I Watched This Game: Josh Leivo scores in Canucks debut, but penalty kill continues long slide

Canucks 2 - 3 Wild

Pass it to Bulis

Remember, remember, in early November, the Pacific Division they topped. I see no reason, the Canucks’ early season should e’er be forgot.

For an all-too-brief moment after the first week of November, the Canucks were flying high. With points in five straight games, including four wins, the Canucks were in first place in the Pacific. The capstone was eight goals scored on the Boston Bruins, seemingly laying to rest any concerns that the Canucks couldn’t score goals.

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Since then, however, things have gotten uglier and uglier, like the picture of Dorian Gray, which leads me to believe that somewhere there is a young and beautiful Canucks team debauching themselves in an opium den.

The Canucks have just one win since beating the Bruins, losing 12 of their last 13 games. Just two of those losses came past regulation, so the Canucks have picked up a grand total of four out of a possible 26 points.

Unsurprisingly, the Canucks have slid down the standings into 7th in the Pacific, ahead of only the hapless Kings. The Canucks, at least, haven’t lost all of their haps just yet. They’re 29th in the league in points percentage, well on their way to a lottery pick.

There are, however, signs of life in the murk. The losses have largely come by just one goal, so they’ve been in almost every game. At 5-on-5, they’ve held their own, only to be undone by special teams. There’s reason to believe they will win again. Maybe.

With a firm belief that the Canucks had a chance (and only mildly wishing I was in an opium den instead), I watched this game.

  • Nikolay Goldobin was scratched for this game, ostensibly to teach him a lesson. I’m not entirely sure what that lesson was, but I hope it wasn’t supposed to be, “Look at how your teammates play and do what they do,” because the lesson did not go well.
  • Josh Leivo immediately ingratiated himself with the fans in his Canucks debut, opening the scoring seven minutes into the game. Leivo makes first impressions like Ron Swanson makes rings: quickly and to a high standard of excellence.
  • On the goal, a Wild pass up the boards hit a linesman’s skate; instead of a rush the other way, Elias Pettersson moved in on the left wing, then hooked a nifty pass back to the trailing Josh Leivo, who caught Devan Dubnyk moving the wrong way with a quick snap shot. It was a little luck, a little playmaking, and a little sniping. It just needed something borrowed and something blue and they’d be ready for a wedding.

 

 

  • “I just gotta get used to the speed, I’m not used to playing against the top lines,” said Leivo after the game. “I felt great the first couple periods, but maybe fogged off a bit at the end.” Travis Green echoed that, noting that he gave Leivo a couple shifts off in the third period. His 16:53 in ice time wasn’t quite a career high — he once played 17:35 in a game with the Leafs back in 2016 — but it’s the most he’s played in a game since then.
  • Leivo was even on the first power play unit, taking the spot vacated by Sam Gagner getting sent back to the Toronto Marlies. Like Gagner, Leivo is a right-hand shot, and he has good presence in front of the net, in that he’s there. Present. In all honesty, it looked like a good fit and, with some more time to get situated, Leivo could find a long-term home on the first unit.
  • The biggest issue for the Canucks was the penalty kill. Actually, “kill” is not the right word for it. It was more of a penalty shove. A penalty mean look. A penalty I’m-telling-Mom. There was no killing. None.
  • The Wild power play went 3-for-3 and worked so efficiently that they were only on the power play for two minutes and 17 seconds. Heading into the game, they had the 14th-ranked power play in the league, right around league average. After this game, they’re now 9th in the league: they jumped up five ranks because the Canucks’ penalty kill couldn’t stop them even once.
  • It was simple errors: not getting clears when they had the chance, not getting in shooting lanes at the right time, and, of course, taking terrible penalties while already 5-on-4 and gifting the Wild with a two-man advantage, as Michael Del Zotto did when he crosschecked Zach Parise in the back. As Mike Leggo once said, you can’t do that.
  • The kid interviewed after the little tykes game in the first intermission was an absolute beauty. Asked whether he would continue playing hockey, he said, “I guess,” which provoked some laughter, but the highlight came when he was asked his favourite player was. He paused before finally saying, “Shotgun Jake?”

