The Canucks closed out 2018 in lacklustre fashion by getting shut out by a rookie goaltender on a team that is below .500. It’s not exactly the high point they were hoping for, but it’s pretty fitting given how their year went.
In 85 games in 2018, the Canucks went 34-41-10, the sixth worst record in the calendar year. They were out-scored by 30 goals and were shut out more than any other team in 2018. To be fair, there are still games to be played on Monday, so there are a couple teams that could tie the six times they were shut out.
Overall, it was a year filled with losses, but it also featured some incredible highs, like the perfection of the Sedins’ final game in Vancouver. Even one of those losses came with a bright silver lining: when they lost the draft lottery and slipped down the draft rank, they had Quinn Hughes, the dynamic defenceman they so desperately need, fall into their laps.
Even the losses this season have had a different feeling to them. Instead of the last gasps of a once-great team, you can see the next great team starting to take shape. There’s still a lot of work to do — the disastrous Edmonton Oilers show the perils of failing to build a strong team around a superstar talent — but Elias Pettersson’s arrival in Vancouver has produced a lot more optimism in the Canucks fanbase, even as they have a .500 record just over halfway through the 2018-19 season.
2018 wasn’t all that great for the Canucks, but there’s at least hope that better days lie ahead in 2019. It’s just too bad that December 31, 2018 couldn’t be one of those better days. It would have made it a little more enjoyable when I watched this game.
- Considering the 1pm start on the east coast — 10am Pacific time — a lacklustre loss like this one could have been predicted. The weird thing is, the Canucks didn’t play like a sleepy team. For most of the game they dominated the New Jersey Devils. They out-shot them 21-to-13 through the first two periods and only seemed to lose a step in the third period. Of course, around noon would be their usual nap time on the west coast, so maybe getting sleepy in the third period makes sense.
- The Canucks threw plenty of pucks on net through the first two periods, but just couldn’t get them in the net behind rookie goaltender Mackenzie “Father” Blackwood, who ate up pucks like they were the Queen of the Feast. Blackwood made 25 saves in total for his second straight shutout. He’s only started four games in his career and has shutouts in half of them and allowed just two goals in each of the other two. Not too shabby.
- The Devils provided plenty of support for Blackwood, not just in the goals department, but by clogging up the front of the net and preventing too many chances from in tight. The Devils blocked 18 shots, led by Ben Lovejoy with six shot blocks and Andy Greene with four. As a result, two of the Canucks’ top goal-scorers, Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen, didn’t even get a shot on net, though Virtanen did hit the post in the third period.
- Blackwood provides a pretty good argument for getting Thatcher Demko up with the Canucks this season and seeing what he can do. Blackwood is a year younger than Demko and his AHL numbers this season are comparable to Demko’s and were significantly worse than Demko’s last season.
- Another argument for getting Demko up with the Canucks was provided by Anders Nilsson at the other end of the ice. It’s not Nilsson’s fault that he didn’t get any goal support, but three of the four goals he allowed beat him cleanly from distance, with no traffic to prevent him from seeing the shot. That’s usually a sign that, like H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House, your angles are all wrong.
- On the plus side, giving Nilsson the start ensured that Jacob Markstrom's stellar statistics in December wouldn't be sullied. Markstrom finished December with a .943 save percentage and an 8-1-0 record.
- The Devils may not be a great team this season, but they have one of the best penalty kills in the league. It showed against the Canucks, who went 0-for-4 on the power play. What’s worse, the Canucks didn’t even get a shot on goal on their last three power plays, squandering three opportunities to get back into this game. As good as the Canucks have been recently, they have just two power play goals in their last six games and have given up two shorthanded goals.
- Nikolay Goldobin started the game on the fourth line, but Travis Green suggested that was just a little bit of gamesmanship. “I had Goldobin pencilled in on a few different lines,” he said. “I wanted to wait and see what their matchups were. Who they were going to play against Bo [Horvat].” Goldobin ended up on Horvat’s line late in the first.
- Goldobin was the goat on the Devils’ first goal, as it was his man, Brian Boyle, that picked up the rebound off a Drew Stafford shot to beat Nilsson. Goldobin was only in that position, battling with Boyle in front of the net, because he was the first man back on the backcheck. Normally that would be the centre’s job, in this case Jay Beagle. It’s one of those situations where Goldobin did almost everything right, but one lapse in concentration cost him.
- Green was effusive in his praise for Pettersson after the game, calling him “good,” which is the highest compliment Green has ever given one of his players. “[Pettersson] was far and away our best player tonight,” said Green. “That was one of his best games of the year, man he was good, and he didn’t get any points.”
- Pettersson had three shots on goal, all three classified as scoring chances by Natural Stat Trick, and the Canucks out-chanced the Devils 10-3 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. Pettersson may not have added to his nine-goal, 14-point lead in the rookie scoring race, but he was still the Canucks’ best player on the ice.
- I like Antoine Roussel a great deal, but I find myself frustrated by his dirtier tendencies. Midway through the third period, Roussel pushed Damon Severson into Blackwood while driving to the net. I didn’t take issue with that, as it falls under the category of aggravation — getting under the skin of his opponents. I did take issue with Roussel dropping the gloves and punching an unsuspecting Severson, then continuing the fight when Severson dropped to the ice. Roussel has the tendency to continue throwing punches at downed opponents, which is a pretty fragrant violation of The Code. Perhaps The Code has never been translated into French.
- Much was made about the two best players from the 2017 draft meeting for the first time, but with neither Pettersson nor Nico Hischier finding the scoresheet, their battle was a bit of a bust. They did come together for one memorable confrontation, however, as Hischier attempted to draw a penalty by running into Pettersson and flopping to the ice. Perhaps that should raise questions about which player isn’t big enough to play in the NHL.
- I’m just joking with that size crack at the end of that last bullet point, but since Hischier is, in fact, listed as a pound lighter than Pettersson and is in his second season in the NHL, maybe everyone can stop pretending like Pettersson is a delicate flower that will be crushed by the slightest breeze. Pettersson took some big hits in this game, including a crushing open-ice check from Andy Greene in the first period, and bounced right back every time. His size isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a concern, even if it seems to be mentioned every single Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.