Team Breakdown: The Vegas Golden Knights confuse me

Okay, we got the boring teams out of the way: Let’s get into the good stuff.

Even though these breakdowns are for the top seven teams in the Western Conference (in my opinion), the top four were easy to pin down; it was just choosing the order of those four that was a problem. I’ll tell you what wasn’t an issue, ranking the bottom three on this list. To be fair to the Vegas Golden Knights (as well as the Kings and Jets), they could win the cup and I don’t think anyone would be surprised.

Even with that said, the Golden Knights are the trickiest to pin down out of all the contenders in the west. On the surface, their roster should be able to contend with just about any other elite team in the league, but the injury bug has absolutely destroyed them this season, as it has for the last few years, now. Will most of their injured players be ready for playoff action? We have yet to find out; but the Knights are still a foe, regardless of that.

Their intriguing, but a little confusing. Here’s why I don’t know how to feel about the Vegas Golden Knights.

The talent on this roster

When fully healthy, this team is absolutely terrifying. They already had a great roster prior to the NHL Trade Deadline and added some incredible pieces that profile like, well, Vegas Golden Knights. Noah Hanifin, Tomas Hertl, and Anthony Mantha were all great adds, but they also have one thing in common: They’re all huge, which coincides well with the fact that Vegas already had the biggest team in the league prior to those acquisitions.

I’m not one to overvalue a players’ height when evaluating one, but Vegas doesn’t have a team of Erik Gudbranson’s and Ben Chiarot’s; their big guys can play. The bottom defensive pair of Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud is one of the better bottom pairs in the entire NHL; while the top guys – Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore (when healthy), Noah Hanifin, Brayden McNabb – round out one of the league’s most terrifying defensive cores.

Oh, and they have Alec Martinez as their seventh defenceman. I think they’re doing alright.

The top end of the Golden Knights’ lineup ain’t too bad, either, with Buffalo’s favourite redhead Jack Eichel headlining the forward core. Add in the likes of William Karlsson, Ivan Barbashev, Mark Stone (when healthy), and everyone’s favourite Instagram troll Jonathan Marchessault; you see why people are still bullish on them, right?

Another interesting aspect of this roster is how they have gone about their goaltending situation. After thinking progressively and running with three tandem goalies last season, they unfortunately had to pay the cup tax on Adin Hill after his incredible showing in the playoffs. So, they gave him a 2-year deal and kept backup Logan Thompson, opting to run with the typical two-goalie stack that has come with… mixed results.

Hill had an absolutely electric first half, but has since been either injured or slumping since, you know, he’s supposed to be a tandem goalie. Meanwhile, Logan Thompson has had a contrasting season to Hill’s; starting off real slow but has turned up the heat down the stretch. Jiri Petera is the team’s third goalie and has been… essentially unusable.

Managing a goalie’s workload is a pivotal part of the modern day NHL and Vegas were the masters of it last season. If only they hadn’t won the cup, am I right? Maybe they would’ve been able to run it back with three tandem goalies, instead!

The injury bug makes them a potential sleeping giant

I mentioned earlier that the Golden Knights have had abhorrent luck with injuries over the last handful of seasons. This year is no different. The team’s top defenceman – Shea Theodore – was injured from mid/late November ’til mid/late February, leaving them with only six everyday NHL caliber defenceman instead of seven. How dare he.

Make no mistake, Theodore has been one of the NHL’s premiere offensive defenceman for quite some time, now. He began to show star-level flashes in the 2018 playoffs and has since built on that run, as his play-driving and point production have been elite for years, now. When in the lineup, Theodore has tallied 5 goals and 37 points in 39 games this year; continuing his consistent form.

Then there’s Tomas Hertl who has yet to play a game for Vegas. Hertl was acquired by the Knights from the San Jose Sharks in the winding moments of the NHL Trade Deadline, shocking the hockey world; as Hertl’s 8-year deal with the Sharks was only signed just two summers prior.

Hertl is such an incredible fit for the Knights. He’s been a play-driving force for many seasons and is a premiere power forward in the league; which bodes well for a Golden Knights roster that’s filled with big, skilled players.

You want to know how they were able to piss off the entire hockey world and land Hertl? Well, cap space, but it’s how they acquired said cap space that made hockey fans split hairs: Mark Stone.

Stone doesn’t have a functioning back anymore. So, naturally, the Vegas Golden Knights have repeatedly put him on LTIR (long term injured reserve) over the course of the last three years; creating roughly $9 million in cap space in each instance.

Even with a back that may as well be brittle at this point, Stone has consistently been a top two-way pay-driving force ever since his days in Ottawa, but became a totally new animal when traded to Vegas. The captain also had an incredible showing in last year’s playoffs, even going as far as scoring a hat trick in the Stanley Cup winning game (a 9-3 win over Florida in game five).

