I Watched This (Preseason) Game: Virtanen scores two, while Bachman saves the day

Canucks 3 - 2 Flames (OT)

Pass it to Bulis

The Canucks kicked off the preseason with a pair of split-squad games with the Calgary Flames. It was pretty clear once the lineups came out for both games that the game in Calgary was getting the Canucks “B Squad.”

That’s no slight to the players in Calgary. It’s just that maybe five of the players in the Canucks lineup could be expected to also be in the lineup on opening night.

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Not to mention, of the expected NHLers in the lineup, just two could conceivably be described as top-six forwards — Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen — and both of them could be on the third line to start the season. Only one defenceman in Calgary — Troy Stecher — is likely to be in the lineup for the Canucks on opening night.

They were facing a stacked Flames lineup that featured stars like Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau, not to mention Elias Lindholm, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Noah Hanifin, Derek Ryan, Mikael Backlund, Milan Lucic, Michael Frolik, and Sam Bennett. In net, the Flames used their top two goaltenders, David Rittich and Cam Talbot.

In other words, the Flames iced pretty close to a full NHL lineup. And yet, somehow, they lost to what was essentially the Utica Comets plus a sprinkling of Canucks and a couple prospects.

I know I shouldn’t overreact to just one preseason game, but I was ready to declare the Flames’ playoff chances dead after I watched this game.

  • With such a strong lineup, you’d expect the Flames to dominate the Canucks and you would be 100% right. The Flames were all over the Canucks, particularly in the first two periods. They had 18 shots on goal in the first period alone, out-shooting the Canucks 18-2. This might be a bold statement, but I think the Flames could compete for the Calder Cup this year.
  • Bachman didn’t look quite so good on the Flames’ first goal, as Gaudreau caught him by surprise with a screened shot from the boards, but it’s hard to blame Bachman: it took the Canucks over 12 minutes to get their first shot on goal, so Bachman was under siege like Steven Seagal. He’s allowed to make a mistake.
  • Part of the Canucks’ decision-making for the lineup they sent to Calgary appeared to be players with Calgary connections. Sven Baertschi used to play for the Flames, Jake Virtanen starred for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, and Jay Beagle is from Calgary. Jeff Paterson spotted some more:
  • It clearly wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Josh Teves is from Calgary and Carson Focht plays for the Hitmen, but they both played in Victoria instead.
  • In a weird bit of serendipity, the Flame’s 2-0 goal in Calgary was scored at almost the exact same time as their 2-0 goal in Victoria in the other split-squad game. It was a little trippy to see identical scores in both games and it made for some confusing note-taking. Frolik scored the 2-0 goal in this game from 23-year-old 18-year-old Sam Bennett.
  • It was hard to judge any of the players in this game, as they were so clearly out-classed. It was hard for Stecher or Baertschi to stand out given the quality of their teammates, and the same was true for players like Ashton Sautner, Zack MacEwen, and Francis Perron that might harbour hopes of making the roster.
  • Fortunately for the Canucks, the Flames swapped goaltenders halfway through the game, replacing Rittich with Talbot. The Canucks didn’t get many shots, but they didn’t need many to beat Talbot. Mitch Eliot started the comeback with a point shot that had no business beating Talbot five-hole, but did anyways, because Talbot isn’t so much “good,” as he is “tall.”
  • In some ways, this was Jake Virtanen’s kind of game: not a lot of nice passing plays, but opportunities for solo dashes up the ice. Virtanen tied the game up late with a prototypical Virtanen play: he beat the defender wide, then sniped a bad angle shot past Talbot. Should Talbot let the puck beat him on the short side like that? Definitely not, but it still counts.
  • Virtanen completed the comeback with a much nicer overtime goal. He picked off a pass in the defensive zone, then burned rubber up the ice, forcing the defender to turn and go to the ice to block a potential shot or pass. Instead of doing either of those things, Virtanen smartly slowed down, letting the defender slide past before picking a corner like a mobster afraid of being snuck up on from behind in a restaurant.
  • It’s hard to pick out players that performed well in this game, considering how lopsided the puck possession was, but I thought Jett Woo quietly had a strong game. He led the Canucks with 21:20 in ice time, all at even-strength, and generally moved the puck up ice effectively. That may not sound like much, but for a 19-year-old defenceman to hold his own against a quality lineup like the one the Flames iced, that’s a solid preseason debut.
     

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