I Watched This Game: Anders Nilsson’s brilliant afternoon can't stop the Stars

Canucks 1 - 2 Stars

Pass it to Bulis

Depending on your perspective, this Canucks season is going absolutely terribly or exactly as planned.

After losing to the Dallas Stars in this game, the Canucks are securing a spot as one of the worst teams in the NHL. Their minus-20 goal differential is better than only the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, and only the Kings have a lower points percentage. The Canucks have now lost 10 of their last 11 games, picking up an overtime point in just two of those losses.

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If you had hopes that the emergence of Elias Pettersson as a legitimate star might fast-track the Canucks’ rebuild and turn them into a playoff team this season, those hopes are getting dashed on the rocks of reality. Sure, there’s still a chance the Canucks could turn things around in the coming months and squeak into playoff position — the Pacific Division is certainly bad enough — but this losing skid isn’t doing them any favours.

If, on the other hand, you were secretly or openly hoping for a losing season from the Canucks, while still seeing development and entertainment from the team’s young core, then things are going swimmingly.

It may seem early to jump on the tank, but plenty of Canucks fans have been riding it since before the season began. A basement finish would mean another top-tier prospect to potentially make the Canucks a much better team for years in the future.

The only reason the Canucks aren’t in 30th place in the NHL right now is because they’ve played more games than every other team in the league. Right now they’re on-pace for 70.7 points over a full 82-game season, more than two points worse than last season and would likely land them in 28th or 29th place in the league.

That kind of finish would likely mean another top-five pick for the Canucks and a good shot at consensus first-overall pick Jack Hughes, brother of Quinn Hughes, who the Canucks picked last year. Beyond Hughes, there’s also Kaapo Kakko, who is lighting up the Finnish Liiga right now, or WHL stars like Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, and Bowen Byram, who are all expected to be top picks.

Both groups, Tankists and Anti-Tankists, are hopeful in their own unique way. Tankists are hopeful for the future, hopeful that the team will be good, just not right now. Anti-Tankists are hopeful that the team as currently assembled will gel together and become more than the sum of their parts, making the playoffs and then...who knows? Anything can happen in the playoffs.

Currently, the Tankists are riding high, but not to worry Anti-Tankists: at some point the Canucks will start winning some games again, the narrative will change, and your hopes will once again rise.

Just not after this game, assuming you watched it. Because I wasn’t too hopeful after I watched this game.

  • This game was all about Anders Nilsson, who played his second game after return from injury. He was utterly fantastic and his stat line — 25 saves on 27 shots — does not accurately reflect just how difficult some of those stops were. I’m talking stop sign hidden in foliage on an icy road without snow tires while going 75 km/h and towing a trailer: difficult stops.
  • Nilsson made some of those difficult stops look easy, like when he perfectly tracked a deflected shot from the point and came across to the right to stone Jamie Benn like Saul was watching his cloak.

 

 

  • Then there were the stops that didn’t even count as saves. At one point, Tyler Seguin hit the post and, with Alexander Radulov lurking in front, Nilsson had to drop his stick and dive across to use his blocker to swat away the puck, Manu Ginobili style. He may have saved a goal with that move, but since it wasn’t technically a shot, it’s not technically a save.

 

 

  • This IWTG could just be a series of Anders Nilsson gifs, but that would get repetitive. Suffice it to say, he flashed more leather than Knickers, the giant Australian cow. He did everything he could to make the Canucks’ lone goal stand up as the game-winner, then everything he could to get the game to overtime, then there was nothing more he could do, as he was pulled for the extra attacker shortly after the Stars scored the go-ahead goal. He deserved a win, but his teammates just couldn’t deliver.
  • The Canucks did create some good chances, particularly Elias Pettersson’s line with Nikolay Goldobin and Brock Boeser. Boeser had a game-high 9 shot attempts, including on a breakaway sprung by Pettersson in the second period, but couldn’t bury the puck. When the Stars skaters weren’t blocking his shots, all 6’7” of Ben Bishop kept getting in the way.
  • One of the best chances created by Pettersson came on the power play when Jake Virtanen came out early on the second unit. Pettersson made an absurd move in the neutral zone to gain the blue line, drew several Stars skaters to him, then got the puck to Boeser. With no shooting lane, he set up Virtanen in the high slot, but Virtanen sent the puck sailing wide. Virtanen ended the game without a shot on goal.

 

 

  • Travis Green matched the Stars’ top line with a defence pairing of Michael Del Zotto and Chris Tanev and a checking line of Antoine Roussel, Markus Granlund, and Loui Eriksson. It really, really did not work. Those five players got dominated, with shots and chances skewed heavily in the Stars direction when they were on the ice against the Jamie Benn line and Del Zotto and Tanev were on the ice for both Stars’ goals. I know: somehow “Michael Del Zotto: Shutdown Defenceman” didn’t work out. Who saw that coming?
  • The defensive usage of the Granlund line once again allowed for a more offensive role — and more skilled wingers — for Bo Horvat, but Horvat scored the Canucks’ only goal while on the ice with Antoine Roussel and Tyler Motte after a penalty kill. After what looked like yet another stunning save by Nilsson — Seguin actually hit the side of the net — Horvat broke out with Roussel, who sent a bouncing pass to the front of the net, which, like pretty much everyone on The Sopranos, got whacked.

 

 

  • The Canucks held the 1-0 lead through the second period and halfway through the third before the Stars replied. There wasn’t much Nilsson could do, as he stopped Miro Heiskanen’s initial shot from the point, but the rebound pinballed off a skate to the side of the net, where Jamie Benn — forgotten after a battle in the corner — snuck out from behind the net and tapped it in.
  • Green challenged the goal for goaltender’s interference because Seguin’s skate made contact with Nilsson’s stick. But that made little difference to Nilsson’s ability to make the save, which was affected more by the limitations of time and space making it impossible for him to get back in time. Maybe if he could teleport like Nightcrawler, but then other hidden mutants in the NHL would start using their powers openly, and I can’t handle any Quicksilver-style speedsters going faster than Connor McDavid.
  • The Stars scored the game-winner when two shutdown players did the opposite of shutting down, so, I guess, opening up? Granlund had a chance to clear the puck up the boards, but couldn’t get it past Benn. Meanwhile, Del Zotto was already jumping up ice to join a non-existent rush, leaving his check, Radulov, wide open behind him. All alone, Radulov was able to deke to the backhand and roof it over a sprawling Nilsson.

 

 

  • The Canucks came close to tying the game late with Nilsson pulled for the extra attacker. With less than a minute left, they got the puck to the right player — Brock Boeser — in the right spot — the left faceoff circle, but Bishop got just enough of his snap shot to send the puck off the crossbar. It was a pretty impressive save considering Bishop’s limitations: he can only move diagonally.

 

 

 

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