The reviews are in and this game between the Canucks and Lightning is a hit!
“One of the most exciting games of the season,” said one Canucks fan. “This is awesome!” said another. “Extremely fun,” said a third.
All it took was the Canucks’ youngest defenceman getting a probable concussion! What fun! How thrilling! Trés excitant!
It’s true that the latter half of this game was thrilling and exciting, with a feeling of palpable danger as the game seemed to hurtle towards a cliff’s edge. It’s true that the Canucks played with fire and passion in the latter half of the game and stood up for each other in a way that will probably help them bond as teammates. It’s true that even the most pacifistic of hockey fans felt a charge down their spine seeing a near line-brawl after a Lightning player targeted Elias Pettersson.
At the same time, I had trouble enjoying myself, knowing that Troy Stecher was sitting somewhere in a quiet room, wondering if he would be able to get out of bed tomorrow morning without a headache.
This game wasn’t an embarrassment for the Canucks, who did what they felt they needed to do to stand up for their teammate. It was, however, an embarrassment for the NHL.
“I’ve been told by a couple of sources during the past week that the NHL has notified its officials that more physicality and fewer penalties is the preference of high-ranking officials in the NHL,” said a report from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe.
Does that “preference” influence the in-game decisions of referees? Did that weigh on the minds of referees Reid Anderson and Dan O’Rourke when they gave Danick Martel a two-minute minor for his blind-side headshot on Stecher instead of the five-minute major and a game misconduct that it deserved?
That decision led directly to the nonsense that ensued. Sure, it was exciting nonsense and it was good to see the Canucks stand up for themselves, but it was also entirely unnecessary. Martel should have been gone from the game and the Canucks could have focused on exacting their retribution on the scoreboard instead of in post-whistle
The worst part is that the NHL will probably point to games like this and praise the excitement and “playoff atmosphere” in the building, extolling this as exactly the type of “physical” game they want to see. It works! Fewer penalties, more physicality, exciting hockey!
Meanwhile, Stecher has to wonder when he’ll be able to play hockey again. Will he be fine, like when Alex Edler was hit from behind by Ryan Reaves, miss six games like when Elias Pettersson was body-slammed to the ice, or be out for two months or more like Sven Baertschi getting blindsided by Tomas Hyka?
I would have preferred a boring night and Stecher remaining unconcussed when I watched this game.
- It feels almost cowardly that the NHL’s “extended highlights” of this game completely skipped over Martel’s dirty hit and what followed it, glossing over the ugliness and pretending that this was just another fast-paced, back-and-forth hockey game. On the other hand, I don’t want them using all that ugliness to try to sell the game. It’s a Catch-22.
- In the midst of all the donnybrooks and brouhahas, there was some hockey played. It might even have been described as exciting prior to Martel’s blind-side hit on Stecher. So, let’s talk about the hockey for a little bit.
- The Canucks’ penalty kill was once again perfect in this game and has been since Loui Eriksson joined the regular penalty killing rotation. He and Antoine Roussel ended the Lightning’s first power play by harrying the Lightning at the blue line, breaking out 2-on-1, and feeding the trailing Chris Tanev for a scoring chance. Tanev didn’t hit the net, but did draw a slashing penalty.
- A moment later Roussel drew a high-sticking minor at 4-on-4, turning a penalty kill into a 53-second long two-man advantage. That’s the kind of penalty killing that even William Shatner can get behind.
- Unfortunately, the Canucks couldn’t score on the two-man advantage, though they came close. On the two-man advantage, they created the shot they wanted, but Brock Boeser’s stick exploded on the one-timer. Like dropping Mentos into a flat Diet Coke, it was such a letdown after so much build-up.
- Travis Green once again used Bo Horvat with Roussel and Eriksson as a shutdown line, with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev on defence. They primarily faced the Lightning’s top line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson and, to their credit, that line didn’t score a goal when they were on the ice. That line scored shortly after they went for a line change.
- The goal came after Erik Gudbranson iced the puck, forcing a defensive zone faceoff. The Canucks had faceoff ace Jay Beagle on the ice, however, so couldn’t have been too concerned. Only, Beagle lost the draw cleanly to Point (career faceoff percentage: 47.1%) and Kucherov ripped the puck past Anders Nilsson’s glove to open the scoring.
- The Canucks responded just 37 seconds later off some fantastic work by Jake Virtanen. He flushed out Mikhail Sergachev from behind the net with a hard forecheck, allowing Beagle to get his stick on the puck. Virtanen chased down the suddenly loose puck with a quick burst, then chipped it to Stecher, who made a superb pass to Tyler Motte on top of the crease, who fought off Sergachev to redirect the puck home like a traffic cop on Expo Blvd.
- One of the issues with the Lightning is that even if you shutdown the first, second, and third lines, they can still punish you with skill on the fourth line. Two minutes after Motte tied it, the Lightning took advantage of an over-aggressive Gudbranson and Ben Hutton, to create an odd-man rush. Martel sent a spinning backhand pass to Cedric Paquette, who Nikolay Goldobin took too long to identify as his man on the backcheck, and Paquette packed it into the net.
- Boeser has had an offensive resurgence after a slower start to the season, but his puck management in the defensive zone could still use some work. He picked up a giveaway in the defensive zone from Martel, then promptly gave it right back to the Lightning at the blue line. A quick shot from Paquette was tipped in by Adam Erne on the doorstep and the Lightning’s fourth line made it 3-1.