I don’t care what you think of the Knights or Mark Stone, that’s unreal. He’s such a badass.

The numbers don’t love them

And now we get to the section of the breakdown where I question the team in question, as is customary. Although the Knights have swaths of talent at every position, they aren’t an analytical darling (which kind of surprises me). They rank 13th in xGF% according to moneypuck.com and 14th according to JFreshHockey’s model, while boasting a below average power play (21st) and a slightly above average penalty kill (11th).

How on earth is this team as good as the standings suggest? Even when I watch them I’m unimpressed. Their defence doesn’t activate enough off the rush or in the offensive zone for the team to be the potential play-driving weapon I think they can be.

Well, this time last year, the exact same conversation was had about the Golden Knights. Their underlying form is consistently in the mid-portion of the league, yet they always put up elite results and counting stats. It’s Vegas Golden Knights hockey and it’s annoying as hell. You’ll think your team is dominating and all of a sudden it’s 3-0 Golden Knights and you don’t even question it: They’ve earned that type of respect.

I may not like them all that much (I’m still bitter about 2020) but I just can’t look past how good the Golden Knights’ roster is; they just ooze high-end talent at every position. With Tomas Hertl and (maybe) Mark Stone touted to be ready for playoff action, these guys are – once again – a cup favourite.

Life is so unfair sometimes, man.

What I’ve been spinnin’ – March 31, 2024

This should be an interesting one.

School has rapidly ramped up over the course of the last week and it just so happens to be at the worst possible time. I, Sean Chesman – occasional contributor for the Evolution 107.9 website – have never felt more stressed/confused/overwhelmed in my life: No, it’s not because the Vancouver Canucks clinched an actual playoff spot for the first time in nine years (article coming soon).

I think the music I’ve been listening to this week is reflective of where I’m at, which is another reason why I wanted to make this a series: I can essentially use these as capsules to see how I may have been doing at any given time.

I don’t want to get into anything but the music itself, though. So, while we reminisce on the week that was, let’s sit back, put the headphones on and listen to what I’ve been spinnin’ this past week.

This is a series highlighting some of my favourite music over the last week. It can be new songs, old songs, albums, artists, etc. 

Where The Streets Have No Name – U2

You know exactly why I’ve been spinnin’ this one, don’t ya?

The song that the 2011 Vancouver Canucks would skate out to is the song that I’ve probably listened to the most over the last seven days. I mean, haven’t you heard? The Canucks are headed back to the playoffs!

The song is amazing even without the crazy nostalgia factor. The intro is a contender for my favourite in any song, ever, and that’s full credit to The Edge‘s guitar work; the use of the delay pedal is absolutely masterful. When the drums and bass come in, instant chills. The intro on this song is actually so next level, man.

The rest of the song is incredible, as it essentially just finishes what the introduction started. I honestly wouldn’t blame you if you checked this one out just for the intro. It’s that good.

I’m not a U2 fan, but Where The Streets Have No Name will forever be one of my favourite songs of all time.

(Three songs from) Nevermind – Nirvana

It had been a minute since I had tapped into this album.

“Nevermind” is not only consistently touted as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, but is also one of my personal favourites. The hits on this album are undeniable, but it’s the album’s deep(ish) cuts that usually serve as the catalyst to bring me back.

I said “deep(ish) cuts” like most of them don’t have hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify: Again, one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The album’s consistency is what makes it an undeniable classic and it has no shortage of loud, semi-punky/grunge bangers that – unless you’re a Nirvana fan who has already heard these – you need to hear.

Breed

Kurt Cobain idolized the energy and care free attitude of punk rock as a teenager, and a lot of that energy comes through on this album, especially on Breed.

This is essentially just a perfectly written punk song with the signature fuzzed out, distorted guitar tone that frequented the Seattle grunge scene of the 90s. It’s so good that my Dad – who has never liked Nirvana – called the song “undeniable”.

If a song manages to get my Dad’s seal of approval, then it might actually be alright.

Territorial Pissings

So, I hear you want more grunge/punk crossover songs?

Territorial Pissings is a ferocious song with a non-stop pulse. Even when the song dials it down before the final chorus, you know what’s coming. Kurt Cobain’s screaming and wailing at the end of the song is a perfect capper to what is maybe Nevermind’s most sonically intense track.

Also, “Never met a wise man. If so, it’s a woman” is such a bar.

Drain You

This is – maybe – my favourite Nirvana track.

Drain You is just an undeniable alt-rock masterpiece, thanks in large part due to the song’s bridge section. The verses and choruses are – once again – undeniable, but there’s just something about the weird, ambient, and creepy bridge that keeps me coming back to this song almost 15 years after I had first heard it.

