Some good, some not-so-good as Canucks kick off with a split in Edmonton
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Two games against the same opponent, in the same arena, with the same officials. But they turned out to have very different outcomes for the Vancouver Canucks.
They kicked off the 2020-21 season with a solid effort full of feel-good storylines for the 5-3 win on Wednesday, then got dominated by Connor McDavid in their 5-2 defeat on Thursday.
That leaves them fourth in the Scotia North Division on Friday morning, but the Canucks and Oilers are the only teams to have already played two games. And I can imagine regulation losses being extra valuable this year: the Habs and Flames both grabbed loser points in their season debuts.
Let's start with the good stuff:
• Two third-period goals from Brock Boeser in Game 1, including the game winner. "It's probably the best I've felt since my rookie year," said the 23-year-old after the game. Both his goals were impressive wristers from about 20 feet out, bringing back memories of the shot that was his trademark as he competed with Mat Barzal for the Calder Trophy — before that scary back injury ended his season in March of 2018.
First impression: the extended time off has given him time to finally recover properly, and train to restore his strength as well as working on his skills and his skating.
Boeser and his linemates were quiet on Thursday as the Oilers made some adjustments and lined them up against a determined McDavid and company. Without J.T. Miller, there simply wasn't enough defensive juice in the group. Jake Virtanen got bounced off the line as the game went on.
• Bonus style points go to Quinn Hughes on Boeser's first goal.
With three assists in his first two games, Hughes is the Canucks' early scoring leader, and leads all NHL defensemen in points as of Friday morning. Travis Hamonic has also picked up a pair of assists, putting him in a multi-player tie for second.
I thought Hughes showed a little more physicality than we've seen in the past, too. He's one year more mature, and I think the battles of last summer's playoffs have given him some first-hand experience on how to play at that next level.
He also hasn't been shy to shoot the puck, with six shot attempts in Game 1 and nine in Game 2.
• Marvellous debut for Nils Hoglander, whose impressive work along the boards led to Bo Horvat's game-opening goal in Game 1, and who later picked up his first NHL tally.
Straight into the fire. Hoglander played 16:23 in Game 1, got power-play time, and finished with a plus-2. In Game 2, he logged 7:57 of power-play time on the way to 21:45 — second among forwards in ice time behind only Horvat. And his stat line was robust, with three shot attempts, two giveaways, two takeaways and two blocks.
• Olli Juolevi's first two regular-season NHL games seem to be — polarizing?
I focused on a wonderful play that he made to keep Leon Drasaitl to the outside on a rush into the offensive zone in Game 1, which finished with him taking the puck off Draisaitl behind the Vancouver net. And playing on the third pair with Tyler Myers, it seemed like Juolevi spent a lot of time matched up against his old mate from Team Finland, Jesse Puljujarvi. Give him some time.
• Braden Holtby was terrific in Game 1 — steady throughout, and delivering the big saves when needed. Thatcher Demko's night on Thursday was rougher. Much like in the summer against Vegas, he faced a ton of rubber — 46 shots — but he didn't strike the same fear into McDavid as he did against those Golden Knights shooters.
Again, it's early. Even though these games count, I expect we'll see goalies get sharper and systems get tighter over the next few weeks.
With the good effort in Game 1 and the back-to-back situation, Travis Green elected not to skate his players on Thursday morning. I'm generally supportive of the idea of giving players as much rest as possible, especially with such a heavy grind ahead. And since the Oilers had the last change in both games, I'm not sure how well Green could have adjusted before seeing what Dave Tippett had up his sleeve. But I feel like maybe a morning tune-up could have helped sharpen up the team?
Friday is a day off, as the club now hops down to Calgary for its next set of back-to-backs, on Saturday and Monday against Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Josh Leivo.
Markstrom made 30 saves as the Flames built a 3-1 first-period lead but ultimately fell 4-3 in overtime to the Jets in their season debut on Thursday. Calgary had 13 shots in the opening frame, but only managed another 13 the rest of the way, and had no shots in overtime before a buzzing Patrik Laine ended it with his second goal and third point of the night.
Laine even got physical with Matthew Tkachuk after a nasty hit by Noah Hanifin on Kyle Connor at the end of the first period. Not only did he change the momentum of the game, he also delivered the money quote afterwards:
"I was pissed off because that would have been a Gordie Howe hat trick," he said. "That one time when I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing."
Paired with Hanifin, Tanev was a plus-one on Thursday in 20:22 of ice time. He was also on the ice when Kyle Connor tied the game 3-3 on a 5-on-3 power play near the end of the second period. Leivo got a plum gig at 5-on-5, playing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, but didn't see any power-play time and ended the night with just two missed shots and one hit.
With all the familiar faces, I'm sure emotions will be high on both sides at the Saddledome on Saturday night!