A late surge earns the Vancouver Canucks a point against the Avalanche
Saturday November 16 - Colorado Avalanche 5 - Vancouver Canucks 4 (OT)
The Vancouver Canucks salvaged a point with a late third-period rally, but a fired-up Nathan MacKinnon would not be denied in overtime as the Colorado Avalanche spoiled the Black Skate party on Saturday night at Rogers Arena.
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Because the timing of the Canucks' injuries to their forwards has been spaced out, I was a bit surprised when it was mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada that the team is now missing five regular forwards — and that, generally speaking, those forwards are the ones who are expected to add grit and playoff-style intensity.
When you look at Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Tyler Motte, Micheal Ferland and Antoine Roussel as a group, I can see the point. Sutter isn't a banger but can play a defensively responsible game. The other four all embody that 'hard to play against' attitude.
The timing of Roussel's season debut is still being measured as week, rather than days, away. So we don't have a concrete idea yet of how he'll fit into the mix. And I don't think we've seen peak Ferland yet since he arrived in Vancouver. Even if he never gets back to that battering-ram, fighting-for-a-job intensity that the Canucks saw on the other side in the 2015 playoffs, he showed during the early part of last season in Carolina that he can be effective as both a scorer and a banger when he's on his game.
Injuries being what they are, the Canucks may never get all five of those guys into the lineup at the same time — or, if they do, someone else will be hurt. But that sandpaper element is as much a part of the identity of the club that Jim Benning is trying to build as the precious skillsets of the young stars like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes.
The silver lining of all this, of course, is seeing Adam Gaudette taking advantage of the opportunity that the injuries have created for him. With the Avalanche defending Vancouver's first power-play unit very effectively on Saturday, Travis Green gave his second group a little more opportunity — and it delivered. Gaudette potted his third and fourth of the season as the Vancouver power play went 2-for-6 — and was the only Canuck who could beat Colorado netminder Antoine Bibeau for the first 57 minutes of the game.
With regular Avalanche goalies Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz both injured, 25-year-old Bibeau was recalled by Colorado earlier this week. Pressed into action on Thursday in Edmonton after Adam Werner gave up five goals on 18 shots to Connor McDavid and company, Bibeau kept the additional damage to just one goal on 10 shots in the final 31:24 of that game.
That was Bibeau's third career NHL game. The previous two came during the 2016-17 season, when he went 1-1-0 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So yes — it would have been great if the Canucks had gotten on him early and tried to shake his confidence. But the Avs are a deeper and more defensively responsible team this season, and with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen on the shelf, they were able to limit Vancouver's opportunities at 5-on-5, as well as on that first power-play unit.
Though the pace of the game was quick and energetic, shots on goal were just 8-5 in the first period, which ended in a 1-1 tie. In the second, the shot clock read 11-8 in Vancouver's favour, but the Avs opened up a 3-1 lead before Gaudette narrowed that margin to one goal with two seconds left in the middle frame. In the third, the Canucks came out energized, but couldn't beat Bibeau until after their net was empty.
Down by two once again, Travis Green got aggresive. He initially called Thatcher Demko to the bench after a TV timeout, with 3:44 left to play in the third and the Canucks setting up for an offensive-zone faceoff. Bo Horvat won three draws in a row to keep the pressure on — and was an incredible 26-for-32 overall on the night.
The tying goal came off Alex Edler's stick with 2:37 left in regulation, on a controversial play where the Avs were basically down two men as Matt Calvert lay on the ice after having taken an Elias Pettersson shot attempt to the side of his head from very close range. While the league's officials are generally advised not to blow play dead for an injury to a defensive player if the opponent maintains possession, they can do so if the injury appears serious — and this situation certainly could have been interpreted as such.
As Iain Macintyre points out, the Canucks have been on the other end of calls like these, including quite recently.
It's nice that the Canucks scored, but the Avs' anger is justifiable.
With the Avs now extra-rattled, the Canucks were able to complete their comeback to force overtime when a wide-open Brock Boeser converted a rebound off a Pettersson shot with a minute left to play, for his team-leading ninth of the year.
Just as the early-season worries about Elias Pettersson's possible sophomore slump have proven to be unfounded so far, Boeser has shown that he's wearing his new, big-bucks contract very well. With 20 points in 21 games, Boeser's currently on pace for 35 goals and 78 points, which would both be career highs. His 0.95 points per game so far are also above the 0.89 points per game from his rookie season, when he was limited to 62 games due to injury.
Despite Vancouver's late-game heroics, in the end the Avs would not be denied. With a little help from a small pick on Chris Tanev by J.T. Compher, Nathan MacKinnon went coast to coast to beat Demko, 27 seconds into overtime.
Considering MacKinnon's natural speed and the fact that he was able to build up a full head of steam, I don't know if Tanev could have gotten into position even if he'd been unimpeded. Especially when MacKinnon was fired up to exact revenge after Calvert's injury.
Bottom line — the Canucks' homestand ends with just three of a possible eight points collected, and the team is now just 1-4-2 in its last seven games.
The team has surprised a lot of people in its first quarter, and still sits third in the Pacific Division and tied for sixth in the West in points percentage heading into Sunday's games. But a six-game road trip awaits and there's no word yet that any of the injured players are close to being ready to return.
Furthermore, as the Canucks have seen time after time over the past few years, games get tougher as the season wears on, especially as the element of surprise begins to abate.
Also, the Pacific Division is tightening up. Vegas is uncharacteristically treading water, now on a four-game losing streak, but the San Jose Sharks have now won six in a row since getting rolled by the Canucks two weeks ago and even the Los Angeles Kings are starting to find their way — they're on a three-game winning streak.
Heading into Sunday's games, Calgary is just one point behind Vancouver. Anaheim is two back and both the Sharks and Golden Knights are three behind. Furthermore, Vegas is hosting Calgary on Sunday afternoon and Anaheim, L.A. and Arizona all play Monday before the Canucks get back into action on Tuesday in Dallas.
If you're scoreboard watching, the best thing to hope for at this point is two-point games.