It was a week of contrasts for the Canucks this week. On Tuesday they wrapped up their first eastern road swing with a tilt against the Detroit Red Wings, who they beat in convincing fashion a week prior at Roger’s Arena on the strength of three power play strikes. In Detroit, the Red Wings jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 2 periods on the back of a pair of PP goals (one at the beginning of a lengthy 5-on-3 and on with a 4-on-3 advantage). The Canucks came out in the 3rd period and scored five unanswered goals to finish the road trip an impressive 3-1. The only loss came against the NJ Devils thanks to McKenzie Blackwood standing on his head and Jack Hughes tallying his first career goal against his brother who was on the ice defending at the time. On Friday, the Canucks played a formidable opponent in the Washington Capitals. The Canucks jumped out to a 5-1 lead after two periods. Tim Schaller and Jake Virtanen combined to score two of the three Canucks goals (arguably the two most unlikely on the team to score). After the Capitals scored a buzzer beater to end the 2nd period, they came storming out in the 3rd period, scoring three straight in the opening 8 minutes of the final period. Jacob Markstrom had a rough go of it, but he didn’t exactly get much help from the defense, who struggled clearing the puck out. After neither team could break the tie in overtime, the Capitals secured the extra point, scoring on 2 of 3 shots in the shootout. Elias Pettersson scored for the Canucks in the shootout after Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov bit hard on Petey’s first move and was right out of position as Petey calmly snapped the puck into the yawning cage. Tyler Motte was injured blocking a shot and will be forced to miss a week or two. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks wrap up the home stand with a tilt against the Florida Panthers Monday. It will be the first time Elias Pettersson faces the Panthers since this dirty hit by Michael Matheson. It will also be the first game between the two squads since Roberto Luongo retired at the end of last season. The Canucks won both games of the season series last year, outscoring the Panthers 8-3. On Wednesday, the Canucks kick off their first California road trip of the season, beginning with the LA Kings team they routed 8-2 in the home opener. Jonathan Quick remains a King despite the trade rumors of the past few weeks. Ben Hutton will face his former teammates for the third time since he signed a one-year deal with LA near the end of training camp. Two days later, the Canucks arrive in Anaheim to take on ex-Canucks Michael Del Zotto and Erik Gudbranson (acquired in a trade with the Penguins this week). Anaheim has been one of the early surprises this season and are challenging for the Pacific Division title. Corey Perry (signed with Dallas) and Ryan Kesler (on LTIR and likely to retire soon) are two familar names associated with the Ducks that won’t be playing. Anaheim won three of the four meetings between the two teams last year, but the Canucks outscored the Ducks 11-10. The Canucks wrap up the week and road trip in their little house of horrors in San Jose. Patrick Marleau, who played his 1500th career game last Saturday vs. Toronto, signed on with the Sharks recently. San Jose won three of the four meetings against the Canucks last season, outscoring Vancouver 16-8. Here are ten random thoughts from week 6 of the NHL.
1. Let’s start with some good news on the injury front as Oscar Fantenberg returned to practice after missing a week with a similar illness to the one that felled Michael Ferland in training camp and caused him to lose 10 pounds. Ashton Sautner was sent back to Utica this week, meaning Fantenberg is at least close to ready. He has yet to make his Canucks debut because he missed the first week with a concussion. He outplayed Alex Biega in the limited action he saw in preseason and Biega was dealt to the Red Wings just prior to the season starting. I look forward to seeing Fantenberg in action to see what he’s got.
2. Tim Schaller might have had his best week in a Canucks uniform, scoring three times this week. His renewed play has forced Loui Eriksson to the pressbox, where he has sat enjoying arena popcorn. Schaller is in the second year of a two-year deal.
3. The Canucks AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets are off to a strong 7-0 start to their season. One player who should be especially motivated to play well is Sven Baertschi, who was a late cut at the end of training camp. He has 9 points (2G 7A) in 6 games. Olli Joulevi leads the defenders in points with 5 assists. He’ll probably be recalled before too long. Reid Boucher has been turning heads with 11 points (8G 3A). Nikolai Goldobin has 10 points (1G 9A) after being a late cut. It’s great to see the young Comets playing with confidence because it will only help them when injuries do happen with the parent squad.
4. After returning home, Antoine Roussel, Fin and Jake Virtanen made a visit to the Canucks children’s hospice and carved pumpkins with some of the children staying there. Every year the Canucks make several trips to the Children’s hospice to cheer up the children who are ill. That Virtanen and Roussel, who is injured, did this on their own time and initiative is commendable and really shows the character of these players. It’s bad enough that these children are dealing with these debilitating illnesses and disorders. Kudos to the three of them and those Canucks who will take the time in future dates to cheer up these children.
