Tuesday was the Canucks’ final home game of the 2018-19 season, so they announced their team awards throughout the night.
The first award of the night went to Alex Edler: the Babe Pratt Trophy for best defenceman. Edler led the Canucks defenceman with 10 goals and 31 points, despite playing just 53 games. In fact, this was the third best season of his career by points-per-game, trailing only the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
The only defenceman that had a chance of competing with Edler was Troy Stecher, but how the Canucks performed when Edler was out of the lineup might have sealed the award for him. They struggled at both even-strength and on special teams without their big-time minute-muncher. From a numbers standpoint, Edler is second behind Elias Pettersson in Goals Above Replacement (GAR) according to Evolving Hockey, coming in at 9.2 goals above a replacement player. That’s good for 38th among NHL defencemen this season.
The next award went to Jacob Markstrom for the most three-star selections during the season. There’s no arguing with that, unless you want to question the very existence of the stars themselves. You can’t do it without committing yourself to a very bizarre cosmology.
Next up was the Fred J. Hume Award for the unsung hero of the season, which they have refused to rename the Jannik Hansen Award despite my repeated requests. The winner this year was Antoine Roussel, which makes a lot of sense. I told you before the season started that he would be a fan favourite and, sure enough, he delivered. He provided some sandpaper and grit, plenty of trash-talking and agitation, and more scoring than anticipated, setting a career high with 31 points.
That combination was plenty valuable: Roussel is fifth among Canucks skaters in GAR at 5.6. Maybe you could argue for Stecher as the unsung hero this year (I know I did), but Roussel is a worthy winner.
The Pavel Bure Award for the team’s most exciting player was a no-brainer: Elias Pettersson. That should require no explanation, but I will note his GAR leads all Canucks skaters at 15.4. He’s 20 years old and will only get better.
Finally, there was the most contentious award of the night: the Cyclone Taylor Award for the most valuable player. It was going to be either Pettersson or Markstrom, that much was certain, and Markstrom took it.
From a numbers standpoint, it’s hard to argue: Markstrom’s GAR was a whopping 28.0, eighth among NHL goaltenders. Goaltenders have a bit of an unfair advantage: a replacement-level goaltender is such a huge step down from an NHL goaltender, so they have the opportunity to rack up those kinds of numbers.
But even from a non-analytical standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. The Canucks with Markstrom in net are on the edge of being a playoff team. His record, extrapolated over 82 games, gives the Canucks 90 points. Without Markstrom, they’re the worst team in the NHL: 59 points over an 82-game schedule. That, my friends is value.
Oh yeah, the Canucks also played a game. I watched it.
- The Canucks kicked things off right, scoring the opening goal a minute-and-a-half into the game. Loui Eriksson’s bank pass to Bo Horvat in the neutral zone was just out of his reach, but Horvat chased it down and set up the trailing Tanner Pearson with a delicious dish served on a blind backhand between the legs. That might be Horvat’s best assist of the season.
- Pearson didn’t take any chances with Horvat’s pass. He had no secret purpose and fired it past Martin Jones with authority. It wasn’t the first time we’d see his knack for finishing around the net.
- The Sharks didn’t take long to respond. While battling Elias Pettersson in front of the net, Kevin LaBanc labanked the puck off the post and in. It was a fantastic tip on Brenden Dillon’s point shot that caught Thatcher Demko going the wrong way like a runaway train.
- In the first period, the Sharks looked like a powerhouse playoff team, dominating the Canucks on the shot clock and in possession. They out-shot the Canucks 12-6 and out-attempted them 24-9. Sure, they had a couple power plays, but they earned those power plays with their puck possession.
- The Sharks’ 2-1 goal was prettier than it was meant to be. Joe Thornton set up Tomas Hertl in front for a simple shot, but he completely fanned on the puck. It worked out, however, as the puck went off the heel of Hertl’s stick right to Joe Pavelski at the back door with a wide open net after Demko committed to Hertl’s shot.
