In his post-game presser, Travis Green said, “It might have been one of our better games of the year,” and I’m inclined to agree.
The Vegas Golden Knights are one of the hottest teams in the league, winning six of their last eight games heading into Thursday’s game against the Canucks. They had just knocked off the San Jose Sharks 6-0, then followed that up by piling eight goals on the hapless Chicago Blackhawks. After a rough start, they’re finally looking like the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
On top of that, the Golden Knights are a team seemingly designed to give the Canucks fits. They’re fast and aggressive on the forecheck, making it tough for even the best puck-moving defencemen to break the puck out cleanly, and they don’t give up easy chances defensively.
So, for the Canucks to outplay the Golden Knights for large chunks of the game was quite the feat. The Canucks’ defence were surprisingly solid with their breakout passes and were taking advantage of the aggressive forecheck by jumping up in the rush to create odd-man situations.
In the offensive zone, the Canucks seemed to create more chances than they have all season, including off the cycle, which they’ve struggled to do. Bo Horvat was a beast, particularly in the third period, and seemed to revel in having some more offensive-minded linemates in Jake Virtanen, Brendan Leipsic, and Sam Gagner.
Meanwhile, Elias Pettersson continued to dazzle with one of the best assists we’re likely to see all year, Brock Boeser scored two goals, and Markus Granlund did a credible job as a shutdown centre (at least at 5-on-5) to give Horvat a little more offensive freedom.
Unfortunately, they simply made too many mistakes, and those mistakes all seemed to end up in the back of their net. What’s worse, they were in the back of the net because they first went into the front of the net. The Canucks gave up one too many goals when I watched this game.
- Tyler Motte had one fantastic penalty-killing shift. First he tipped away a cross-seam pass to cover for Loui Eriksson, who had gone to the bench when his stick broke. Then he tipped a puck out of the defensive zone, pursued it and poked it free in the neutral zone, then chased it down and knocked it away from Marc-Andre Fleury in the offensive zone, nearly netting his third shorthanded goal of the season. He traveled through all three zones like he was commuting from Surrey and drew a slashing penalty to end the Golden Knights’ power play.
- Elias Pettersson made the play of the game, combining so many things he does remarkably well. His anticipation, his hand-eye coordination, his relentless pursuit of the puck, his penchant for drawing penalties, his refusal to give up on a play, his remarkable playmaking ability — it was all there. The only thing missing was a ridiculous shot into the top corner, but until science figures out a way for Pettersson to assist on his own goals, this will have to do.
- Pettersson read the Golden Knights’ breakout perfectly, knocking down Brayden McNabb’s cross-ice pass out of mid-air before the blue line. Then he got in on Nate Schmidt to steal the puck away, forcing Schmidt to trip him to prevent a clear scoring chance. That didn’t matter. From his knees, Pettersson hooked the puck directly behind him into the slot, where Brock Boeser was ready and waiting to fill the net like he had just cast it on the other side of the boat.
- Boeser was at such a loss for words at Pettersson’s unreal pass that he could only utter three variations on the F-word. I’ll let you read his lips.
hahaha pic.twitter.com/s2veFDhWy1— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) November 30, 2018
- Travis Green chose to hard-match the Golden Knights’ top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith with a checking line Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, and a rotation of Jake Virtanen and Tyler Motte. It mostly worked — the Golden Knights’ top line didn’t create much against the Granlund line and it gave the Horvat line more time against second-line opposition. Granlund even managed to win more than 50% of his faceoffs, which hasn’t happened much this season: he’s been more erratic in the circle than a broken spirograph.
- While Horvat didn’t have to face the top line of the Golden Knights much, he and his linemates had their worst shift of the game against the Golden Knights’ fourth line. Pinned down in their own end, Horvat lost the puck in his skates in the slot, and Ryan Reaves pounced on it for a quick shot. Jacob Markstrom made the initial save, but William Carrier, unmarked by Alex Biega, had the rebound go in off his skate to tie the game.