5. Friday was the annual Diwali festival of lights game. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in southern hemisphere). One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali or Deepavali symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance”. The Canucks did things right starting with a street party in the plaza outside Roger’s Arena DJ’d by a local Vancouverite of Indian descent. There were also dancers dancing traditional Indian dances. The entertainment between periods featured more traditional Indian dances. I think it’s great that the Canucks embrace the multiculturalism of Vancouver and Canada and celebrate the traditional festivals such as Diwali.
6. On Saturday, the latest Heritage Classic (an annual outdoor game featuring two Canadian NHL teams) took place. The NHL also has an annual New Year’s day outdoor game (featuring the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas Texas in 2020) and will feature a third game February 15, 2020 between the Colorado Avalanche and LA Kings @ Falcon Stadium in Colorado. Saturday’s tilt was between the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. I’ve watched several of the outdoor games on TV and went to the one that took place at BC Place in 2014. One of the biggest challenges with running these games is the unpredictability of weather. At the outdoor game in Vancouver, it was actually snowing that day but they had to close the roof due to concern for player safety as the snow was mixed with rain. Saturday in Saskatchewan it was snowing lightly and looked cold. Both teams were wearing balaclavas and the goalies wore toques over their masks. The snow also affects the ice as it slows play down. Players have to strike the puck more firmly to pass it. Watching the game on TV is not ideal as the viewer misses the action and can’t see the puck very well when it’s on the near boards because of the way the cameras are set up. You also don’t get the variety of camera angles you do in a typical NHL game. The one good thing about an outdoor game is they are typically played in NFL or MLB stadiums, which both hold significantly more fans (~50,000 vs. ~18,000). The NHL has been doing outdoor games since the first Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and the Monteal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton November 22, 2003. The NHL started making the outdoor games an annual event with at least one game a season on New Year’s day 2008.
7. This next point I want to address is not directly related to hockey, but it’s important nonetheless. The MLB had a pair of black marks this week with regards to fan behavior and poor remarks by an Assistant GM, loudly praising Roberto Osuna, who was suspended 75 games for beating his girlfriend, in front of three female reporters in the postgame celebrations after beating the NY Yankees to advances to the World Series. I want to focus on the fan behavior. During the warm-ups of game five, fans were taunting Astros SP Zach Greinke as he warmed up in the bullpen. I bring it up here in this blog because I’ve been to several Canucks games where I have witnessed poor fan behavior. There was one game my dad and I went to a few years back and at the end of the game, there were fans fighting a couple of rows above us and my dad and I had popcorn and beer thrown on us. Another game, we witnessed fans fighting in the stands a couple of sections over from us. At the outdoor game, I was seated beside a fan who was very drunk (the game took place in the early afternoon local time). He was so drunk, I was getting nauseous sitting next to him. He was eventually kicked out as his behavior worsened. The point is, players and fans have a right to be respected when they play. Go ahead and watch the other team warm up. Jeering and booing is allowed too. Just don’t be making the taunts personal and whatever you do don’t fight because innocent fans can get hurt.
8. With the injury to Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette was recalled after a brief stint in Utica to get some ice time with the light schedule this week. Gaudette played his way onto the team with an outstanding preseason where he was the best player on the ice pretty much every night. In three games this season, Gaudette has one assists, has won 8/13 faceoffs, a hit, a blocked shot and a giveaway while averaging ~11 minutes a night. Look for him to play on the 3rd line with some 2nd unit PP time.
9. Let’s end things off this week with a fun look at how to choose your player’s jersey. One of the best ways to rep your team is to wear your team’s jersey. I personally have a home (dark navy) version of the Canucks jersey that was used between 1997-2007. Significant players who donned this jersey include Mark Messier, Trevor Linden, Ed Jovanovski, Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, the Sedins, Brendan Morrison, Matthias Ohlund and Dan Cloutier. I also have a white skate jersey that was used between 1989-96. I got that jersey for my 7th birthday and since it no longer fits, I use it for player autographs. Cliff Ronning and Gino Odjick were the first Canucks to sign that jersey. Neither of the jerseys I own have a player name on the back, but many fans opt to buy jerseys with player names on the backs. These jerseys cost a bit more than the no-name jerseys. There are also jerseys for females that are shaped a bit different. Female jerseys can also be found in pink colors. For the fan who is on a budget, there are shirsies that can be bought for ~$20. Lids, Primetime Sports and Sportschek are the common places where you can buy sports paraphernalia. You can also go to the Canucks store at Roger’s arena or buy team gear online (they may or may not be authentic). Wear your gear with pride!
10. Canuck of the week: Tim Schaller who, as mentioned in point 1, had 3 goals this week was one of the only Canucks to have a positive +/- rating after Friday’s game. His bounceback play has rendered Loui Eriksson useless. Can he sustain this pace and play? I have my doubts, given that he isn’t exactly a speed demon and the goalies he faced were neither Patrick Roy nor Martin Brodeur. At the moment, his spot in the lineup is secure.