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Ten weekly random thoughts weeks 7 and 8 October 28-November 10

Week 7 of the season started with a convincing 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. The Canucks quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the game’s opening 6 minutes on goals by unlikely scorers Tim Schaller, Jake Virtanen and Brandon Sutter. After the Panthers got one back, the Canucks added another two goals before the 1st period was over. The Panthers swapped goalies twice, presumably in a bid to give backup Sam Montembeault a breather and the team a reset. Tyler Myers had his best game in a Cancks uniform, finishing the game +4. Thatcher Demko stopped 29/31 shots. The Canucks then rolled into LA to begin their first California road trip. Like on the home opening night, the Canucks eventually got to Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Brock Boeser (3G 1A), Elias Pettersson (1G 3A), and Quinn Hughes (3A) led the way offensively. Jacob Markstrom stopped 21/24 shots. The Canucks lost Michael Ferland, who sustained a concussion in a 1st period fight (more on that later). Two nights later, the Canucks power play gave up a 1st period short-handed goal on some sloppy play in their own end. Jakob Silfverberg stole the puck and beat Jacob Markstrom with a forehand deke in tight. The Canucks got a scare when Quinn Hughes got his skate caught in a rut. He missed a game before returning last Monday (more on that later). The Canucks tied the game with 6 minutes left on a tip-in by Sutter. The game ended on a bit of a weird play. Markstrom came charging out of the net after a loose puck that Ryan Getzlaf got to first and easily maneuvered past a sprawling Markstrom and calmly deposited the puck into the empty net. They ended the week against a San Jose Sharks team that has given them fits in recent years. The Canucks showed a lot of heart and grit playing well and jumping out to a 4-0 lead after 2 periods. Pettersson (2G), Jake Virtanen (1G 1A), Boeser (2A) and Bo Horvat (2A) all had multi-point nights. Thatcher Demko stopped 24/26 shots. Ashton Sautner left the game after absorbing a late heavy hit into the end boards (more on that later).

Week 8 kicked off with the first of four decade celebration nights. Monday honored the teams from the 70’s. The Canucks did their warm-ups in vintage stick jerseys. Seventies music was played throughout the evening to keep with the theme for the night. The game itself was a vintage goaltending battle with Jordan Binnington and Markstrom matching each other save for save most of the night. The only shot to beat Markstrom was a quick strike by Tyler Bozak in tight. Quinn Hughes scored for the Canucks with under five minutes left with a seeing-eye shot through a crowd. The game ended in overtime on a comedy of errors when Tyler Myers inadvertently took out JT Miller behind the Blues net sending the Blues on a 3-on-0 the other way. Jaden Schwartz finished off the tic-tac-goal play. beating Markstrom blocker side. The frustrated Canucks goalie destroyed his stick against the goal post. The Canucks then packed their bags for yet another road trip, this time landing in Chicago. The Blackhawks opened the scoring on a bit of a lucky shot by Alex DeBrincat who got off a shot while falling that beat a surprised Markstrom. The Blackhawks added a PP marker on a tic-tac-goal play down low, ended by a  quick shot by Andrew Shaw from the slot. The Canucks got one back early in the second on a tip-in by Miller.. The Blackhawks more or less put the game away with 5 minutes left on a howitzer by Patrick Kane for a PP goal. The Blackhawks added two empty-netters sandwiched by a Virtanen tip-in. All in all this was a game indicative of a tired team that was essentially on the road for the past 2 weeks. Oh, and Chris Tanev left the game early with an upper body injury and Markstrom was felled by a high shot off the collarbone, although he was able to finish the game. The Canucks had to quickly put the game behind them as they played in Winnipeg the next night. Winnipeg has absolutely dominated Vancouver the last 3 seasons, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings between the two squads and every game at home since March 12, 2014. Friday night was no different. The Jets rallied around an early injury scare to Nicholai Ehlers, who went back first heavily into the boards. He returned after a brief respite at the bench to catch his breath. The Canucks got a scare for the second straight game with Tanev, who absorbed a heavy slap shot by Patrick Laine. Tanev also returned after being helped to the dressing room. The Canucks actually opened the scoring on a tip-in by Miller. After that it was all. Winnipeg, taking the lead with 2 goals in tight in five minutes. The pivotal point in the game was a huge save by Connor Hellebuyck, followed almost immediately by Kyle Connors stripping Tyler Myers, who was making his return to Winnipeg after signing with the Canucks as a free agent, at the blue line and racing the length of the ice, snapping it home on Thatcher Demko blocker side. The Jets added an empty-netter with just under two minutes left to put the game away. The Canucks ended the week facing the NJ Devils, who shut out the Canucks 1-0. It was also the annual hockey fights cancer game.Jacob Markstrom revealed via his Instagram page that he lost his father to cancer a couple of weeks ago and that was evidently the reason why he left the team for a week. Mackenzie Blackwood continues to have the Canucks number, earning his fourth victory with a 30-save effort, allowing just a Brock Boeser goal on a perfect shot. The Devils defenders helped out by blocking 23 shots. The Canucks were robbed of a 3rd period power play when an obvious hook on Pettersson was missed.

Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks get to enjoy a week at home with 3 games in 7 days (every other day).  On Tuesday, the Nashville Predators roll into town. The Predators were 3rd in the Central Division heading into Saturday’s games with 20 points, one point back of the Canucks. The Predators won 2 of the 3 games against the Canucks last season. Expect this one to be a defensive battle. Two nights later, the Canucks honor the armed forces and will wear special green army jerseys during warm-ups. The Canucks won 2 of the 3 meetings between the two teams last season, outscoring the Stars 7-6, including a goal by Baertschi who had just returned from his second lengthy absence of the season. The Canucks wrap up the week, taking on the upstart Colorado  Avalanche, who signed Mikko Rantanen to a huge 6-year deal right before the season started. On this night, the Canucks will wear vintage skate jerseys from the 90’s. They will also wear the skate jerseys January 4th when they have their 90’s decade celebrations and February 10th at the beginning of the week celebrating the Sedins. Here are ten random thoughts from weeks 7 and 8 of the NHL.

1. Let’s kick things off talking about the two scary injuries of the week. Michael Ferland was forced to leave the game against LA in week 7 after sustaining a concussion in a fight. Fighting in hockey has largely been reduced in recent years, largely because of the head injuries sustained in these needless battles. Several players in a span of 4 years who were enforcers, including Bob Probert, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, Todd Ewen and Derek Boogaard. The NHL game has also evolved to eliminate the use of enforcers, who tended to play just a couple of minutes in a typical game. Now, fourth liners are expected to be skilled and contribute both offensively and defensively. Some teams play them more often than others, but generally they don’t fight. Concussions are taken much more seriously now than in the past as well, with spotters in the arena who have the ability to pull players from the game who they deem to be exhibiting concussion like symptoms. After the lengthy absences of Thatcher Demko and Baertschi last season, expect the Canucks to be extra cautious with Ferland, who’s game is physical. Ashton Sautner also suffered a scary injury. He was sent flying into the boards by Brendan Dillon of the Sharks on this brutal hit. Dillon did not receive a penalty on the play, nor did he get a hearing with Player’s Safety. Should he have gotten a suspension? Debatable since some similar bad hits that week did not warrant any suspensions. Thankfully Sautner avoided a concussion on the play. He was sent back to Utica once Quinn Hughes returned a day later.

2. Speaking of Hughes, the Canucks got extremely lucky when he got his skate caught in a rut in Anaheim. All of Canucks nation feared the worst for the Calder trophy candidate, who looked to have sustained at least a moderate ankle sprain. Thankfully, the only damage was a bruised knee from banging it on the ice and one game missed. Without Hughes, the power play is substantially less effective when he’s not on the ice, reverting back to a more stationary set and is much slower moving the puck up the ice after a clear. Hughes’ strength is his ability to read the play in conjunction with an elite skating ability. Hughes will almost certainly be a finalist for the Calder trophy, if he doesn’t win. Hughes’ defensive partner Chris Tanev also had a tough week, leaving back to back games with injuries. In Chicago, he sustained an upper body injury and was not allowed to return by the doctor. The next night, he absorbed a heavy slap shot by Patrick Laine, who possesses one of the league’s hardest shots. Tanev looked like he would be out for several weeks (he has broken bones numerous times blocking shots), but amazingly he returned in short order after seeing the in-game doctor. Tanev modified his equipment to help prevent injuries from blocked shots. So far, the new pads seem to be doing their job. Is Tanev likely to get hurt as his pads break down from continuous abuse from blocking shots? Time will tell, but hopefully the trainers will be on the ball and replace the pads as needed. Tanev has worked really well with Hughes and has been a great veteran presence for the rookie defender. Plus, his absence also ups the minutes given to 33-year-old Alex Edler.

3. After Michael Ferland went down with the concussion, Sven Baertschi, who was a final cut at the end of training camp, was rewarded for a strong start to the season with a call-up. Baertschi made his season debut Friday against Winnipeg. He had a solid game, but showed understandable rust after sitting for the better part of a week as a healthy scratch. Adam Gaudette was the player who drew out of the lineup. Many fans would rather have seen Loui Eriksson be the one in the press box. Eriksson has been a bust since signing with the Canucks. He’s playing under 10 minutes a night and has not killed penalties recently. Gaudette meanwhile needs to play or be sent to Utica. He had a strong preseason and has come back down to earth as play got tougher with the beginning of the regular season. The most encouraging thing about Baertschi’s debut was that he showed no hesitation in the corners, a reason cited by Canucks brass for cutting him. Baertschi missed a couple of scoring opportunities due to his timing being off from lack of playing time, but that will come. He deserves a longer look.

