I Watched This Game: Tom Kuhnhackl, weird goals carry the Islanders over the Canucks

Canucks 2 - 5 Islanders

Pass it to Bulis

Sometimes hockey is just plain odd. The New York Islanders were undoubtedly the better team in this game, out-shooting and out-chancing the Canucks by a wide margin. At the same time, they wouldn’t have won without a trio of goals funkier than George Clinton, Sir DZL, and Brass Monkey.

It feels like this entire road trip has been a little funky. The Canucks have lost three of their last five games by one goal or in the shootout. The bounces that went their way earlier in the season started bouncing the other way and three games that were within their reach — particularly the game in Buffalo where they squandered a two-goal lead in the final minutes — ended up just beyond their grasp.

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And yet, there’s also a ludicrous 8-5 win over the Boston Bruins sandwiched in there.

So then we get to this game against the New York Islanders: a three-goal loss that somehow felt like the Canucks could have won with slightly better luck and more favourable calls from the officials. Maybe that’s just misplaced optimism engendered by the Canucks’ unlikely excellent start to the season, but even a three-goal loss feels like a close one.

I watched this game.

  • Since this was the second night of back-to-back games, it seemed like an ideal time to get Jacob Markstrom some rest. Richard Bachman may not be an amazing backup goaltender, but he was good in spot action for the Canucks last season with a .920 save percentage. Why not give Markstrom a break, particularly when he had an .881 save percentage over his last five starts? Instead Markstrom started his ninth game in a row and looked shakier than Jack White modernizing Delta Blues.
  • Even worse, Markstrom stumbled at one point in the second period and seemed to be in pain for some time. It seems like common sense that injuries would be more frequent when there’s less downtime to recuperate after a game. But maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Markstrom stayed in the game and played well the rest of the way.
  • With three goals in the first six minutes, it looked like this would be the opposite of a hunker, but things settled down after the first period. More’s the pity, really; the Canucks have done well in offensive slugfests this season.
  • The Canucks got off to a great start, opening the scoring a few minutes in. Brendan Leipsic passed to Bo Horvat behind the net, then slipped in behind defenceman Scott Mayfield. That’s where Horvat found him with a gorgeous pass, threading the needle like he wasn’t a camel. Leipsic finished quicker than Jim Levenstein, ripping the puck just inside the post.

 

 

  • A couple minutes later, the Islanders tied it up with the first of their weird goals. Ben Hutton got tied up with Tom Kuhnhackl, tripping him to the ice for a penalty. Kuhnhackl made like Alex Ovechkin, however, and swept the puck towards the net from his back. Somehow, Markstrom failed to seal his post and the puck squeaked in from an awful angle. He probably got confused and tried to post his seal instead and everyone wondered why he was pressing his signet ring into wax while in the crease.
  • The Islanders pulled ahead with another weird one 45 seconds after that. Mathew Barzal mesmerized the Canucks, then sent Josh Bailey in alone on Markstrom. Meanwhile, Anders Lee knocked Chris Tanev to the ice away from the puck with no call then Bailey’s pass to Lee banked into the net off Tanev’s skate as he got back to his feet for a bizarre own goal.

 

 

  • The forward lines were all over the place for this game. Leipsic started with Horvat, but played plenty with Elias Pettersson as well. Jake Virtanen spent time with four different centres: Horvat, Pettersson, Markus Granlund, and Adam Gaudette. Nikolay Goldobin didn’t play a single even-strength shift in the second period. It was a tangled mess, likely a combination of mixing up lines looking for offence, tired legs on the second half of a back-to-back, and Goldobin’s benching have a ripple effect.
  • I’m pretty sure I know exactly why Goldobin got benched in the second period, though he did have three shifts on the power play. It likely has to do with his frozen feet on the Islanders’ third goal. As Brock Nelson chased the dump-in, Jordan Eberle skated by Goldobin in the neutral zone and made a bee-line to the net. Goldobin made more of a snail-line, coasting back without any urgency as Nelson centred for Eberle, who scored.

 

 

  • Brendan Leipsic had his best game of the season: six shots on goal, two points, and a couple nice setups that didn’t result in goals because the universe isn’t ready for a Brendan Leipsic five-point game. I asked, and the universe was like, “Geez, man, back off. I got enough going on, I just can’t handle that. Get off my case!” The universe is kind of a jerk, but, to be fair, it is going through a lot right now.
  • The first power play unit is still struggling, but the second unit came through early in the second period. Leipsic and Hutton created a little room with a couple passes, then Leipsic walked to the top of the right faceoff circle and got a shot on goal. Loui Eriksson tipped it, then Jake Virtanen cleaned up the rebound, sending it upstairs faster than Kevin McCallister fleeing the furnace in the basement.

 

 

  • That’s now eight goals in 20 games for Virtanen, on-pace for 33 goals on the season. In case you were wondering, Elias Pettersson has an assist on just one of those goals. Personally, I wouldn’t be in a rush to declare those two a match made in heaven. It could work out, but a better complement for both players might be found on different lines.
  • Virtanen nearly had another power play goal later in the second, pulling the puck quickly to his forehand at the side of the net, but Greiss got just enough of the puck to send it off the post. Shotgun Jake finished with six shots on goal.
  • The third weird Islanders goal was also Kuhnhackl’s second of the night. Markus Granlund lost track of Kuhnhackl in front of the net (right after I praised his defensive play, too), but Pettersson managed to get a piece of Kuhnhackl’s stick to prevent a shot. So Kuhnhackl kicked the puck into the net, likely with his right hackl. It was a blatant, obvious kicking motion, the type that the NHL would use in a video to explain the “kicking motion” rule. So, of course, the goal stood and the NHL declared that it was not a distinct kicking motion: “Reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.”

 

 

  • Flashback to this disallowed goal from the 2010 playoffs that was declared a "distinct kicking motion." The NHL’s video review team needs to watch more soccer, because they evidently have no clue what a “kick” looks like.
  • Travis Green was not fond of that call. If I’m reading his lips correctly, he says, “R2, find a killing bee.” He must be a Star Wars fan, though I must admit, I don’t remember that particular quote.

 

 

  • The Canucks’ hope for a comeback was cut short by a careless high stick from Jake Virtanen. With four-and-a-half minutes left, the double minor essentially wiped out the rest of the game. It was an unfortunate black eye on an otherwise strong game for Virtanen.
  • To cap it off, Cal Clutterbuck officially put the game out of reach with a power play goal. It was Elias Pettersson’s first time taking a real penalty kill shift and it was clear his assignment was less to prevent a goal then to cheat for a shorthanded chance. Anticipating a cross-ice pass, Pettersson jumped out of the wedge formation, which left Clutterbuck unmarked like an overly-late essay.

 


 

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