Jacob Markstrom may have posted a shutout in the Canucks’ last game, but his performance against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night was far more impressive.
The shutout came against the hapless Anaheim Ducks, who were missing their leading scorer, Ryan Getzlaf. Markstrom was only called upon to make 29 saves and the bulk of the Ducks’ shots came from distance; when they did get a good scoring chances, they frequently missed the net.
That’s not to take anything away from Markstrom’s performance — a shutout is a shutout, however it comes about — but it was, shall we say, a lesser shutout.
The Avalanche, however, are an offensive powerhouse, boasting two players with over 30 goals, two more with over 20 goals, and eight total in double digits. They have the fourth and fifth-leading scorers in the NHL. The only reason they’re not higher in the standings is an abysmal record in overtime and the shootout, one which they improved in this game.
Holding the Avalanche to just two goals was a much tougher task than shutting out the Ducks, but Markstrom rose to the occasion. And butterflied to the occasion. And kick-saved, glove-saved, slid, scrambled, and dove to the occasion as well. He was incredible from start to finish, making 43 saves on 45 shots in regulation and overtime.
Meanwhile, my eyes were also incredible from start to finish, as they allowed me to watch this game.
- Markstrom gave his teammates every chance to win, but the Canucks could only muster up two measly goals. A big reason why? The still-struggling power play, which was as limp and lifeless as boiled kale. The Canucks had five opportunities with the man advantage, but only managed six shots on goal and couldn’t score. In the last five games, they’re 1-for-18 on the power play.
- It’s not just that the Canucks aren’t scoring on the power play: they never truly look dangerous. The power play is too static and designed almost entirely on shots from the outside. Sure, those shots generally belong to Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, but it’s far too predictable. There’s limited variation in their setups and not a lot of off-puck movement, so penalty kills can key in on Boeser and Pettersson and clog up their shooting lanes like wooden shoes in a toilet.
- I am a frequent defender of referees in this space — they have a very difficult job made more difficult by constantly-changing directives from their superiors — but the officiating was truly awful in this game. While the Canucks did get power plays, they ignored some blatantly obvious penalties. The most egregious was when Tyson Jost blew up Derrick Pouliot in the neutral zone with an open-ice hit that would have made Scott Stevens proud. Only problem is that it was nowhere near the puck.
- Not only was that blatant and potentially dangerous interference on Pouliot, Jost also took Boeser out of the play on the backcheck, creating an odd-man rush and a scoring chance for the Avalanche. That has to be called.
- Puck management was the issue on both Avalanche goals. Ryan Spooner was at fault on the first goal: he gave the puck away at the Canucks’ blue line and the Avalanche capitalized like a four-year-old writing the alphabet. Colin Wilson zipped the puck to Sven Andrighetto, who zapped it to Nathan MacKinnon, who zopped a one-timer into the back of the net.
- The Canucks responded less than a minute later off of some hard work down low by Boeser. He had two Avalanche players on him along the boards, but he spun out with the puck and fed Alex Biega at the point. His slap shot took a French dip when Antoine Roussel tipped it through Semyon Varlamov’s legs.
- Markus Granlund was the goat on the second Avalanche goal. On the penalty kill, Granlund had a Lord of the Rings marathon worth of time to get the puck out of the defensive zone, but held on for the space of a couple Hobbit movies for good measure, allowing Gabriel Landeskog to pick his pocket and set up Mikko Rantanen for the one-timer. It was the kind of play that would get certain other players benched for a period; Granlund was back on the ice less than a minute later.
- Markstrom was clearly the best Canuck, but the best skater for the Canucks was Nikolay Goldobin. He drew a penalty, had five shots on goal plus a crossbar on a fantastic move in tight, and sprung Bo Horvat on a partial breakaway that drew a penalty. His best moment came in the third period, however, when he drove right up the middle of the ice, splitting the Avalanche defence for a scoring chance, only to get hooked in the hands and sent tumbling to the ice. There was, of course, no call.
- The fourth line of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Motte were tasked with the tough job of matching up against Colorado’s top line, a duty split with the Horvat line. It did not go well. While they didn’t give up a goal while they were on the ice, which is a distinct positive, they got locked in the defensive zone like inmates with Rorschach. Eriksson got the worst of it: the Canucks had just one shot attempt when he wa on the ice at 5-on-5 and gave up 12. Shots on goal were 9-0 for the Avalanche.
- The Canucks finally tied up the game late in the third period off a simple rotation on a faceoff win by Bo Horvat. Spooner rotated to the boards, while Leivo rotated to the high slot, opposite from where they started when the puck was dropped. Biega passed the puck to Spooner, who gave Leivo the ol’ Spoon Feed for a blistering one-timer.
- Markstrom almost undid all his hard work late in the third period when he gave the puck away behind the net to Matt Calvert. He set up Wilson with the unminded net, but he somehow managed to hit the post. To be fair, we’ve known for years that Wilson doesn’t have any hands.
- There’s reason to believe Elias Pettersson might have suffered an injury in overtime. He collided with Landeskog pretty hard at one point and went straight to the bench instead of trying to backcheck. He kept playing and participated in the shootout, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
- Tanner Pearson made his Canucks debut and thought he had a game-winner in overtime, but it was triply disallowed. First, the whistle was blown before the puck crossed the goal line. Second, Pearson interfered with Varlamov for the puck to be loose in the first place. Third, Pearson kicked it in. Still, it felt cathartic to blame the refs for the quick whistle.
- Boeser managed to score in the shootout with a wicked shot over Varlamov’s glove, but every other Canucks shooter fell short. Four of the six Canucks shooters tried to go five-hole, burying a quick shot under Varlamov’s pads. The problem is, that’s exactly what Varlamov wanted. He opened up the five-hole, daring shooters to go there before slamming the door shut. I wanted to go full Admiral Ackbar on them — “It’s a trap!” — as they kept falling for it.
- Markstrom nearly saved the shootout winner. Carl Soderberg’s shot hit the cheater of Markstrom’s glove, but had enough momentum to roll in. It was a tough way for Markstrom’s night to end. He deserved a better fate.