Elias Pettersson just isn’t fair.
The Canucks’ wunderkind ("underbarn" in Swedish) has the ability to create ex nihilo, taking nothing and turning it into something beautiful. Case in point, the second period of the Canucks’ meeting with the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
The Flames were crushing the Canucks to start the second period. It looked like a Flames power play the way they were hemming the Canucks in the zone. They out-shot the Canucks 6-0 through the first six-and-a-half minutes of the middle frame.
It took a rush up the ice by Pettersson’s line to break up Calgary’s dominance, as a patient play by Pettersson set up Brock Boeser for a great scoring chance, drawing a slashing penalty. Even then, the Flames killed any momentum the Canucks could have hoped to build, scoring their second shorthanded goal of the game on the subsequent power play to take a 2-1 lead.
The shots were 20-to-8 for the Flames at that point. Calgary seemed to be simply toying with the Canucks at times, led by the shifty Johnny Gaudreau. It looked like the Flames could, at any point, start scoring at will and run the Canucks out of the building.
But then Pettersson reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out another sublime snap shot, making David Rittich, one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL this season, look utterly silly.
The goal seemed to douse the Flames and ignite the Canucks, who actually ended up out-shooting the Flames 10-9 in the second period. They then stymied the Flames with a tight-checking third period and pulled out the victory in overtime.
Pettersson turned what looked like it was going to be a laugher of a loss and helped flip it into a win. He didn’t do it single-handedly — he never would have had the opportunity to flip that switch without some stellar goaltending from Jacob Markstrom — but he was the catalyst for the Canucks’ skaters.
I could hear the faint cries of “M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P” emanating from Vancouver as I watched this game.
- In the past, the highest praise that you could give Jacob “Marky” Markstrom was that he was competent. He finished last season with a league-average save percentage and even calling him league average felt like it was a little too far. This December, however, Markstorm has been a revelation. He’s gone from seemingly never stealing a game to Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving W’s to poor Canucks fans. He has an 8-1-0 record in December and a .943 save percentage. The only goaltenders with a better save percentage this month have started less than half as many games as Markstrom.
- Marky Markstrom made a funky bunch of saves to finish off the first period, robbing Elias Lindholm with a classic two-pad stack on a two-man advantage for the Flames, then scrambling to keep the puck out on the rebound. He got a friendly assist from Matthew Tkachuk, who ended the pressure by making a hand pass to Gaudreau.
2nd period. Here. We. GO! pic.twitter.com/MbmdkwJnZN— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) December 30, 2018
- Troy Stecher made his return to the lineup after missing three games (along with the Christmas break) with a concussion. He seemed a little rusty on his first shift, taking a high-sticking penalty after getting caught on the wrong side of his check. He may have been literally rusty and was trying to scrape the rust off his stick using Austin Czarnik’s face. Hard to tell.
- Sven Baertschi also returned, after missing a more significant amount of time. Baertschi was eased back into action with the lowest even-strength ice time on the team, apart from Nikolay Goldobin, of course, because Travis Green is legally obligated to bench Goldobin in the third period of tie games. It’s in his contract. Do you want Green to be sued for breach of contract? In this economy?
- Brock Boeser opened the scoring on the power play, which seems bizarre given how poorly the Canucks’ power play went for the rest of the game. Boeser and Pettersson set up on opposite sides from their usual 1-3-1 formation, which may have messed up the Flames’ penalty kill, as Boeser was given plenty of space on the right side to walk in and zip a wrist shot past Rittich from the top of the faceoff circle.
*ahem*— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) December 30, 2018
My client.... pic.twitter.com/cOZZ5qpI7k
- Alex Edler had the primary assist and Baertschi picked up the other assist in his return to the lineup, but Bo Horvat played an even more integral role. He perfectly timed his move to the front of the net, skating right through Rittich’s eye-line as Boeser took his shot. There was no way for Rittich to read the puck off Boeser’s stick, which means he was already beat before the puck crossed the goal line.
- The first power play unit was fine in this game; the second unit was a disaster, getting out-shot and out-scored. The Flames tied the game on the Canucks’ second power play when Markus Granlund and Josh Leivo couldn’t execute a give-and-go to gain the zone, instead giving up a breakaway to Noah Hanifin. Markstrom was able to handle that, but Loui Eriksson stopped skating on the backcheck and Mark Jankowski was able to pop in the rebound. I guess “move your feet” was a detail he missed on that shift.
