- To hear Travis Green describe it, the conversation with his team was ‘a short one’ after an opening period in which the Vancouver Canucks were outshot 24-7 and outchanced 10-2. The coach clearly didn’t need to say much. The Canucks weren’t good enough in the opening period on Wednesday, but thanks to an early goal by Tyler Motte and yeoman’s work by Thatcher Demko, somehow the team managed to retreat to the locker room in a 1-1 tie with the Ottawa Senators. The Canucks needed a response in the second period and they got one as they scored the only three goals of the middle frame to take full control of the hockey game. And more than the overall response was the fact the Lotto Line set the tone for the period – and the comeback – with the prettiest goal of the night just 76 seconds in. Enough had been made of the struggles of Elias Pettersson and JT Miller over the first two weeks of the season. Eventually, those two had to break out and it happened on Wednesday night. Miller scored twice and set up Pettersson who finished with a goal and an assist. There will be (much) tougher tests ahead for the line and the team, but if beating up on the lowly Sens can serve as a launch point for Pettersson and Miller then we all may look back at the ninth game of the season as the night the Lotto Line finally arrived.
- The second period isn’t possible without Thatcher Demko’s heroics in the first. For a second straight game, the 24-year-old provided the kind of netminding needed for the Canucks to find some traction. Demko stopped 23 of 24 shots in the opening period and 43 of 44 on the night. Although the Sens managed a first period power play goal, Demko was the Canucks best penalty killer as Ottawa registered 13 power play shots on the night. In all situations, Natural Stat Trick had the Sens with more than four expected goals (4.05) on the night and 2.59 at even strength where Demko held them at bay. While he was at his best when the game was tight, Demko continued to shine into the third period when he stoned Drake Batherson on a rebound off a rush chance at 4-1. Becoming the first Canuck netminder to make consecutive starts this season, Demko stopped 78 of 80 shots (97.5%) over the past two games. He’ll likely get a rest with another game on Thursday, but it’s a good sign that Demko has found his playoff groove. He’ll be needed on a difficult six game road trip that starts Saturday in Winnipeg and continues on to Montreal and Toronto.
- Goals are gravy for Tyler Motte. And right now, the Canucks speedy winger is looking like prime rib. Motte opened the scoring on Wednesday night and rounded it out, as well. Neither goal was a thing of beauty, but they both look good on a stats sheet that now shows Motte tied with captain Bo Horvat for the Canucks team lead with five goals on the season. He was in the right spot as Sens starter Marcus Hogberg left a juicy rebound sitting in the blue paint just 2:06 into the hockey game. And then midway through the third, Motte went hard to the net and had a Jay Beagle pass pinball off him and Ottawa defender Mike Reilly before it bounced into the net. Motte has now scored three times in the past two games and has not gone more than two games without a goal this season. But to the original point that goals are a bonus for Motte and linemates Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, it’s far more important that a depth line spend as little time as possible in its own zone – a huge problem for the Canucks last season. On Wednesday night, the Canucks controlled 55.9% of all even-strength shot attempts with Motte on the ice and outshot the Sens 12-9. The team will take the offensive contributions, most certainly, but it’s more about the overall play and the amount of time on the attack that is the real story of that fourth line nine games into the season.
- With a pair of assists from Quinn Hughes -- including an all-world pass to JT Miller for the Canucks second goal of the night – plus helpers from Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, the Canucks surged back into the NHL lead for points by defensemen. Hughes leads the way with 1+8=9 through the first nine games picking up where he left off in the playoff bubble and his rookie season before that. Hughes finished the night T-9 in league scoring and is just three points off the overall league lead held by Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner. In 82 career NHL regular season games, Hughes has posted 9+56=65. To give you a sense of what that number means, it had been 25 years since a Canuck defenseman had eclipsed the 50-point mark in season before Hughes got there ahead of last year’s COVID break (53 pts in 68 games). Doug Lidster holds the Canucks single-season record for points by a defenseman with 63 in 80 games in 1986-87 and Dennis Kearns is the only other blueliner to record 60 points in a season when he had 60 in 80 games in 1976-77. Then you remind yourself that Quinn Hughes is just 21-years-old and is just getting started. The franchise record book is his to rewrite. Lars Lindgren sits 20th in all-time Canucks scoring by a defenseman with 122 points. Hughes could very well be there by the end of his second season in the league. Incredible stuff.
- Back to back wins for the first time this season is certainly a step in the right direction for the Canucks. But let’s be honest here, the Sens are in no way a measuring stick and are likely, as predicted by most, to finish last in the North Division. Ottawa has been outscored 12-2 in two games in Vancouver and 29-11 on a six game losing streak (0-5-1) since its lone victory on opening night. And if the Canucks can take care of business again on Thursday, they will complete the three game sweep -- and all that will do is get them back to .500 on the season after stumbling out of the gate with two wins in their first seven. We all know .500 hockey at the end of the season won’t be good enough to qualify for the playoffs (82 points in 82 games certainly wouldn’t get a team in). So the Canucks have to hope that the Lotto Line has awoken, the depth scorers continue to contribute and the team can tidy up the play in its own zone. Offense hasn’t been an issue for the Canucks and after two games against the Sens, the Canucks are now 8th in the league in goals for (3.44). However, even after allowing just two goals in their past two games, they are 29th in goals against (3.89) and 31st in shots allowed (37.1).
Vancouver Canucks reporter
TSN 1040 Sports Radio