- At one point, Evander Kane undressed Troy Stecher on a rush up the left wing. Stecher, however, had a different take on it when I talked to him after the game. “He beat me in the first,” he said, “but he didn’t get anything out of it. A lot of people might say I got walked — which I did — but he didn’t have an angle to shoot or anything and I protected the middle of the ice.”
- The Canucks looked stronger in the second period and created some dangerous chances. They just couldn’t score. Stecher sent Eriksson in on a breakaway with a great stretch pass, but Jones snagged his shot with his glove. Then Eriksson set up Pearson on the doorstep, but he was turned aside. Jones’ best save, however, came on a Boeser chance set up by Quinn Hughes, who jumped up in the neutral zone to carry the puck in before patiently sending the puck through. Jones lunged across with the left pad to make the save: it was outright thievery.
- “I thought tonight was [Hughes’] best game as far as defensively goes,” said Travis Green. “He made some subtle, good plays, even on the play where he set up Brock, the 2-on-1, it started with a good defensive play in his own zone, and that’s a good example for a young d-man. I actually talked to him about it on the bench.”
- Thatcher Demko deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Canucks in the game. After the two first period goals, Demko shut the door the rest of the way, making 11 saves in the second period and 12 in the third. That brings his season save percentage up to a respectable .909, right around the league average for this season. Being average is better than it sounds: heck, Jones, the goaltender at the other end of the rink, has an .896 save percentage this season.
- Elias Pettersson was held off the scoresheet again, but had a couple great chances to break his scoring drought. In the first, a puck deflected out to him in the slot and he tried a deke to open up the five-hole, but Jones stuck with him and made the stop. Then in the third, he intercepted a pass from Jones and tried to fire the puck in with the goaltender out of the net, but hit the side of the post.
- Despite Pettersson’s struggles, the Canucks mounted a third period comeback. It might have something to do with Jones’s .896 save percentage this season. Boy oh boy, would I be nervous about my goaltending heading into the playoffs if I were a San Jose Sharks fan right now.
- Pearson scored his second goals of the game, and fifth in his last seven games, to tie things up at 2-2. Pearson chipped a pass through to Eriksson, who drove to the net and was stopped on the backhand. Horvat followed up on the rebound, but couldn’t put it home, then finally Pearson jammed the puck in as Jones tried to cover it up with his glove. The goal was initially waved off, then called a goal, then challenged by the Sharks for goaltender interference, then finally confirmed as a good goal. I enjoy when a referee announces a “good goal,” as I imagine them patting the goal on the head and rubbing its belly, saying, “You’re a good goal! Yes you are! Such a good goal!”
Martin Jones tries to cover the puck, but Tanner Pearson swoops in to send the loose puck home for his second goal of the game. #Canucks tie the #SJSharks late in the 3rd period. pic.twitter.com/cKRtYhWalk— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) April 3, 2019
- This particular Canucks fan was very excited about Pearson’s goal. I have nothing to add that wouldn't take away from the purity of his reaction.
When you picked up Tanner Pearson in fantasy hockey out of a combination of desperation and injuries, and he comes up huge for your pool with two goals pic.twitter.com/O1Hm3TOJqE— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) April 3, 2019
- The Canucks had just one shot on goal when Markus Granlund, Tim Schaller, and Jay Beagle were on the ice at 5-on-5. That one shot went in. Alex Biega sent the puck towards the net and Schaller tipped it, sending it careening off Michael Haley, then Granlund, then the post. As the puck traveled along the goal line, Granlund swiped right several times before finally making a match with the net.
- Horvat made the game interesting late in a bad way, taking a slashing penalty with a two-and-a-half minutes remaining, but Troy Stecher took advantage of the lack of icing by icing the game. He sent the puck from behind his own goal line the entire length of the ice into the empty net to make it 4-2 before celebrating with a big fist pump. It was his first goal since October 22nd.
- This was linesman Lonnie Cameron’s final game of his long career. It was his 1554th career game, which would tie him with Jarome Iginla for 14th all time if he was a player. The Victoria native received a loud ovation from the Rogers Arena crowd and the Canucks lined up to shake his hand after the game, with Elias Pettersson even giving him his stick at the very end.