- While Granlund has played well at 5-on-5 this season, he’s struggled on the penalty kill: no Canucks forward has been on the ice for more power play goals against and the Golden Knights added one more to the tally. Max Pacioretty scored from the left hash marks with Granlund on him, but not really checking him. It was more like Granlund was gently letting Pacioretty know he was there so that he didn’t back up too far and run into him. He probably said, “Behind!” like he was in a commercial kitchen too.
- The Canucks created plenty of chances, tallying 36 shots on goal, but, like the Turbo Tunnel level in Battletoads, Marc-Andre Fleury seemed impossible to beat. He ended a Jake Virtanen breakaway with a diving pokecheck, robbed Brock Boeser with a flashy glove save, and made a wicked kick save without his stick on Horvat.
- The Golden Knights took a 3-1 lead after the type of play that could get Brendan Leipsic scratched faster than a mosquito bite. He was standing still in the neutral zone instead of backing up defensively, which turned an innocent 3-on-3 into a guilty 3-on-2. The sudden odd-man situation caught Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton off-guard and a couple quick passes later, Pacioretty scored his second goal of the game.
- The Canucks got one back just over a minute later. Making up for falling on an earlier breakaway, Tim Schaller sprung Bo Horvat on the right wing with a great pass. He shot for a rebound, sending a low drive off Fleury’s right pad, and Alex Edler, who had jumped up like Mario, finished into the wide open net.
- The reason Horvat was so open on the right wing is that he had just come off the bench on an unexpected change. Adam Gaudette, after hitting Ryan Carpenter in the neutral zone, got cut near his chin or throat by Carpenter’s skate. It was a scary moment, but Gaudette was thankfully okay after some repairs.
Not often you get a spinning kick to the face in hockey, but Gaudette got that tonight pic.twitter.com/BZAVikvbMn— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) November 30, 2018
- Leipsic nearly made up for earlier error with a goal of his own, stealing the puck from Fleury from behind the net. He rushed it, however, and didn’t bring the puck out far enough on the wraparound to tuck it into the empty net. It wasn’t his finest hour. Probably not even top-10.
- The Canucks tied the game 3-3 midway through the third after a hard-working shift by Horvat. He won the puck behind the net, dragging it through two Vegas defenders. When the puck was finally knocked off his stick, Sam Gagner quickly fed it to Boeser at the backdoor and his quick shot hit Fleury’s skate and squeaked just over the goal line. It wasn’t beautiful, but it didn’t have to be to turn on the Rogers Arena crowd; he just had to kiss it across the line.
Brock gets just the tip in, but that counts pic.twitter.com/HqmlO89IEW— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) November 30, 2018
- The Golden Knights’ game-winner was extremely frustrating. Ben Hutton could keep the puck in at the blue line on the power play, giving up a shorthanded breakaway, but he recovered to get back and knock the puck off Reilly Smith’s stick. That should have been the end of it, but then Granlund and Leipsic got lazy and started breaking out of the defensive zone before winning the puck from Smith. They blew the zone, creating a 2-on-1 for Smith and Karlsson against Hutton, who couldn’t block the slick backdoor feed to Karlsson for the tap-in. So, uh, maybe that will be what gets Leipsic scratched.
- To add injury to insult, Ryan Reaves ran over Alex Edler from behind away from the puck, sending Edler hard down to the ice. He had to get repairs at the bench, then left the game entirely, possibly due to the concussion protocol. Somehow, there was no penalty on the play, despite Edler having his back to Reaves the entire time. I don’t particularly care if it was unintentional; frankly, if you’re not a good enough skater to avoid running into someone in that situation, you have no business being in the NHL.
As long as you "accidentally on purpose" run a Canuck over, you won't get a penalty. Reeves just trucks Edler from behind, Edler later seen getting stitches on his forehead and didn't return, so concussion protocol seems like a solid guess. pic.twitter.com/rjjs9Sheo4— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) November 30, 2018