- The oddball reffing seemed to start when Antoine Roussel and Yanni Gourde dropped the gloves for a fight. Gourde challenged Roussel after the Canucks winger hit Gourde into the curved glass at the Lightning bench. Gourde even dropped his gloves first, but somehow Roussel ended up with an extra minor penalty. It seemed like Gourde was looking to draw a penalty, as he turtled to the ice after dropping his gloves and the refs were taken in by the deception. Either that or they’d seen Roussel punching players in previous fights after they’ve already gone down to the ice. It’s not my favourite of Roussel’s tendencies.
- The extra minor penalty to Roussel gave the Lightning a two-man advantage, making it particularly aggravating for the Canucks. It almost backfired on the LIghtning, however, as the Canucks killed off the 5-on-3, then Tanev sprung Virtanen out of the penalty box on a breakaway. His deke to the five-hole was turned aside by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who didn’t give much Vas deference to Virtanen's deke.
- Then Danick Martel blindsided Troy Stecher with a hit to the head. Some Lightning fans, and Martel himself, claimed that it was a “good hit” and was shoulder-to-shoulder. They are wrong. At most, Martel made glancing contact with Stecher’s shoulder a mere moment before exploding through the side of Stecher’s head.
- Stecher doesn’t dive. Stecher is a competitive guy, who plays hard, fair, and bounces back to his skates when he’s been hit. Stecher doesn’t stay down on the ice unless he’s hurt. He definitely doesn’t stay out of a game unless there’s a real, legitimate problem. That’s just not who Stecher is. I sincerely hope it’s not as bad as it looks and that Stecher will be back on the ice, symptom-free, before too long. He doesn’t deserve this. Then again, no one does.
- Martel, meanwhile, deserves a lengthy suspension. Do I trust the Orwellian named NHL Player Safety to give him one? Not really. Just like I was disappointed, rather than surprised, when the refs gave Martel a two-minute minor and let him stay in the game.
- What followed was predictable. When Martel got out of the box, Jake Virtanen went after him, fists flying. Erik Gudbranson tried to pull Martel out of the subsequent scrum, then took a sucker punch uppercut when he couldn’t do it. Not long after, Paquette took a run at Pettersson, leaving his feet to deliver a hit. Boeser took exception and grabbed Paquette in a headlock, which led to more fisticuffs, as Ben Hutton came flying in to protect Boeser. It was a hot mess that threatened to spin out of control like a Flutterbye Fairy near a fireplace.
- While it likely had nothing to do with Martel’s hit on Stecher, the optics of Lightning head coach John Cooper giving Martel a fist-bump at the bench are not great.
Listen to what John Garrett has to say...if you don’t like the timing of my video, listen to what they say about it on tv. We have a right to think this is wrong. pic.twitter.com/pjceV2Kle6— the “wait-a-sec” guy (@Canuckswincup26) December 19, 2018
- Pettersson’s point streak ended at seven games as he couldn’t find the scoresheet despite six power plays, albeit only 8:21 in actual power play time. He still had four shot attempts, helped Boeser to seven shot attempts, and drew a penalty off a great neutral zone read, picking off a pass and driving into the slot for a scoring chance, but his best play came in the defensive zone. His stick broke, but he went full soccer, kicking the puck up the boards while protecting it from Lightning skaters, then sent a perfect tape-to-tape...er, blade-to-tape pass out of the zone.
- The Canucks brought it within one on bit of a weird goal. Tanev unleashed one of his deadly shots from the point that somehow fooled Vasilevskiy, who was evidently expecting a much harder shot. The puck snuck under his arm and rolled slowly towards the goal line like a shopping cart towards a display of animal crackers. Vasilevskiy tried to grab it, but, like a sleep-deprived, teenaged clone of Abraham Lincoln, he just couldn’t quite reach it. Or rather, he hit it even further into the net with his stick.
- That’s as close as the Canucks would come, though they created plenty of chances in the third period. Edler missed the net on a great set up by Tanev that saw Vasilevskiy leaning the wrong way. Horvat forced a fantastic toe save on a rebound from Virtanen. Goldobin couldn’t quite get the puck on net on two dangerous-looking rushes that had Rogers Arena buzzing. It just wasn’t enough.
- Anders Nilsson was as sharp as his new pads for most of the game, but he’ll want to have the fourth goal back. Steven Stamkos hit Nilsson in the side of the chest with his shot, but Nilsson was unable to squeeze his arm down to trap the puck and it skittered into the net. You have to wonder if the new narrower chest protectors for goaltenders had something to do with that one.
- Just before the goal, with three-and-a-half minutes remaining while down by one, the fourth line stepped on the ice for the Canucks. Although Motte got a goal, that trio of players just isn’t the likeliest to score and was the line out-shot the most by the Lightning in this game. But, since Travis Green benched Adam Gaudette for almost the entire third period, he limited his own options.
- There are worse things than losing a game to the best team in the NHL, while simultaneously making a statement to yourselves and your fans that you will stand up for each other. There are also much better things. Eating shave ice on a beach in Hawaii, for instance. Curling up in your bed with a good book. Stargazing during a meteor shower. Those are some pretty good things.