The Canucks dressed their “A Squad” for their split-squad game in Victoria: it was clearly a step above the team they sent to Calgary.
At the same time, “A Squad” is a bit of a misnomer. While the Canucks team in Victoria had a healthy does of NHL talent, they were still missing a lot of their best players, partly because the Canucks will be playing another preseason game on Tuesday in Vancouver.
Franchise forward Elias Pettersson sat out both split-squad games, as did rookie sensation Quinn Hughes. Brock Boeser, of course, missed the game, as he signed his new contract just over an hour before puck drop. Veterans Brandon Sutter and Alex Edler, along with new signings Micheal Ferland and Tyler Myers, were also in the stands instead of on the ice, as were goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko.
That’s pretty normal for a preseason game, but it also meant the matchup wasn’t as lopsided as the one in Calgary. Unlike the Flames, the Canucks sat their best forwards and defencemen for their home game.
Does this reveal a latent insecurity on the part of the Flames that will reveal itself further in the regular season, resulting in a devastatingly disappointing finish in the league’s basement? It’s the only possible conclusion I could draw after I watched this game.
- The Canucks’ best line was blatantly obvious: Bo Horvat centred the newly-acquired J.T. Miller and the much-to-prove Nikolay Goldobin, and they had the Canucks best puck-possession and chances. Is that a line we could see during the regular season? Who knows?! The preseason is made for madness and chaos! Everything you see could be an illusion!
- Miller immediately showed why he’s such an effective player: he’s smart. He drew a penalty early in the game with a nifty stutter step that bamboozled Michael Stone. His passing was precise and he put the puck in smart areas for his linemates. You could tell that Horvat was happier than a butcher’s dog to have him as a winger.
- The trio came close to scoring multiple times throughout the game. Miller gave Horvat an open net with a superb slap pass, but Horvat hit the side of the net. Goldobin had a shot blocked, then went between his legs and put the puck over the goaltender but through the crease. In the second period they hemmed the Flames in like a pair of pants, but just couldn’t score.
- The power play featured another combination that we might see in the regular season. If Horvat moves to centre the second power play unit, we could see something similar to what we saw tonight: Horvat with Miller, Goldobin, Josh Leivo and a defenceman other than Brogan Rafferty at the point. No offence to Rafferty, but when Edler, Hughes, and Myers are in the lineup, Rafferty won’t be getting power play time.
- Speaking of Rafferty, he was one of the Canucks’ best players. His calm and poise on the backend was impressive, particularly in the manic atmosphere of the first preseason game. He broke up a couple rushes with a smart stick and saved a goal in the second period when he blocked a backdoor pass after a Reid Boucher giveaway. There’s a reason Rafferty is likely to be the first call-up on defence on the right side.
- The only problem with this game is that the Flames scored so many goals. Adam Gaudette, who struggled early in the game, got drilled by Dillon Dube in the neutral zone, then Dube drove to the front of the net to put in a pass from Matthew Phillips to open the scoring. Phillips, who was a star for the Victoria Royals for three years, got a lot of love from the Victoria crowd.
- Michael DiPietro played pretty well despite the three goals against, two from Austin Czarnik, who seems to feast on the Canucks in the preseason. DiPietro is still a little out-of-control at times with his aggressive, athletic style, but he also made some stellar saves and you can see the work he’s put in to adjust his stance. This will be a big year for him as he turns pro.
- Zane McIntyre came in for DiPietro in the third period and looked good immediately, as the Flames peppered him with shots. He was only beat once, by a bizarre goal that went in off Miller’s face. It will be interesting to see if he starts in Utica and if DiPietro will get sent to the ECHL to start the season. Between McIntyre, DiPietro, Richard Bachmand, and Jake Kielly, the Canucks have a lot of goaltenders competing for playing time in the minors.
- Down 4-0 early in the third period, the Canucks started the comeback with a goal from an unlikely source: Loui Eriksson. The Canucks’ highest-paid forward finished off a rebound off a Guillaume Brisebois point shot with veteran calmness, moving the puck to his backhand to tuck it around the sprawling goaltender. All jokes aside, if Eriksson can provide some depth scoring from the bottom-six without having to skate with Pettersson or Horvat, that will be a valuable contribution.
- While his defence partner, Rafferty, was a standout in this game, Josh Teves scored a gorgeous goal. He pinched down the boards, drove around the net to lose his check, then took advantage of the space he was given to go top shelf where the bartender keeps the weirdest-looking bottles of booze.
- With the net empty, Miller and Horvat went to work. They cycled the puck on the right side before Horvat took a wide loop to the high slot, where Miller found him with a superb pass. Horvat made no mistake, rifling the puck past Tyler Parsons’ blocker to get the Canucks within one with one minute left.
- Alas, that was all the Canucks could muster in the final minute. Horvat, Miller, and Goldobin, along with extra man Josh Leivo, pushed hard for the tying goal, but couldn’t quite get it in front of the Victoria crowd. Still, they were all smiles at the end of regulation because, y’know, it’s preseason. Everyone, please remain chill.
- I thought Leivo was decent and I really like his two-way game, but you could see something missing in his finish. He just doesn’t quite catch and release the puck as quickly as other forwards of his caliber, and it’s held him back from really breaking through. I think he’ll be a valuable forward for the Canucks this season, but you can see why he hasn’t stuck in a top-six role thus far in his career.
- One interesting sight was Lukas Jasek at centre between Boucher and Kole Lind. Jasek has played primarily at right wing, but if he can make the move to centre, he’d make a quick jump up the depth chart, simply because the Canucks don’t have a lot of centres at the moment. Jasek has speed, tenacity, and creativity: it will be interesting to see if the Canucks and Comets continue this experiment.
- Guillaume Brisebois led the Canucks with five shots on goal. I still don’t see why the Canucks are so high on him, but that’s a positive for him as he fights to avoid being overtaken on the defensive depth chart.