Ever since he was traded to the Ottawa Senators, Anders Nilsson has suddenly turned into a fantastic goaltender. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Nilsson had a .917 save percentage in 20 games with the Senators. He was coming off a 37-save performance against the Leafs and, before that, a 35-save shutout of the St. Louis Blues.
Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom has made a legitimate case to be the Canucks’ MVP this season. His .915 save percentage on the season is well above the league average of .909 and, when you take into account the quality of shots he’s faced, you can make the argument that he’s been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.
So, a meeting between these two former teammates, two 6’4” behemoths of the netminding world, would naturally be a goaltender’s duel. Surely Nilsson, wanting to make a statement against his former team that had so callously traded him away, would go save-for-save against Markstrom, who would certainly match Nilsson’s performance. Right?
That didn’t happen. At all. In fact, the exact opposite happened. The two teams combined for 11 goals. There were goals of all kinds: good goals, bad goals, weird goals, pretty goals, even a disallowed goal. Goals galore.
Instead of a goaltender’s duel, it was a goalscorer’s delight. Nilsson and Markstrom didn’t do their save percentages any favours, but they did the viewing audience a favour: it was fun to watch a high-scoring game for a change. I felt highly-favoured when I watched this game.
- This win technically means the Canucks are still in the playoff hunt and are just four points back of the Arizona Coyotes. There’s just one issue: they’ll have to pass four other teams to get there and some of those teams play games against each other, guaranteeing that the teams ahead of the Canucks are going to pick up points. They’ll likely have to run the table to make it happen.
- Make that two issues: three of the four teams they need to get past have at least one game in hand on the Canucks.
- Nikolay Goldobin was a healthy scratch for the third game in a row. At this point, even if you’re done with Goldobin and think the Canucks should trade him, this seems sub-optimal. At least play him down the stretch with some good linemates and hope he produces some points to recoup a little trade value.
- Enough of that, let’s talk goals! Bo Horvat opened the scoring late in the first period with a power play goal, which was weird, because it meant they had scored on two straight power play opportunities, and that’s just not Canucks hockey. They changed up the power play formation a little: Horvat was in the bumper spot in the slot of the 1-3-1 formation and he moved the puck to Alex Edler at the point before moving himself into position to tip Edler’s shot through Nilsson’s legs.
- The Canucks made it 2-0 on a bizarre goal 32 seconds into the second period. Alex Biega’s dump-in from centre hit and stick and lofted high in the air. Everyone lost sight of the puck until it bounced directly in front of Tanner Pearson and he made like Lucifur the cat and sneakily swatted it past NIlsson.
- Next it was Shotgun Jake’s turn, as Virtanen scored a pretty one for his 14th goal of the year. Ottawa’s Zack Smith took a gamble at the Canucks’ blue line and Virtanen chipped in past him, creating a 2-on-1 with Tim Schaller. Virtanen, completely ignoring that Schaller recently had a two-goal game, kept the puck. Fortune favoured his bravado, however, and his wrist shot triggered sudden beer consumption across the province.
- Not long after, Tyler Motte nearly made it 4-0 when he poked the puck out from under Nilsson. Referee Trevor Hanson, however, immediately waved it off and ruled that Motte pushed Nilsson’s pad, so the goal was disallowed for goaltender interference. Which is good, because I’m not sure the world is ready for Tyler Motte to be in the double digits in goals. The world’s going through a lot right now.
- The game took an ugly turn. After Virtanen escaped without a penalty after a hit from behind on Smith, Jean-Gabriel Pageau took a run at Ashton Sautner, hitting him square in the numbers into the boards. It was a dangerous hit that ought to have earned Pageau a five-minute major, but he received a minor instead. Sautner stayed down on all fours for a while and briefly left the game, but returned for the third period.
- Brock Boeser made the Senators pay on the power play, walking in from the point to the top of the right faceoff circle before whipping a wrist shot past Nilsson on the short side. The goal extended his point streak to eight games and the Canucks’ streak of successful power plays to three, the latter of which likely means people are snowboarding in hell right now.
- Less than a minute into the third period, Pearson scored his second of the game, but he owes a lot to his linemates. Loui Eriksson liberated the puck from Christian Wolanin at the blue line, then sent the puck across to Horvat, who must have been accompanied by a parent on a date, because he had supervision. He set up Pearson at the backdoor for a tap-in goal with a great pass.
- That’s when things started to go off the rails for the Canucks. The Senators scored four unanswered goals, coming just short of completing the comeback. It started with a Canucks tradition: giving a rookie his first career goal. Max Veronneau, recently signed with the Senators out of Princeton, deflected in a Dylan Demelo pass from a tight angle to get the Senators on the board.
- A minute later, the Senators scored again. With both Markstrom and Alex Biega expecting Pageau to carry the puck around the far side of the net, he instead made a brilliant backhand pass to Brady Tkachuk on the near side, and he tka-chucked it up over Markstrom’s skate to make it 2-0.
- John Garrett was miffed at the third Senators goal, as he thought Markstrom should have caught the initial dump-in, instead of deflecting it off his shoulder to the boards. Horvat took the body but not the stick of Oscar Lindberg, and he was able to take Bobby Ryan’s pass and ripple the twine with minimal interference.
- Giving up a 5-0 lead isn’t unprecedented in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings came back from being down 5-0 to the Edmonton Oilers in the famed Miracle on Manchester — but it’s still a rarity. The unlikelihood of the Senators completing the comeback was likely cold comfort when Anthony “Well, I Do” Duclair made it 5-4 on the power play. Markstrom got a piece of his shot with his glove, but not enough to keep it from squiggling over the goal line.
- Horvat restored the multi-goal lead shortly after, however, with his second tip of the night, third if you count his pre-game warning to “Watch out for flying pucks.” He won a faceoff in the offensive zone to Eriksson, who relayed it to Edler at the point. Edler’s shot was once again more like a pass, and Horvat deflected it up over Nilsson’s shoulder.
- Eriksson’s assist was his third on the night and he made it a four-point game with an empty net goal. Pearson, Biega, and Eriksson combined to pick Pageau’s pocket, then Eriksson sent the puck into the empty net from the defensive zone, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how much trouble he’s had hitting open nets from the top of the crease. Four feet away: trouble. 120 feet away: no problem.