- That was exhausting. It was fun, but it was exhausting watching the Vancouver Canucks take four separate leads in regulation time and another in the shootout, before finally dispatching the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 on Wednesday night. With the early season pressure mounting and the team on a three-game losing streak to start the night, the Canucks absolutely had to find a way to grind out a result with the game tied 4-4 with 10 minutes left in the third. Then former Canuck Tyler Toffoli scored his third of the night to put the Habs in front for the first time in the hockey game with under four minutes on the clock. To their credit, the Canucks responded just 32 seconds later with their biggest goal of the season so far. Brock Boeser took a JT Miller pass in the high slot and drilled it past Carey Price to even the score and set the stage for overtime. The Boeser goal turned what looked like it could have been a fourth straight setback – and a crushing one at that -- into something to build on. Overall, Wednesday’s game may not have been particularly pretty, but the two points the Canucks put in their back pocket have to look pretty good to them.
- It took longer than they had expected, but the Canucks power play arrived on Wednesday night. After going 0 for 15 to start the season, the Canucks top unit was a wrecking ball against the Habs. Bo Horvat scored twice with the man-advantage while Brock Boeser added another. The team went 3 for 6 on the night scoring on three of the eight shots generated. The puck movement was crisp from the start. They showed the Habs a number of different looks. And they finally found some finish that had been lacking to that point in the season. The power play goals produced two remarkable statistics. With his pair, Horvat now has 14 since the start of the 2019-20 season which leaves him behind only David Pastrnak, Leon Draisaitl and Mika Zibanejad across the league. Generally thought of as a two-way stud, Horvat has emerged as a legitimate power play ace. And for Boeser, his goal with the man-advantage was his first in 39 regular season games since November of 2019 in Nashville (although he did score twice on the power play in the Edmonton bubble last summer).
- Boeser’s play down low on the power play may have been the most-encouraging development on a night with plenty of storylines. He used his quick hands to slip a backhand past Carey Price midway through the second period and then put a perfect pass on to the stick of Horvat for a quick strike goal early in the third. With JT Miller staking his claim to the left wing circle on the power play and Horvat becoming the king of the slot, Boeser seems destined to be the down low presence and night’s like Wednesday will only boost his confidence that he can succeed there. It’s clear with the array of talent around him on that first unit that his goal production has taken – and may continue to take – a hit on the power play. But as the only right-hand shot with that group he offers something no one else does. And for a guy who scored just 16 times in 57 games last season, for Boeser to be at four goals after five games early on this time around, there is a lot to like in the way he has raced out of the gates this season.
- It never seems to take long in Vancouver for the injury bug to bite defensemen and on Wednesday night, there was concern on a couple of fronts. Alex Edler left the game early in the second period with an upper body injury and did not return while Travis Hamonic didn’t play the final six minutes of regulation time or beyond. Following the game, head coach Travis Green had no updates on either veteran blueliner. With another game on Thursday, it stands to reason the Canucks may have holes to fill. With the shortage on the back end, Nate Schmidt logged 11:34 of the third period and a game high 27:42 on the night – and will likely be asked to carry a heavy workload again 24 hours later. Quinn Hughes struggled defensively in his 27:03 and was on for four of the Habs five goals. But credit to Jalen Chatfield who looked like he belonged in his NHL debut. Pressed into more action than expected, the 24-year-old Michigan native played 15:30 on the night including 5:23 of the third period with the game on the line. He was aggressive with his reads and pinches and involved physically as well. If that was an audition for a regular role on the blueline – and it had to be – then consider the night an unqualified success for Chatfield.
- For a team needing a result, there was more good than bad on Wednesday. But the final outcome doesn’t mask some of the ongoing concerns about the Canucks in their own zone. Sure, going down to five defensemen including a first timer made life difficult. But so, too, did some of the reads and reactions of those charged with the primary task of defending. Travis Hamonic made a poor decision on the Habs first goal choosing to seek retribution for a Joel Armia hit on Quinn Hughes in front of the Canucks bench. That drew him 40-feet out of position and left Tyler Toffoli wide open for his first of three goals on the night. Quinn Hughes allowed Brendan Gallagher to race past him off the rush and the former Vancouver Giant tapped home his first goal of the season late in the second period. Then Tyler Myers turned the puck over to Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the slot and the Habs centre took full advantage with a quick shot to tie the game 4-4 midway through the third. The Canucks have now allowed 21 goals in five games and have yet to hold an opponent under three in any of their outings. That is a dangerous way to play at this level. They outscored their issues on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen if they can do it again on Thursday.