These three tracks don’t even do this album justice; every single track off of this thing is the best material of the grunge era. If (for whatever reason) you haven’t heard this record, you need to get on it.

Now it’s time for some rapid fire picks.

Red Summer – Thornhill

A grand metalcore banger from one of the better albums the genre has ever seen. If you’re even remotely into metalcore, “The Dark Pool” is a great record and Red Summer is a highlight amongst a track list that’s full of ’em.

Vancouver – Jeff Buckley

This is one that I had never previously heard prior to last week, but I’m so glad that I found it! Vancouver has a bit of a different feel compared to what’s on Grace, but it still features Jeff Buckley’s angelic vocals, with him going full on Geddy Lee as the song concludes.

A LA CARTE – Quadeca, brakence

This song is going to live in my head forever.

Into Dust – Mazzy Star

Simply put, this song is stunning. A five-and-a-half minute-long acoustic ballad with luscious string bits and an incredible vocal performance.

And with that, the rapid fire section is complete.

The Invisible Man – Maruja

Maruja needs to be studied.

A band that seemingly came out of nowhere, Maruja shocked underground music fans with one of 2023’s better EP’s: “Knocknarea”. I would personally love to thank the random man on TikTok for you page who made a video about it last year, but I unfortunately don’t know who it was. What I do know is that Knocknarea was one of my favourite music projects of 2023, and the band hasn’t stopped pumping out quality since.

The Invisible Man might be the Manchester quartet’s best work to date; a song so electric that it could cause power outages. It’s essentially the same, fiery post-rock formula that I’ve become accustomed to since hearing the band’s breakthrough EP, just with a slightly more sinister feel to it all, which sounds intentional.

Every single performance on this song is flawless. The spoken-word vocals in the verse and the chilling refrain of: “The truth, it hides!” makes this the most epic sounding piece the band has put out to date. The drumming – as always – is phenomenal. It’s the same busy approach that is consistent no matter what song you hear from the band; but the added percussion bits during the song’s chilling bridge section and the intensity in the final refrain before the outro seal this as the best drumming on any Maruja song, so far.

Thunderous bass, added background instrumentals, and guitar leads that’ll make your hair stand on end all help round out the song; and, man, those saxophone passages are something else.

Lyrically, the song is all about witnessing loved ones struggle with mental health (as per the band’s Instagram). The band have been writing more tracks about mental health, but the instrumentals, vocals, and production on The Invisible Man perfectly incapsulates just how intense the thoughts inside one’s head can be, and you have to give the band full credit for it.

It’s dark, borderline dystopian, and just an incredible song, overall. These guys know what they’re doing. One of the brightest new bands in music right now.

Postgame: Aura, Joshua’s two-goal game, and the Canucks are officially going to the playoffs.

Today is March 31, 2024 (Happy Easter and Trans visibility day) and the Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Okay, well, we all knew that months ago, but it’s officially official now!

But before we get into any of that, there was a hockey game today… at 12:30 PM PST.

Typically a game against one of the league’s worst teams would have little-to-no stakes attached to it for a team like Vancouver, but the race for the top seed in the west and the Pacific Division title are separated by fractions at this point. I am still of the opinion that no matter who the Canucks play, they should win in round one: So, I’m not all that concerned about the prospect of them finishing 2nd in the division… but I’d rather them win it.

About today’s win over Anaheim:

The powerplay converted

I’ve made it a point of emphasis that the Canucks powerplay needs to get going before the playoffs begin; and while it’s a hot topic of discussion amongst Canucks faithful, I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that it’ll probably break through given the talent and occasional form we’ve seen over the last several years.

I’m not sure if the process was all that great tonight, but they just needed to get one to bump the slump. That they did; and it was none other than the team’s leading goal-scorer.

There are certain things in life that are reminders that – sometimes – life can be great. One of those indicators is whenever Brock Boeser scores a goal in the 2023-24 season. It’s been a rocky last few weeks for the soon-to-be 40-goal scorer, but Boeser got the powerplay going just over eight and a half minutes into the first frame.

J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes moved the puck around the top of the zone after a faceoff win, Hughes fired a wrist shot into traffic, and Brock Boeser outmuscled Cam Fowler to slide the puck past young goaltender Lukas Dostal.

So, the powerplay is officially back on the board after a 1/12 stretch over four games. I mean, thank goodness; I can finally sleep at night. The powerplay would eventually pick up another goal, but I’m not sure that it’s from someone you’d immediately think of…

Dakota Joshua has AURA

The aura king Nikita Zadorov was a scratch for today’s game, leaving the Canucks without their biggest personality in a game where they played Trevor Zegras (who was awesome for Anaheim, by the way). In case you don’t remember, I mentioned in my last piece that there was another Canuck who can provide a similar type of aura that Zadorov brings.

