Skip to content

I Watched This Game: Canucks grind the Ducks down in Anaheim

Nils Höglander was the Vancouver Canucks' best player in a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks to kick off a three-game road trip.
The Vancouver Canucks started off their road trip on the right track with a confident win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks had lost six of their last seven games. 

It wasn’t just the results that were concerning but the process. The Canucks were losing too many puck battles, turning over too many pucks, and getting away from the style of play that has made them so successful this season.

It felt like the Canucks needed to push a reset button to set everything right. A game against the cellar-dwelling Ducks presented the perfect opportunity for the Canucks to make like Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest and activate the Omega 13.  

The result may not look like much — a one-goal win against a team that the Canucks should, by all rights, dominate — but the process was monumentally improved.

Right from puck drop, the Canucks were blatantly the better team, out-shooting the Ducks 14-to-3 in the first period. They crashed in on the forecheck, closed off passing lanes, clogged up shooting lanes, and just generally made life miserable for the Ducks all over the ice. 

As the Ducks pushed for a third-period comeback, the Canucks gave them next to nothing to work with, shutting down the middle of the ice like Deadpool shutting down the Georgia Street Viaduct, albeit with fewer bullets and quippy one-liners.

“We kind of grinded it out all the way to the end,” said Conor Garland. “It was a good third period by us, we didn’t give them much. Even 6-on-5, it was shots from the outside.”

Maybe the Canucks’ game didn’t have a lot of style but it had substance — very much unlike Deadpool — and the Canucks needed the substance more. They needed a game where they could re-prove to themselves that sticking to the system works, that they don’t need to play the hockey equivalent of “hero ball” to win. 

Instead, the Canucks played a grinding, hard-working game and it led to a plethora of puck possession. It wasn’t perfect — they still tried to force a few too many passes through skates in the second period — but it was a step towards getting back to where they once belonged. Now the Canucks have to take that game with them to tougher opponents like the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

“One win doesn’t fix anything,” said Casey DeSmith, who made 16 saves on 17 shots for his first win since January 9. “We have to keep doing the right things every game, we have to keep playing this way, doing the things that made us successful early in the year that maybe we got away from a little bit. We need to get back to playing that winning hockey.”

There’s still a lot of work to do but it looked like the Canucks might have successfully hit the reset button when I watched this game.