- While Markstrom was amazing, he got a little help from the referees. With the Flames already on the power play, Ben Hutton got a penalty for slashing. Markstrom made a save on Lindholm on the delayed call and got a quick whistle that had the Flames fans booing, as it robbed them of a goal. Mikael Backlund put the rebound into the open net, but the whistle had already gone. Will any Canucks fans remember this moment the next time a call goes against them and they feel the urge to complain about a bias against the Canucks?
- The second power play unit was again on the ice for a shorthanded goal for the Flames in the second period. A moment after Markus Granlund hit the post with a quick snap shot from the left side, he tried to force a pass through a clogged-up lane, leading to a shorthanded 2-on-1. Travis Hamonic kept the puck and fired it off the post, but the post was kinder to Hamonic’s shot than Granlund’s, redirecting it into the net.
- Three minutes later, Pettersson struck back. Chris Tanev made a nifty bank pass to spring Pettersson down the right wing with room to shoot. Rittich, perhaps learning from some pre-game scouting on Pettersson that he can pick the short side corner, cheated to his left, at which point Pettersson ripped it to his right. Let that be a lesson, Rittich: cheaters never win. Unless you’re the New England Patriots. Or Lance Armstrong. Or Diego Maradona.
Tickle that twine Petey! 🎯🚨😱 pic.twitter.com/4ckNtnoOMw— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) December 30, 2018
- Geez, look at that puck come firing out of the net nearly as hard as it went in. What a shot.
- One of the best parts about Pettersson’s goal was Erik Gudbranson’s reaction, or, rather, his complete lack of reaction. A camera angle from the bench caught the Canucks making a line change as Pettersson skated in on goal. Gudbranson stepped on the ice right as Pettersson scored — in fact, the stats keeper didn’t even register that the line change occurred — and he immediately pulled a u-turn and skated back to the bench with no expression on his face.
- Seriously, that’s hilarious. I can’t imagine having that good a view of that goal and not reacting in some way. I guess it’s becoming old hat at this point. “Ho hum, another absurd shot by the 20-year-old rookie that is on-pace to re-write the Canucks’ record books. Yawn.”
- Nikolay Goldobin nearly had a highlight-reel goal himself not long after, when he was sprung on a partial breakaway. Needing to protect the puck with his leg, but with nowhere to shoot on his backhand, Goldobin pulled it between his legs to take the shot. If he had been able to elevate the puck, he could have beaten Rittich over the pad, but Goldobin’s shot, like a secret shared by his best friend, was on the down low.
- Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Goldobin played just two shifts in the third period and that the third period lacked entertainment value. Look at that play above and you tell me. Neither team produced much in the third and Markstrom shut the door, guaranteeing the Canucks a point.
- Overtime was the polar opposite of the third period, as the open ice created by the 3-on-3 format led to a wild back-and-forth three minutes. Markstrom made fantastic saves on Sean Monahan, Gaudreau, and Backlund, while Pettersson and Boeser couldn’t beat Rittich at the other end with big slap shots. The pace was more frenetic than a Mad Max: Fury Road action scene, albeit with fewer flame-throwing guitars.
- Pettersson didn’t just score a gorgeous goal; he also made the best defensive play of the game. After an Edler pinch, the Flames got a 2-on-1 with Pettersson the lone man back. He made an incredible play, getting his stick down to disrupt T.J. Brodie’s pass across to Lindholm, then dove out to sweep the puck completely out of danger to Brock Boeser. Chris Tanev in his prime couldn’t have played it any better.
- Edler scored the game-winning goal with some veteran savvy. With two teammates making a line change, he patiently skated through the neutral zone, waiting to gain the Flames’ zone. When he was joined by Boeser, Edler dropped the puck to him and cut behind Brodie, forcing the Flames to make a switch in defensive responsibilities. Sam Bennett didn’t pick up on the switch, leaving Edler wide open at the back door, where Boeser found him with a perfect pass.
- It was a fitting end to Edler’s night, as he ate up massive minutes for the Canucks. He finished with 27:45 in ice time, playing plenty against the Flames’ top line of Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm. He had a goal, an assist, and was on the ice for all three Canucks goals, while The Flames’ top line was held completely off the scoresheet. Not a bad night’s work.