Rough start for Reverse Retro as Canucks record 1st reg. loss in 4 games
Did the Vancouver Canucks open Pandora's Box with their new Reverse Retro jerseys?
I thought they looked sharp on Friday night, wearing the green and blue for the first time as they opened a two-game series against the Winnipeg Jets.
But when you start romanticizing the era of the West Coast Express, does the spectre of the Bertuzzi/Moore incident also come back to life?
That's what I found myself thinking about as a relatively low-event game ended with a big old fracas after 6'4" Jets defenseman Derek Forbort went after 5'9" Canucks forward Nils Hoglander in the last minute of Friday night's contest.
The Canucks have abandoned their casual duds and their workboots, dashing my dreams that this would be their 'Gloria,' the symbol of a miraculous turnaround. They were back in their suits in Calgary on Wednesday and in Vancouver on Friday night — but it was great to see all five other Canucks skaters throw themselves into the fray in defense of the rookie Hoglander. With the score at 2-0, Demko was off the ice for the extra attacker.
With all the lineup changes, plus the heavy early schedule and the challenges of creating team bonding experiences in a Covid world, I do think it has taken a little longer than usual to gel. They're getting there, but it might not be soon enough to salvage this shortened season. The midpoint 28th game is less than two weeks away.
Just how much has the lineup changed? I recently went back to take a look at who was on the roster for the last game of the 2019-20 regular season, the 5-4 overtime win over the Islanders at Rogers Arena on March 10, 2020.
Brock Boeser had just returned to the lineup after missing 12 games with the rib injury. The scratches on the expanded post-trade-deadline roster were injured Jacob Markstrom and Jay Beagle, as well as Jordie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
So here are the players on this year's roster that played that night:
F: Boeser, Miller, Virtanen, Sutter, Roussel, Pettersson, Horvat, Motte, Pearson, MacEwen, Gaudette
D: Edler, Hughes, Myers
That's a lot of change, especially on the back end.
And to their credit, it seems like Travis Green and defense coach Nolan Baumgartner have juggled their blue-line corps into pairings that are starting to develop some chemistry:
Edler - Schmidt
Hughes - Benn
Juolevi - Myers
Despite being ostensibly on the third pair, it's Myers who leads the group in ice time, averaging 22:26 a game because he plays on the power play and the penalty kill, as well as at even strength. His plus-minus is even, and with 10 points in 21 games, his offensive production is on par with the numbers he was putting up in his best years in Winnipeg.
He has also shown a willingness to be physical when necessary — something he has worked to add to his game as his NHL career has progressed.
But it's Edler who has brought the most physicality, leading the Canucks blueliners with 33 hits as he plays a scaled-back 20 minutes or so, befitting for a player who will turn 35 in April.
I've always given Connor Hellebuyck a big chunk of the credit for Winnipeg's ridiculously strong defensive record against the Canucks, but Friday night's shutout for B.C. boy Laurent Broissoit challenged that theory a bit. The Canucks weren't overly hard to stop, but Broissoit came up big when he needed to. The difference in the game was one flukey giveaway that led to a Mark Scheifele breakaway, which he executed perfectly.
But the fracas late in Friday's game didn't originate from a frustrated Canucks team. It was the big defenseman Forbort seeking revenge after he took a hit from Hoglander that he believed was high.
The Canucks seemed to somehow lose a power play that they had coming to them when all was said and done. But after failing to generate any offense in the first 59:18 of the game, I wasn't exactly expecting that they would have been able to pot two quick ones in the last 42 seconds to get a point and force overtime.
I am curious about whether the bad blood will flow over to Sunday night's rematch, which will be another Reverse Retro affair.
The regulation loss was their first in four games for the Canucks — and also the first time they failed to collect a point since Loui Eriksson returned to the lineup last Saturday.
Eriksson played just 5:33 on Friday night, his lowest ice time of the season. He took his first penalty of the year late in the first — a hook on Trevor Lewis — and played his last shift of the game with about five minutes left in the second period.
Same for Jay Beagle, who didn't see a shift in the third as the Canucks tried to find that tying goal. Green did mix the third member of that line, Jake Virtanen, in with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson, effectively double-shifting the duo. Virtanen played six shifts in the third, for 2:22. Hoglander played seven shifts, for 5:43. Pearson was just over six minutes, and Horvat played 7:18.
With the loss on Friday, I expect we'll see the forwards get juggled for Sunday's game. Jayce Hawryluk has been cleared from his preseason injury and is awaiting the chance to make his Canucks debut, and Zack MacEwen has been scratched for seven of the last eight games.
With Justin Bailey now on injured reserve, there's just one forward currently on the taxi squad — college free-agent signing Marc Michaelis. He has some scoring skill. I'd love to see Green give him a look on Sunday.