4. There was another scary injury in the NHL last Monday. This shot by Ehlers deflected up and caught Bryan Little on the side of the head. Little immediately went down clutching the side of his head. He was transferred to hospital and the next day to a more specialized hospital. Little had a bleed in his brain and a ruptured eardrum. He’s expected to miss significant time. Here’s hoping he makes a full and speedy recovery and can come back to playing hockey.

5. A big reason for the Canucks success early on has been their work in the faceoff circle. A huge part of the game of hockey is the faceoff which starts play after a whistle, to start the game/period or when the puck leaves play. Win the draw and you gain possession and can go on the offence. Lose the draw and you are chasing the game and trying to get possession back. The Canucks made a very smart coaching decision, inking Manny Malholtra, who was a faceoff specialist in his playing days before a serious eye injury ended his career prematurely. The Canucks have also targeted players in the draft and free agency and the trade market that are strong centers. Captain Bo Horvat is 4th in the NHL with a 59.9% faceoff success rate, winning 196 faceoffs through 17 games. He’s usually matched against the opponents best centers, which makes his success more remarkable. Teammate Jay Beagle is tied with Horvat with a 59.9% success rate as well. Beagle is primarily a penalty killer, making faceoff wins important for early clears. More often than not, the Canucks are winning more faceoffs than the opponent in a given game and that is a big reason why they are where they are in the standings.

6. Speaking of the standings, the Canucks find themselves in a good position as we finish the 6th week of the regular season and the 8th week since training camp opened. The Canucks were tied for 3rd in the Pacific division with the Vegas Golden Knights entering play Saturday. They were tied 7th overall in the NHL. The schedule over the next month will be tough with difficult opponents and travel. It will be interesting to see where the Canucks stand by the US Thanksgiving holiday in a few weeks

7. Monday’s home game was the 1st of four decade celebrations that the Canucks will host (the 80’s teams will be honored in December, the 90’s teams in January and the 2000’s in February). Like most expansion teams, the Canucks struggled in the early years of their existence. They made the playoffs in just three years of their first decade (1975, 1976, and 1979). Their original head coach, Hal Laycoe, was fired after two seasons. He passed away at the age of 75 in 1998. Original captain Orland Kurtenbach was head coach for a season and a half (1976-78). The original Canucks team, unlike the mix of different countries of origins you see today was all Canadian-born players, except for Lebonese player Ed Hatoum and Danish player Poul Popiel. The Canucks first win as a franchise came on October 11, 1970, a 5-3 win over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The first time the Canucks made the playoffs, they were eliminated in five games in the quarter finals by the Montreal Canadiens. The Canucks edged the Habs 2-1 in the second game of that series for their first playoff win. The following season, the Canucks were swept 2-0 by the NY Islanders in the preliminary round. In 1979, the Canucks were eliminated in the preliminary round by the Philadephia Flyers. Please comment below if you have other fun facts from the first decade or stories to tell.

8. Finally, I want to dive into the troubles the Canucks have against Winnipeg, whether it be in Winnipeg or at home. There’s numerous factors that give teams edges over the opponent. For example, the schedule can be a big factor. The past two times the Canucks played in Winnipeg, they were at the end of lengthy road trips. This past Friday, the Canucks had played five of the pas 6 games with one home game sandwiched in the middle and they were playing the second of a back-to-back. The Jets had been idle since Monday and they finished playing that Monday game when the Canucks were only halfway through their game. Another factor is injuries. As seems to happen every year, the Canucks are starting to see players getting banged up. Antoine Roussel, Michael Ferland and Tyler Motte are all on injury reserve and not expected back anytime soon. Chris Tanev is playing banged up. Alex Edler is playing ridiculous minutes to help out the defense when someone goes down. The offence has dried up too and the Canucks are having to find ways to score. All things being equal, and assuming everyone is healthy, the Canucks still have to play a near perfect game to defeat the Jets because they have a superior lineup and goalie Connor Hellebuyck is as elite a goalie as Markstrom and Demko are for the Canucks. Eventually the losing streak against will be snapped, but the conditions will have to be optimal (maybe the Canucks play the Jets when they on the second of a back to back and the Canucks have sat idle).

9. Canuck of week 7: Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser who both dominated the games against Florida, LA and San Jose. Boeser had 7 points (4G 3A) in week 7 and Pettersson had 9 points (3G 6A) in week 7

10. Canuck of week 8: Chris Tanev for being such a warrior and coming back not once, but twice, after being forced to leave games early this week. Tanev gamely blocked 7 shots this week.

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