Last preseason, the Canucks were bad.
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re breaking some new ground there, Copernicus.” Everyone knows the Canucks struggled in the preseason last year and how little it seemed to matter when the regular season started.
Still, it made for some frustrating games to watch and likely frustrating games for the players to play. They won just one game and it took a shootout. More than that, since the results really don’t matter in the preseason, they managed to score just ten goals in seven preseason games.
Brock Boeser notably scored none of those goals, causing some consternation among Canucks fans.
This preseason, at least, goalscoring hasn’t been too much of an issue, even if Boeser still hasn't scored (gasp!). Three games in, they had already matched their ten goals from last year and they added six more against an Edmonton Oilers squad that seemed vaguely reminiscent of a team they would send to the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, just with James Neal and their $4.5 million goaltender also in the lineup.
That’s 16 goals in four games, which is, at the very least, a step up in entertainment from last year.
That said, while it’s definitely nice to see the Canucks score some goals, their goalscoring prowess this preseason doesn’t necessarily presage improved goalscoring in the regular season, just like their struggles last preseason were quickly forgotten when they scored five goals on opening night.
After all, the Oilers gave up 6+ goals a whopping 12 times last season — the real Oilers, not the crude facsimile we saw on Thursday night — so it’s hard to gauge the quality of a team’s offence when facing them. Because, as much as the Canucks were bad last preseason, the Oilers are bad always.
I watched this game.
- The Canucks scored on their first shot of the game, which is a nice reversal of how this type of thing usually happens. We’ll just ignore for the moment that it took over four minutes for them to get their first shot.
- J.T. Miller won the faceoff and the puck banked off the boards right into Brogan Rafferty’s wheelhouse, which sounds like the name of a restaurant that would serve the best BBQ ribs this side of the Mississippi. Rafferty served up a heaping helping of slap shot, slathering the puck past a screened Mikko Koskinen.
- Miller took the faceoff from the right side, which would normally be the weak side for a left-hand shot like Miller. He’s made it clear, however, that he likes to take draws on his forehand, meaning he and Horvat could each take faceoffs on their strong side if they’re on a line together. That could be a big boon over the course of the season.
- Because Miller took the faceoff, that allowed Horvat to focus on going to the net to provide the screen. Horvat is already a beast at getting to the front of the net for scoring chances; taking a little of the faceoff load off his shoulders could give him the chance to get more beastly than Kelsey Grammer.
- The line of Miller, Horvat, and Sven Baertschi was an intriguing one, as it could be what we see in the regular season. While Tanner Pearson’s excellent end-of-season run with Horvat has many expecting him to start the season on the second line, Baertschi has plenty of history and chemistry with Horvat of his own. He would add a little sneakiness and creativity to the more straight-forward games of Miller and Horvat.
- Two minutes after Rafferty opened the scoring, he had a small snafu in his own end that led to the tying goal. He was a second too slow to move the puck from behind the net, losing it to Alex Chiasson. A point shot, deflection, and a rebound ensued, with Jacob Markstrom missing the post with his skate as he lunged to his right. Because he lost his post, the puck snuck over the line. As someone who has lost many posts to internet errors, I can commiserate.
- Apart from that one literal misstep with his right skate, Markstrom was perfect on the night, stopping every other shot he faced. You could see a little rust he still needs to shake off — the occasional awkward rebound, a couple times he lost his angle — but he looks locked-in and ready to repeat his excellent play from last season.
- Apart from the giveaway on the goal, Rafferty looks ready for the NHL, but the reality of the Canucks situation on defence is that he’ll likely start the season in Utica. He doesn’t plan on staying there long, however. “I'm definitely not going to be pessimistic about it,” he said on Wednesday. “Gonna go there with a positive mindset and do the best I can and hopefully spend the least amount of time I can down there, no offense to them.”
- The numbers game doesn’t look good for Tim Schaller; it’s hard to see a situation where he doesn’t end up on waivers before the start of the season. He’s not going to go quietly, however, continuing to battle for a spot. He made a great read late in the first period, stealing a leisurely pass from Keegan Lowe and breaking the other way for a 2-on-1 with Jay Beagle. He gave Beagle a great feed and the centre made no mistake, going high-glove on Koskinen.
- It's preseason for everyone, as was made clear when John Shorthouse mistakenly called Markus Granlund, "Markus Naslund." That's doubly cold: not only did he mistake a third-line winger for a player whose number the Canucks have retired, but Granlund was just playing for the Canucks a few months ago. Have you forgotten Granlund already, Shorty? I mean, fair enough, so have many Canucks fans.
- The Canucks got the power play involved in the second period, with Bo Horvat whipping a beautiful pass across the top of the crease to the backdoor, where Sven Baertschi was waiting with a giant doing cartwheels and a statue wearing high heels. Baertschi sent the puck on a rid on a flying spoon (doo, doo, doo) into the back of the net.
- The Canucks could really use an effective second power play unit this season, but it’s unlikely that it will feature Lukas Jasek. The seemingly-forgotten prospect has an underrated skill set, including a great shot, which he let fly from the top of the right faceoff circle and under the blocker of Koskinen for the 3-1 goal.
- Keep Jasek in mind: there’s a chance he gets called up this season. He had a solid all-around game, but was particularly noticeable on the power play, where his poise with the puck kept the second unit clicking.
- The Oilers switched up their goaltender for the third period, bringing in Shane Starrett, but it didn’t keep the goals from coming. Joel Persson couldn’t handle James Neal’s ill-conceived pass on the breakout and Bo Horvat made them pay, beating Starrett past the blocker with a wicked shot. He then made them pay for drinks at the bar: a round of wicked shots.
- Adam Gaudette had been struggling in the preseason heading into this game, but he seemed to find his stride in this one, firing four shots on goal. The fourth one finally went in: he showed some patience to wait out the sliding Matt Benning, then whipped the puck just inside the near post. The relief was palpable, as he fist-pumped way more than was necessary for a 6-1 goal in the preseason, to the point that Travis Green could be seen trying to keep a straight face at the bench.
- Some other Canucks that stood out: Landon Ferraro, on a PTO this preseason, was flying all night as he looks to earn an NHL contract. Guillaume Brisebois had the strongest game I’ve ever seen from him. Josh Leivo drew a penalty and had a great scoring chance off a slick backhand pass from Rafferty. Loui Eriksson had two assists, so he must have been on the ice, even if I never noticed him out there.