’s the last time the Canucks beat Winnipeg in Winnipeg. That team is now called the Arizona Coyotes. Last victory period was December 20, 2016 at Rogers Arena (yours truly was at that game. I thought it would be fun to look back on both victories with some fun facts from both those years

  • Stanley Cup Winners from both years: 1996 – Colorado Avalanche; 2016 – Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Bill Clinton was the US President in 1996; Barack Obama was the US president in 1996
  • Canada’s PM: 1996 – Jean Chretien; 2016; Justin Trudeau
  • Manitoba premier: 1996 – Gary Filmone; 2016: Brian Pallister
  • BC Premier: 1996 – Glen Clark; 2016 – Christy Clark
  • Winnipeg mayor: 1996 – Susan Ann Thompson; 2016 – Brian Bowman
  • Vancouver mayor: 1996 – Philip Owen; 2016 – Gregor Robertson
  • The World trade center still stood in 1996
  • Jets team captain: 1996 – Kris King; 2016 – Andrew Ladd
  • Canucks team captain: 1996 – Trevor Linden; 2016 – Henrik Sedin
  • Jets leading scorer: 1996 –  Keith Tkachuk (98 points – 50G 48A); 2016: Blake Wheeler (78 points – 26G 52A)
  • Canucks leading scorer: – 1996 – Alex Mogilny (107 points – 79G 55A) 2016: Daniel Sedin (61 points – 28G 33A)
  • Jets head coach: 1996 – Terry Simpson; 2016 – Paul Maurice
  • Canucks head coach: 1996: Pat Quinn; 2016: Willie Desjardins
  • Jets starting goalie: 1996: Nikolai Khabibulin; 2016 – Ondrej Pavelec/Connor Hellebuyck
  • Canucks starting goalie: 1996: Kirk McLean; 2016 – Ryan Miller

8. Canucks equipment manager Brian “Red” Hamilton worked his 1000th NHL game this week. The equipment manager is such a vital position on a hockey team. They are responsible for keeping skate blades sharp, making sure everyone’s equipment is in good working order, drying out equipment between periods and after games, being a moral support for the players. Check out this article on Hamilton.

9. This week, Thursday January 28, was the annual Bell let’s talk day where proceeds from the various mentions on social media go towards supporting mental health. The Canucks held their annual hockey talks two nights earlier. Mental health is still very much stigmatized, but things are slowly getting better, with reaching out for help increasingly seen as being strong and not weak. From July 11, 2009-February 15, 2015, 6 former NHL players passed away with mental illness and lingering effects from concussions being contributing factors, including ex-Canuck Rick Rypien. All were known to be enforcers in their playing days. There is a lot more known about concussions now and the protocol for returning from a head injury is much better than in the past. It is hoped that better management of concussions means less players will suffer after their playing careers are over. The fact is, mental illness can affect anyone, so seek help when you need it.

10. Canuck of the week: Thatcher Demko. After a tough first few starts where he wasn’t making the saves he had to make, Demko has turned things around after a session with goalie guru Ian Clark last Sunday – the first time the Canucks have found time to practice in a week with a crammed schedule to start the season. This week, Snatcher stopped 100/103 shots. Hopefully he can keep it going next week against stiffer competition in Montreal and Toronto

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