It had been over a month since the Canucks last won a game at home. They weren’t going to end another homestand without a win.
The Canucks came out firing on all cylinders, and even on a few prisms, cones, and spheres. It was some of the most dominant hockey we’ve seen from them this season, which is impressive considering it came against the Western Conference-leading (albeit injury-riddled) Nashville Predators.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Canucks out-chanced the Predators 11-3 at 5-on-5 in the first period, as they relentlessly attacked the Predators net. That pressure slacked off a bit as the game progressed, but by then they had four goals and had chased Pekka Rinne from the net.
Considering Rinne has a Western Conference-leading .930 save percentage this season and a league-leading 1.96 goals against average, that had to come as a surprise to everyone. Literally everyone. There are people in countries that have never even heard of hockey who were shocked to hear that the Canucks chased Rinne.
Consider this: Rinne hadn’t given up four goals in a game all season heading into this game. He’d gone 19 games and 18 starts without giving up four goals to anyone and, when he finally did, it was to the Canucks, who had scored four goals in just one of their last 13 games.
As Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey let us know, there can be miracles when you believe. It looked an awful lot like a miracle when I watched this game.
- Nikolay Goldobin got out of the press box, but he’s not quite out of the doghouse, it seems. He had the lowest even-strength ice time on the Canucks, though that was boosted by a team--high 4:14 on the power play. That’s because Green sat Goldobin for the bulk of the third period, preferring to give his linemate, Bo Horvat, more of a defensive role (and defensive-minded linemates) as they attempted to close out the game. The Canucks got crushed in possession and shots in the third period, but I’m sure that’s unrelated.
- The Canucks’ new first power play unit with Goldobin on the left side and Brock Boeser in the middle was, like Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” an immediate hit. Elias Pettersson neatly knocked down a hard pass from Boeser, moved the puck around to Goldobin, and he sucked in a defender before dropping the puck into Edler’s wheelhouse for a one-timer that sailed just over Rinne’s left pad to open the scoring.
- The early returns on Josh Leivo with Elias Pettersson appear to be pretty dang good. While Leivo was held off the scoresheet, he had three shots on goal and had the best shot differential at 5-on-5 (10-4, good buddy) on the Canucks. He won puck battles, got in on the forecheck, but also had the skill and vision to make great passes to keep possessions alive in the offensive zone.
- Late in the first period, Leivo sprung Pettersson and Boeser on a 2-on-1. Pettersson set up Boeser for the one-timer, but Rinne somehow got his toe on the puck. My suspicion that it’s because Rinne has abnormally large toes cannot be confirmed, because, for some reason, professional hockey players get all squirrelly when you ask to see their feet.
- Jake Virtanen has been showing more vision and playmaking flare this season and it was on full display in this game, particularly on the sweet saucer pass he sent to Bo Horvat to make it 2-0. He elevated the pass just over Roman Josi’s stick, then Horvat elevated his elevation up to eleven, corralling the pass, then sending it upstairs over a sprawling Rinne.
- Nashville’s first goal was doubly controversial: first it appeared to be offside, then it appeared to be knocked into the net with a high stick. Upon closer inspection, it was barely onside, but it sure looked like Ryan Hartman’s stick was higher than Afroman or, at the very least, the crossbar when it made contact with the puck. Evidently the war room in Toronto was just like the stick, as they confirmed it as a good goal.
- The Canucks struck back quickly: Horvat knocked down a pass in the defensive zone and sent Antoine Roussel and Virtanen away on a 2-on-1. Roussel sent a backhand pass through Ryan Ellis’s legs like a knife through the side of a beer can, then Shotgun Jake cracked it open, sending the puck gushing into the back of the net.
Shotgun Jake demands he never be taken off the line with Horvat and Roussel for at least a month. pic.twitter.com/nAAjSUxYl1— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) December 7, 2018
- It wasn’t audible on the TV broadcast, but the sound of a can opening reportedly played in Rogers Arena after Virtanen scored. I’ve been wondering how the Canucks would handle the Shotgun Jake meme, but it seems like they’re slowly embracing it. When even little kids are saying “Shotgun Jake” is their favourite player, it’s hard to avoid.
- Pettersson has had two shootout attempts in his young career and hasn’t scored on either of them. On his first penalty shot, however, he undressed Pekka Rinne with a gorgeous move that he’s been using for years in Sweden: a hard deke to the backhand before drawing the puck back to the forehand and tucking it around the goaltender. Rinne came closer to stopping it than most, but still couldn’t keep his pad down to keep the puck out.
The overhead angle, for all those interested. pic.twitter.com/MDfJ0DPt8f— J.D. Blitzen (@JDylanBurke) December 7, 2018
- Despite the four goals against, it still felt odd to see Rinne get pulled. He made some ridiculous saves that kept the score from getting even further out of hand. On a late second period power play, he robbed Goldobin on a backdoor pass from Horvat, then turned aside a Pettersson howitzer from The PetterZone. Considering he had played in 11 straight games, perhaps it was just to get him some rest.
- The Canucks didn’t spare Rinne’s replacement, the improbably-named Juuse Saros, taking a 5-1 lead shortly after a power play expired. Saros made the initial save when Roussel tipped a Chris Tanev point shot, but he poked the rebound right out to Loui Eriksson, who ended his 12-game goal drought before it became a baker’s dozen.
- The Predators pushed back hard in the third period, with the Canucks desperately trying to hold the door shut like Hodor. They were out-shot 13-5 in the final frame.
- Derrick Pouliot lost Colton Sissons on the Predators’ second goal. He failed to follow him out of the corner before Josi found him with a backdoor pass. Pouliot likely misheard his mother’s advice when he was little and promised himself he would never run around with Sissons: this was the first time he was able to put that advice into action.
- Jacob Markstrom deserves a lot of credit, despite giving up three goals. That’s an evergreen sentence, it seems, but Markstrom was legitimately very good in this game. He tracked the puck well and made most of the game look easy, but he wasn’t afraid of a little robbery. He stopped Rocco Grimaldi when he was left alone in front of the net after a Jay Beagle giveaway, and made a huge right pad stop on Nick Bonino in the third period to keep Nashville from getting their hopes up too high for a comeback.
Jacob Markstrom hasn't had to make many big saves tonight, but this one is full value. pic.twitter.com/ULVI8gkAqH— J.D. Blitzen (@JDylanBurke) December 7, 2018
- The Predators did get one more goal to make it interesting in the final minutes. It was a weird one: Markstrom extended his blocker to deflect the puck away, but when the shot hit Loui Eriksson, it changed the direction and instead sent it off the inside of Markstrom’s blocker and into the net. It was more of a reflektor than a blocker and, like Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker,” it got the best of him.
- While it was disheartening to see the Canucks collapse into a defensive shell in the third period, inevitably leading to two goals against, it was largely unavoidable against a powerhouse like the Predators. Still, it was odd to see Tyler Motte getting shifts with Horvat’s line in place of Goldobin and Roussel, who traded off throughout the rest of the game. The Canucks had just one shot on goal with Motte on the ice and the Canucks spent most of the time when Motte and Horvat were on the ice together hemmed into their own zone. Like Mariah Carey covering Def Leppard, it wasn’t a good fit.