 

 

  • Jay Beagle made his return to the Vancouver Canucks lineup after missing two dozen games with a broken arm (more on that in this week’s Paper Feature on Thursday). He played just 8:33, but had a decent impact at 5-on-5 on a fourth line with Tim Schaller and Tyler Motte. They combined for one of the best shifts of the game, turning around a second period that was heavily tilted in the Wild’s favour, with the Canucks not getting a shot in the first eight minutes.
  • The great shift started when Motte created a chance off a rush sprung by Michael Del Zotto and hit the side of the net on the rebound. Then Tim Schaller nearly tucked the puck in on a wraparound. Finally, Schaller’s sharp angle shot led to a quick whistle, negating what could have been a goal: Troy Stecher shoved in the loose puck, but it was quickly waved off.
  • The fourth line doesn’t get many offensive zone faceoffs, but Travis Green rewarded their great shift by keeping them on the ice. It paid off. Beagle lost the faceoff, but they won the puck back and, off a pick play by Beagle, Schaller got a shot on goal and Motte cleaned up the rebound, spinning to slide the puck under Dubnyk. It was a classic fourth-line goal: hard work and getting to the dirty areas.

 

 

  • A tough Canucks loss wouldn’t be complete without an injury scare or two. First it was Alex Edler going awkwardly into the boards and leaving the game with concerns for his knee, but he returned for the third period. Then Jake Virtanen got hammered from behind into the boards on the forecheck by Greg Pateryn, who held up his hands protesting that he accidentally ran through Virtanen’s numbers.

 

 

  • Virtanen wasn’t on the bench to start the third period and he didn’t even stop to sit on the bench when he did come charging out of the tunnel a minute later, immediately throwing his leg over the boards to take his first shift. “Greener was yelling at me to get going,” he said after the game. It seemed like the hit woke him up, which is a lot better than it knocking him out.
  • Once again, Virtanen was showing some playmaking touch, setting up one of the Canucks’ best chances in the third period and leading the team in shot assists, according to Darryl Keeping. This aspect of his game is an unexpected, but welcome, development.

 

 

  • I’ve never had much faith in Dubnyk, likely because his name rhymes with nogoodnik, but he was a match for Elias Pettersson on a third period rush. Pettersson blocked a shot and broke up the right wing, but Dubnyk stopped him from going upstairs like a parent asking a teenager if they've been hanging out with Johnny, and just how serious are things getting between you two anyway? You should bring him around the house so we can get to know him better. Don't roll your eyes at me, young lady!
  • With Goldobin a healthy scratch, Green’s options were limited when it came time to push for a third-period comeback. That meant multiple shifts for Markus Granlund with Pettersson, including with a minute left in the game as the Canucks pulled Anders Nilsson for the extra attacker. I’m not saying Goldobin would have made the difference in this game, but man, it sure would have been nice to have the Canucks’ third-leading scorer available in that third period.
  • The Canucks came close to tying it, however, getting exactly the right play from exactly the right players. Pettersson set up at the right faceoff circle and sent a gorgeous pass to Brock Boeser at the backdoor, but he had to take a moment to settle the pass and couldn’t beat Dubnyk short side.

 

 

  • A final note: Adam Gaudette got a vote of confidence, staying up with the Canucks while Brendan Leipsic was waived and Sam Gagner sent to the Toronto Marlies. He responded with some strong work along the boards, winning puck battles and drawing a penalty on one forecheck and got some kudos from Green post-game. At the same time, he played just 11:36 and the shots were 5-1 for the Wild when he was on the ice. At some point, wouldn’t it be good to get him some serious ice time in the AHL?
     

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