After missing five games with a sprained MCL, Elias Pettersson was eased back into game action like a cold water-slider into a hot tub.
He wasn’t like those mad lads that go straight from the freezing cold to practically cannonballing into the hot tub; he dipped his toe in on his first shift, playing just 8 seconds before the puck was tipped over the glass and he went back to the bench. By the end of the first, he’d played a little over five minutes and the 15:36 he played over the course of the game is among his lowest totals of the season.
It makes sense: what delayed Pettersson’s return to the lineup wasn’t a complication with his knee injury, but a need to get back into game shape and get his conditioning up to snuff. He wasn’t able to skate while his knee was recuperating, so it wouldn’t have made sense for him to jump right back in and play over 22 minutes like he did in the game before his injury.
There were no stunning dashes up the ice or fancy moves in the offensive zone. In fact, he had a couple uncharacteristic turnovers and ended up doing a lot more defending than normal.
Of course, he also scored a goal, assisted on another, and nearly had a couple more on the power play. Even while easing in, Pettersson is still the best player on the Canucks and a gamebreaker.
It was delightful to see Elias Pettersson back on the ice when I watched this game.
- As has become a trend for the Canucks of late, it took a long time for them to get their first shot on goal: a Brandon Sutter wrist shot off the right wing that nearly snuck in past Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier. You have to feel for opposing goaltenders, who get lulled into false sense of security and assume that the puck will spend the entire game at the other end of the ice.
- Case in point: Elias Pettersson’s opening goal was the Canucks’ second shot of the game. Erik Gudbranson pinched down the right boards after a Derrick Pouliot slap shot went well wide, and Brock Boeser covered for him at the point. Boeser cut off the weak clearing attempt, flung the puck towards the net, and Pettersson tipped it under Bernier’s blocker. It was the niftiest tip since Nick Offerman said, “Ask yourself two questions with any new material...could this burst into flame and would it be cool if it did?”
- The Red Wings dominated long stretches of this game, looking like they were on lengthy power plays for much of the first and second periods. Jacob Markstrom had to be like a thankless child: sharper than a serpent’s tooth. He made 35 saves on 37 shots and had to battle through traffic like Morpheus and Trinity in Matrix Reloaded.
- It wasn’t just traffic; at one point Markstrom took a stick to the throat from Justin Abdelkader that knocked off his mask. Somehow, not only did a penalty not get called on the play, the referees didn’t even blow the play dead when Markstrom’s mask came off. It wasn’t the only odd mistake by the refs in this game; fortunately for them, they were far from the worst referees on Sunday.
- With Detroit’s pressure in the second period, a goal was inevitable. They took advantage of the long change to create a goal off the rush, as Anthony Mantha sent the puck cross-ice to Frans Nielsen for the one-timer on one knee, like he was proposing the puck and the net spend the rest of their lives together. Pettersson, fresh off the bench, wasn’t able to get back in time to speak now, so instead has to forever hold his peace.
- The Red Wings took the lead later in the second period thanks to former Canuck Thomas Vanek. Pettersson sent the puck up the boards, but Horvat wasn’t able to get it out of the zone. A moment later, Danny DeKeyser sent a backdoor feed to Vanek, who pushed off Troy Stecher to open up for the deflection.
- Markus Granlund started the game with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, but it didn’t last, perhaps because the Canucks were struggling to create offence. He bumped Jake Virtanen into Granlund’s spot for a while, then tossed Horvat onto a variety of lines, including a fully-loaded line with Boeser, Pettersson, seasoned beef, refried beans, cheese, rice, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and cilantro. Hang on, my mistake: I mixed up my recipe for a fully-loaded burrito with my description of a fully-loaded line.
- Horvat came into this game on an 11-game goal drought. He couldn’t buy a goal on a third-period power play: he was robbed on a one-time deflection from Pettersson, then took a drop pass from Alex Edler and deked through Filip Hronek’s legs before sending the puck just wide. He finished the game with a team-high six shots on goal.
- When Horvat finally got a goal, it wasn’t as pretty as his earlier chances, but it was an improvement in one major way: the puck actually went in. He won the faceoff back to Boeser, but his shot hit Pettersson. Horvat swiped at the loose puck and it snuck under Bernier’s pad like a passel of possums.
- After coming up short on an earlier breakaway chance, Antoine Roussel scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period. Virtanen sent the puck towards the net and Roussel made like Jewel the Unicorn and went further up and further in, tipping the puck up over Bernier.
- The Red Wings chirped Roussel pretty badly when he couldn’t score on the breakaway, so Roussel spent half his goal celebration hugging his teammates and half shouting various swear words at the Red Wings’ bench. It was very on-brand for Roussel.
- I’m not sure how long this strategy — hoping Markstrom can stop a bunch of early shots, then scoring against the flow of play — can last, but it’s working pretty well for the Canucks right now. The win puts the Canucks back into the second Wild Card spot, albeit with two more games played than the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, and Arizona Coyotes, all of whom could surpass the Canucks by winning those two games in hand.