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The first Vancouver Canucks game of consequence in nearly five months left fans with many questions heading into Game 1 of their best-of-five postseason series against the Minnesota Wild.
Who would grab the final roster spots? How much of an effect would resting their injured players have on the team as a whole? Which Canucks team would show up? The one we saw come blazing out of the gate at the beginning of the season? Or the one that was limping across the finish line in March?
Any semblance of conventional wisdom goes out the window in a situation like this, given that we’ve never seen anything like it before. As a result, fans needed to take a good hard look at Game 1 to get a sense of what to expect from the series.
While the early returns haven’t been great for Canucks fans (they were shut out in Game 1), the good news is, we know a lot more now than we did a week ago. Here are a few of the things we learned:
1. The Canucks haven’t benefited from the time off
The hope heading into the series for Canucks fans was that the team would come out hot after a few months of rest. They’ve traditionally been strong starters and poor finishers, and many fans were hopeful that there simply wouldn’t be enough games for the rejuvenated Canucks to run out of gas.
Instead, they came out flat and Minnesota took advantage, outshooting the Canucks 9-5 and outscoring them 1-0, and they never really recovered.
2. Micheal Ferland isn’t afraid of getting hurt again
Say what you will about Micheal Ferland, but he’s no wilting violet.
Well, that didn't take long. 👀
Foligno and Ferland drop the mitts. 🥊 pic.twitter.com/dpeLfeZi0A
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 3, 2020
Despite dealing with numerous injuries and concussion symptoms this season, Ferland dropped the gloves just 1:19 into the first period, squaring off against Wild forward Marcus Foligno. It may not have been the wisest decision, but you have to admit, the guy is fearless.
— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) August 3, 2020
In fact, you could argue he was a bit too fearless, as he appeared to spear Ryan Hartman midway through the third period while Hartman was on the bench.
You have to figure he’ll be hearing from the league for that one.
3. We’re probably going to see some roster turnover for Game 2
If Ferland is indeed suspended, that will open up a roster spot for one of the Canucks’ wingers.
While the team played poorly on the whole, they were especially poor on the penalty kill, giving up two power play goals against on five Wild attempts. With that in mind, I won’t be surprised if Loui Eriksson gets the nod for Game 2.
4. Discipline is going to be a factor
The Canucks may not have gotten much help from their penalty killers, but they also took five minor penalties on Sunday, including a boneheaded too-many-men call that negated what would have been the Canucks’ first power play of the game.
They’re going to have to dial back the stick work in the future to have any hope against the Wild, who were a decently effective power play team this season, converting on 21.3% of their chances on the man-advantage.
5. Winning the goaltending battle may be more difficult than anticipated
Most prognosticators believed the Wild and Canucks would be fairly evenly matched heading into the series, but gave the Canucks the edge in net, where Jacob Markstrom put together his best season to date.
That wasn’t the case in Game 1, however. Markstrom looked rusty and scattered, letting in a pair of questionable goals and causing confusion at the Canucks bench when he failed to skate off for the delayed penalty that led to the Canucks’ too-many-men call.
Meanwhile, Stalock turned away all 28 shots he faced en route to the first playoff victory and shutout of his career.
6. The Canucks don’t have much to show for the first few years of the Benning regime
In a move that would have stunned Canucks fans just a few months ago, Travis Green elected not to dress Jake Virtanen for the Canucks’ first whiff of playoff hockey in five years.
While you can quibble with the decision, (especially given the way the Canucks played,) it’s not a great sign that the coach doesn’t trust a former sixth overall pick who had a career-high 18 goals and 36 points this season.
Joining Virtanen in the press box was Eriksson, the team’s big free agent signing from 2016, and Olli Juolevi, the team’s fifth overall pick from the same year. I suspect most fans wouldn’t have been too pleased if you had told them back in 2016 that two of the team’s top 10 picks and their blockbuster free agent-signing would all be healthy scratches by the time the team made the postseason again; and I doubt many would believe you if you told them the general manager who was behind all those moves would still be around.
7. The big moves aren’t paying off
While it’s true that tonight’s game didn’t exactly shine a positive light on the early years of the Benning regime, it’s not like any of the team’s acquisitions from the past year looked any better.
The Canucks went big-game hunting in free agency and on the trade market this season, hoping to find players that could help them finally qualify for the postseason. They traded a first and third round pick for J.T. Miller at the draft, a second rounder and top prospect Tyler Madden for Tyler Toffoli in the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, and inked defender Tyler Myers to a massive five-year $30 million contract on July 1.
Unfortunately, all three of their major acquisitions from the past season failed to make an impact for the Canucks and finished well below the 50% mark in expected goals for.
Myers was particularly dreadful, finishing the night with the worst shot-share among Canucks defenders with 37.8%. Toffoli wasn’t much better, either, as he failed to muster a shot on goal and finished the night with an abysmal 31% in expected goals for percentage.
Obviously, there’s still plenty of time for the Canucks to turn the series around, but if tonight’s game was any indication, they may have picked the wrong year to overspend.
8. Defence trumps offence
While the Canucks young offensive players were their best performers tonight, the Wild didn’t have much trouble stifling the Canucks’ attack. They held Elias Pettersson and Miller to two shots apiece, while Brock Boeser managed one, with most of their remaining shots coming from defenders and failing to challenge the Wild’s netminder.
The Wild also managed to win the shot-battle at even strength despite the fact that the Canucks trailed for nearly the entire game.
9. We may have underestimated the Wild as an opponent
Minnesota has never been a particularly sexy or entertaining team, but they do play effective defence-first, positionally sound hockey. They also appear to have picked up right back where they were at the end of the season, where they went 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, while the extended break hasn’t provided the Canucks with the reset many fans had hoped for.
While they may not have the star power of the Canucks, they’re a deeper team and offered up a textbook performance in the first game of this best-of-five series. If the Canucks don’t make huge improvements in their next outing, the series could be over in a hurry.