  • Nils Höglander had an outstanding game against the Ducks. He played with the energy of 30-50 feral hogs and was a buzzsaw on the forecheck. This was arguably his best game of the season.
  • “I thought Höggy was one of our best forwards. He was maybe our best forward,” said Tocchet. “He had some jump, kept the puck on his stick a lot, drove their D wide. I gotta admit, Höggy was really good, not many turnovers from him. Behind their net, he came up with loose pucks. I think Höggy was really good tonight.”
  • Pius Suter deserves some credit too. Tocchet moved the Swiss Army Knife onto Elias Pettersson’s line with Höglander and the intelligent subtleties of his game provided an immediate upgrade over Ilya Mikheyev. Suter, Pettersson, and Höglander spent the vast majority of their time in the offensive zone and shot attempts were 16-to-5 for the Canucks when they were on the ice together at 5-on-5.
  • Meanwhile, Mikheyev played with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser and immediately dragged them down, as shot attempts were 14-to-7 for the Ducks when they were on the ice together at 5-on-5. It’s not like the Miller line was drawing the tougher assignments either — it was the Pettersson line that was matched up against the Ducks’ leading scorer, Frank Vatrano.
  • Höglander got the Canucks on the board on the second shift of the game at the end of a dominant shift by the Pettersson line. Höglander got the play started with the forecheck and some battle wins below the goal line, then put the puck behind the goal line — within the net, natch — after a lovely Quinn Hughes deke and pass. Höglander, the experienced fisherman, executed a perfect catch-and-release, dragging the puck a little to allow goaltender Lukas Dostal to slide out of the way of his shot. 
  • That was Höglander’s 19th goal of the season, with all of them coming at 5-on-5. He’s now in the top ten in 5-on-5 goalscoring, passing Sidney Crosby, Brady Tkachuk, and Tyler Seguin. Kind of seems like a guy that belongs in the Canucks’ top-six.
  • Noah “Run the Juuls” Juulsen was running over Ducks all night, finishing with a game-high six hits. More importantly, he wasn’t getting caught chasing out of position to allow odd-man situations behind him as has been an issue in a few recent games. 
  • “I think [Juulsen] really looked where F3 was — if we were above them. He’s scanning the ice when he’s doing that now,” said Tocchet. “That’s something we need from him, those hits. Just keep people honest.”
  • The only goal the Ducks managed came on a fluky bounce. Suter reached in to block a Max Jones shot and succeeded, only to see the puck deflect right to Alex Killorn at the right side of the net for him to swipe past Casey DeSmith before he could recover. Maybe there was a coverage issue — Pettersson seemed unsure if he or Mark Friedman was supposed to be on Killorn — but it was largely just bad luck. 
  • “It was a lucky bounce, it was a bing-bang play,” said Tocchet. “Those things happen. You just forget about it and move on.”
  • That was the first shot DeSmith faced, which might have been concerning, but he stopped every other shot that came his way. He didn’t have to face many shots, mind you, but there were definitely a handful of great chances, and by the end of the game DeSmith had more big stops than Nova Scotia.  
  • “They definitely turned up some shooting opportunities and looked for the extra pass, I thought, for most of the night,” said DeSmith. “Not a heavy shot volume game for me but they made me work, for sure, a lot of lateral movement.”
  • Vasily Podkolzin drew into the lineup for his first game of the season and immediately made an impact with his hard forechecking and heads-up passing. He played a smart game that utilized his strengths, such as this moment on an aerial puck where he didn’t try to chase it but instead established body position on his man and tied up his stick to allow his linemate, Elias Lindholm, to get possession.
  • “I thought Podz was pretty good, I thought there were some good moments of holding onto pucks,” said Tocchet. “A couple of systems stuff that will be fine, but I think for the most part, if he can hold onto pucks for us and get on the forecheck, that’s something that we’re looking for.”
  • The first power play unit was reunited, with the addition of Conor Garland to Pettersson, Miller, Boeser, and Hughes. While they didn’t come up with a goal on the power play, Garland scored shortly after a power play ended. Miller handed the puck to Zadorov in space and he made a sublime pass to an open Garland, who had angels in his angles as he deflected the puck over Dostal to make it 2-1.
  • I enjoyed this clip of Garland’s goal from Sportsnet’s highlight package, adding so many cuts that it reads like the infamous scene of Liam Neeson jumping over a fence from Taken 3.
  • “We have so much skill up front, you know, those guys make great plays for us,” said Zadorov. “The D’s gotta stay ready, follow up the plays. I think Millsy drew a couple guys in and he dropped the puck for me, I was alone and I saw Conor was backdoor, so I just had to slide it in for him to make a play.”
  • There was one dangerous moment in the third period where the Ducks threatened to score, as DeSmith got a little bit scrambly in his crease. The real danger was Alex Killorn, who was left wide open at the backdoor by Sam Lafferty, whose head was locked on the puck instead of on a swivel. Fortunately, the Ducks couldn’t get the puck to the open man; a better team will. That’s something to get ironed out.
  • The third period also saw one of the worst icing calls of all time. Garland chased the speedy Olen Zellweger down the ice and the linesman called the icing before the puck had even reached the goal line, which was bizarre, because Zellweger actually played the puck a foot ahead of the line. By definition, that cannot be icing. Generally speaking, I expect NHL linesmen to have a basic understanding of the icing rule but that’s apparently no longer a requirement.
  • What’s worse is that Pettersson took a shot off the collarbone off the ensuing defensive zone faceoff — a faceoff that should have never happened — and left the ice in pain. Pettersson seemed fine and didn’t miss a shift but it was still very, very dumb.
  • The Canucks dominated the shot clock 31-to-18 but Tocchet felt like it could have been even more one-sided, as he didn’t like that the Canucks had 21 shots blocked. Zadorov led the way, with five of his shots blocked by the Ducks, while Hughes was right behind him, with four of his ten shot attempts blocked. 
  • “I like the possession but I think we were getting our shots blocked too much,” said Tocchet. “I think we have to sprint to some areas and I think sometimes our D have got to move a little bit laterally to avoid the shot [blocks]. I think that’s one thing that this month, we’ve got a lot of shots blocked or missed. I think our video guy told me the other day that since the All-Star break, we have the most missed nets. So, if we can shore up blocked shots and the missed nets, maybe we’ll get more chances, I think.”
push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks