For the fifth year in a row, the Vancouver Canucks won their season opener, but this one feels more special than the others. Rookie Elias Pettersson paced them to a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames. Here’s what we learned.
The Vancouver Canucks continued their trend of dominating the season opener, defeating the Calgary Flames 5-2 on Wednesday and starting out 1-0-0 for the fifth consecutive year.
To the surprise of nobody, rookie Elias Pettersson opened the scoring with a snipe off the iron and in. Vancouver would carry the lead into the third period, out-scoring Calgary 4-2 in the final frame to take the season opener.
Vancouver will visit Calgary on Sunday to complete the home and home. There’s obviously a lot to like about the first victory of the season, but one must remember not to get too excited about what they saw in Game 1 of 82.
For now, let’s examine three takeaways from Vancouver’s 5-2 win.
1. Elias Pettersson arrives
There was never any doubt that Elias Pettersson was the top story coming into this game. Canucks fans just wanted to see how the future of the franchise would fare in his first NHL game. Talk about a debut for the ages.
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As mentioned above, Pettersson opened the scoring late in the first period, and it was a beauty of a shot. He assisted on Nikolay Goldobin‘s goal early in the final frame to make it 2-0.
Pettersson looked like Sidney Crosby with the slick puck movement and setup plays. Did we mention he’s only a rookie?
Even if the Canucks wind up finishing near the bottom of the standings, at least this year of rebuilding will be filled with more highlight reels and overall entertainment.
Pettersson looked like a season veteran out there, and he’ll undoubtedly be a top candidate to win the Calder Trophy.
If Wednesday’s game was an indication of how Pettersson’s rookie season will play out, Canuck fans will be in for quite a treat. That was some debut, and we know there’s so much more to come. In short, the new franchise face has arrived.
2. Defence, penalty killing were on point
With all due respect to every Canuck defencemen, it’s nearly impossible to pull off wins against a skilled team like Calgary, especially when you take seven penalties. No, head coach Travis Green can’t be happy that his team went a man down seven times.
But the Canucks’ penalty kill alignment was much better, and they didn’t Calgary the lanes to shoot. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan couldn’t find the open space nor find the shooting lanes that are usually there for them on the power play.
Calgary didn’t score once with the man advantage. Jacob Markstrom did make a few brilliant saves, but credit must go to the Canuck defencemen that played in the box and frustrated the Flames’ top guns.
Obviously, one great game doesn’t mean the Canucks have figured out their issues on defence and in the special teams department. But it was excellent on Wednesday, which is why the Flames didn’t turn this game into a shootout.
3. The Canucks are much faster
Gone are the days where teams can win in this league with physical, rough-you-up styles of play. That’s why teams quickly caught on to the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings, who won Stanley Cups earlier in the decade.
Well, the Canucks seemingly got the memo that speed goes a long way in this league. That’s what happens when you insert youth into the lineup.
Pettersson’s first goal came on a 2-on-1, thanks to his slick speed which led to the odd man rush. Brendan Leipsic‘s goal to make it 3-0 came after he skated a buck down in the corner. Yes, it was thanks to his incredible set of wheels. If he doesn’t win that puck battle, the Canucks don’t get the insurance goal.
Jake Virtanen scored the fourth goal after chasing down a clear out from Brandon Sutter, getting behind the Calgary defence and sneaking the puck past goalie Mike Smith. Without a speedy player like Virtanen, the Canucks wouldn’t have scored the fourth goal.
The Canucks looked way faster than the team they iced in 2017-18. With more youth, skill and motivated players in the lineup, this will be one exciting team to watch. The goal is for the Canucks to play with the same level of energy and resiliency as they did on Wednesday.