The Vancouver Canucks began a five game road trip on Wednesday night, looking to make it four straight against the slumping San Jose Sharks and remain in first place in the tight Pacific division.
With the Calgary Flames beating the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, to remain in sole possession of first in the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks needed to secure at least a point against the San Jose Sharks. Having not played a game on the road since Jan. 14, this game would set a benchmark for the rest of the road-trip.
Going into this game there were a few questions: Would Brock Boeser break out of his funk after being held pointless through five games for the first time in his career? Would Jacob Markstrom better his record of 2-6-1 against the Sharks? Could Jake Virtanen stay hot playing with the top unit?
The Canucks need to play every game like its playoff hockey down the stretch, they can’t afford to overlook teams. The below slumping Sharks beat the Canucks 4-2 on Dec. 14, and it looked like they may face a similar fate during many parts of this game.
With Boeser bumping the slump, Quinn Hughes recording his first road goal, and Virtanen getting his fifth game-winning goal of the season, Vancouver managed to secure the win. Let’s dive deeper into what allowed the Canucks to skate away with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Markstrom currently sits in 13th in save percentageamong goalies who have played at least 1,000 minutes. This stat doesn’t jump off the page from the positioning alone, but what might is that he is tied with who the PHWA dubbed as the Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck. Not only that, but Markstrom is ahead of him in GAA and the under-utilized HDSV% (High danger save percentage).
Once again, Markstrom won a game for the Canucks, making many highlight reel saves, much like this one here.
Markstrom kept it rolling all night, saving 38 of 40 shots in a Grade-A performance. His teammates didn’t do him many favours, allowing many chances to come from in tight and being unable to clear the puck from in front on many occasions. This chart from Natural Stat Trick shows how the chances balanced out.
The Canucks are 14-6-0 when being outshot, and goaltending has been a huge part of that, and a large reason of why the Canucks are first in the Pacific. This wasjust another spectacular night for Marky, and its becoming ever more clear how important he is to the team, which will complicate things come negotiation time.
Coach’s line blender
The Canucks are no stranger to being put through the ringer when it comes to their coach mixing things up and tonight was no different. In fact, this was the most jumbled I’ve seen the lines in quite some time.
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Their first goal was scored by Hughes to tie it up at one; highlighted by head coach Travis Green’s new favourite third line of Boeser, Adam Gaudette, and Antoine Roussel, with Hughes and Chris Tanev on the back end. This set up wasn’t yet affected by they mixer.
Lines started getting juggled around the five-minute mark. We saw Virtanen playing fourth line duty, as well as a line of Virtanen, Sutter and Eriksson. The blending got even worse when Tyler Motte got taken out of the game by an Erik Karlsson headshot.
Lack of physicality
Go back and look at the shot chart, the Canucks were being kept to the outside for most of the night. The physicality of the Sharks forces Vancouver outside, while the home team was able to push into the slot and get more high danger chances from in close. Vancouver was forced to shoot from far out, and though they had some success in doing so, things could have been different if they were facing playoff-caliber goaltending.
Being outhit 23-12 is appalling.Tthose are numbers I only see in video games, it’s especially concerning when the management group made changes to get the team more physical. Yes, Michael Ferland wasn’t playing tonight, and Jordie Benn has been scratched.
Myers? Zero hits.
Miller? One hit.
Horvat? Zero hits.
Elias Pettersson? Two hits.
At the end of it all, the Canucks lucked out against a struggling team with inconsistent goaltending, and they got rewarded by their own. Vancouver will need to be much better in order to continue accumulating wins and make this road trip a success.