- There is no excusing the Vancouver Canucks for their effort on Thursday night. Sure, they were without a pair of veteran defensemen. Injuries happen. And even with a couple of young blueliners stepping in to fill those spots, the Canucks still iced the 12 best National Hockey League forwards in the organization and four of the defensemen they deemed worthy of spots in the opening night line-up. And with that group wearing Canuck colours, the team got outshot 42-17 and outscored 7-3 as they were chased out of their own building by the Montreal Canadiens. As was the case just three nights earlier in Calgary, the Canucks followed up a decent first period with an embarrassing second. The team failed to muster a single even-strength shot in the middle frame and didn’t have a shot on goal over the final 10 minutes. When the final buzzer sounded in the second, the shots were 18-3 for the period and the Habs had scored the only four goals to bust a close game wide open. A team like the Canucks has to learn from its mistakes, but there has been a similar look and feel to too many of their games in the early going this season. They can’t defend. Their discipline is a massive issue. And their star forward has yet to leave his mark in any kind of meaningful way.
- After a few fleeting glimpses of his star power in Wednesday’s series opener which briefly gave the fan base hope that he was close to breaking out, Elias Pettersson slipped back into the shadows on Thursday. In 14:25 of ice-time – his lowest ice time since the team’s October 2019 home opener -- he managed just one shot attempt and failed to register a shot on goal. He has now gone five games without a point and is still stuck on that one assist he picked up in the season opener last week in Edmonton. Beyond not contributing offensively, on Thursday Pettersson uncharacteristically hurt the hockey club with a horrendous turnover on a second period power play with the game tied 2-2. Just inside the Montreal line, Pettersson spun off the right wing boards and tried to go rink wide with a pass. The problem was there were two Montreal forwards between Pettersson and his intended target Brock Boeser. Instead of recognizing the pending danger, Pettersson tried to force the pass through traffic. It was a brutal decision as the pass was easily picked off by Joel Armia who sprung Tyler Toffoli on a breakaway. The former Canucks scored his second of the game – and fifth in two nights – shorthanded to put the Habs in front for good. Who knows when Pettersson will find his game, but it seems like the Canucks will have trouble finding traction until their best player starts leading the way.
- A bad situation got worse for the Canucks early in Thursday’s game. Icing a blueline with rookies Jalen Chatfield, Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty in the line-up together and testing the organizational depth severely just a week into the season, the Canucks were forced to play with five defensemen for a second straight game when Chatfield left with an upper body injury after just five shifts and 4:33 of ice time. Just 24 hours after an impressive NHL debut, Chatfield was unable to continue which added to the strain on a defense already missing veterans Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic. Rafferty struggled in his first NHL game since April of 2019. He looked tentative in the early going, mishandled the puck on the game’s opening goal and never really found his rhythm. Thrust into the biggest role of his young career, Juolevi struggled at even-strength (the shot attempts favoured Montreal 18-4), but he logged 8:46 of short-handed ice time and didn’t look out of place on the penalty kill. Who knows who will be available to the Canucks for the third and final game of this set on Saturday? No matter how you come at it, it looks like it’ll be another patchwork defense corps. And that could very well spell more problems for a Canucks team that can’t keep the puck out of its net.
- In six games this season, the Canucks have now taken a league-high 28 minor penalties, a match penalty, a misconduct and a game misconduct. They lead the NHL with 32 penalties taken and 80 penalty minutes so far. One night after exhibiting discipline and having to kill just one penalty in their 6-5 shootout victory, the Canucks were back to their old ways putting the Habs on a whopping nine power plays on Thursday. While the penalty kill was perhaps the lone bright spot on a night of darkness, the Canucks can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to their inability to avoid the box. Tyler Myers was the biggest culprit with his hat trick of interference minors merely a prelude for his match penalty and possible suspension. With the game out of reach and time winding down, Myers needlessly and recklessly took out Habs forward Joel Armia (who was having a four-point night) with a heavy hit that appeared to have the head as the main point of contact. After a video review of the play in question, on-ice officials slapped Myers with a match penalty at 17:32 of the third period. Myers isn’t known as a predatory player, but the incident seemed completely avoidable. It’s the type of hit the league claims it wants out of the game and there was just no need for Myers to engage the way he did in the moment. The Canucks lack of discipline has already cost them dearly this season. It seems like it would be an easy step in the right direction to clean up their act. But so far this season, the Canucks seem content shooting themselves in the foot on an almost nightly basis.
- Thursday’s outcome was bitter sweet for Canucks captain Bo Horvat. He admitted as much in his post-game media availability. Horvat scored twice for the second straight game and with his second goal of the night became the first player in the NHL to reach five goals on the season. At night’s end, Horvat held a share of the league scoring lead with 5+2=7. He’s tied there with the likes of Nathan McKinnon and Mark Stone among others. Individually, Horvat couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season. He was a goal-scoring machine in the bubble last summer and has picked up where he left off out of the gates this season. But he’d trade the goals and individual accomplishments for team success in a heartbeat. Horvat had another solid night leading the team with four of its 17 shots and winning 14 of 20 face-offs. He certainly has the look of a guy that is trying hard to lead by example. But Bo knows that if it’s not helping the hockey club win games, then it doesn’t really matter. And on Thursday the only thing Horvat was focussed on was a scoreboard and a shot clock that reflected an ugly reality – the Canucks had just been dominated in every facet of the game by the Habs.
Vancouver Canucks reporter
TSN 1040 Sports Radio