He proved today that he can do a little bit more than that.

Dakota Joshua had – in my opinion – his best game in a Vancouver Canucks uniform. His physicality and occasional defensive acumen was on full display in this one; a total pest that made playing hockey the physical embodiment of hell on earth for the Ducks. It wasn’t in a particularly flashy way, but he was still a net positive even without the two goals.

Oh yeah, Joshua scored twice.

Scratch what I said about not being flashy because, well…

Ew, gross, yuck, *other sub-word for disgusting*.

Dakota Joshua receives a pass from Pius Suter and, I mean, you know what happens next.

This is it: THIS is the aura that I have been stressing about for over a week, now. Heck, it may even be too much. The amount of aura oozing from this goal is overwhelming… and I love it. Scratch what I said, you can never have too much aura; especially when we’re talking about a team that didn’t have a pulse for the last decade.

In case that wasn’t enough, after the Ducks scored two quick goals to tie the game at 2-2, the game remained even ’til 2:13 remaining in the 3rd period.

Take a guess as to who scored the game winner.

OOOOOHHHH YEAH, BABY. THIS IS THE AURA I’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT.

Also, what an unbelievable pass from Conor Garland. The coaching staff struck gold putting these two on the same line.

Joshua’s presence was sorely missed over the last month or so and it’s a game like this one which serves as a perfect reminder of what he can bring to this Canucks team. This now raises the question: Should the Canucks re-sign Joshua in the off-season?

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t think there’s an easy answer.

Hold on, hold on. Before you come after me with pitchforks, hand grenades, and a replay of his between the legs goal on repeat, let me explain. Joshua’s profile is rare: A middle-six scoring winger who doubles as a great penalty killer and a physical force. These types of players do not come around often, and it’s not like he’s some Tanner Jeannot type, Joshua actually has some really intriguing skills. He has quick hands, is a decent skater, and has some playmaking chops to boot.

Here’s what gives me pause: These guys get PAID. I’m fine with paying one-of-one guys to big tickets, but we’re talking about a middle-six player, not a top line ace a-la Elias Pettersson (who miraculously took a team friendly deal). I would rather the front office look for cheaper options to round out the bottom six, but if they’re going to sign him to maybe a $3.5 x 4 – assuming that’s around his market value – then I won’t complain all that much. Again, he has aura. 

https://twitter.com/MajorMoose_/status/1774539539622871176

MajorMoose gets it.

KING SILOVS

Arturs Silovs won in his season debut, stopping 20 of 22 shots faced.

I couldn’t not mention it. I’m rooting for the guy.

It’s been a long time coming

Nine years.

It has been nine long years since Rogers Arena has hosted a playoff game, but that’s set to change in just a handful of weeks.

Quick shoutout to the San Jose Sharks for locking this in, but with a 4-0 win over the Blues on Saturday night, the Sharks helped their oceanic brothers on the west coast. For the first time since 2015, the Vancouver Canucks have (properly) clinched a playoff spot. I’m not going to lie, it didn’t really sink in until I saw the Canucks’ Twitter account confirm it with a sweet graphic.

If you’re a Canucks fan, I only ask for one thing: Enjoy the hell out of this. The buzz in the market has been palpable this season, and I’m not only referring to the actual fanbase. I’ve talked hockey with people that I would typically never talk hockey with this season, and that’s just really cool to see. There has been genuine excitement and curiosity across the Lower Mainland of BC this year surrounding the Canucks; something I didn’t think I’d say this season.

What the Canucks have managed to pull off is extraordinary and that’s full credit to every level of the organization. They’ve put the rest of the league and their fans on notice.

I’ve continuously waited for them to prove me wrong; prove to me that they’re actually not as good as the standings may indicate, and they haven’t let me down once. The PDO bender was one thing, but this team’s 5v5 play has vastly improved over the course of this season.

They’re in, they’re back, they’ve clinched: The Vancouver Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now, about those ticket prices…

Postgame Recap: Powerplay woes, “main character syndrome”, and other notes from a tough loss to the Stars

So, my last take aged like a certain dairy product sold in jugs or cartons.

The Canucks – unfortunately – weren’t able to clinch their first playoff berth in nine years on Thursday night. Don’t worry, it’s coming; we just have to wait another two days for it to happen.

I’ve been so exhausted over the last few days that this game – which had stakes – didn’t matter to me at all when it was being played, if I’m being blunt. It was essentially the same Canucks game I’ve repeatedly seen over the last handful of weeks: Good team defence, the offence not generating enough scoring chances, and Casey DeSmith doing his job well enough to help the team win.

But that’s not what actually happened on Thursday night. No, what happened was two teams had a chance to be the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot and one team (Dallas) wanted it more. Scratch what I said about good team defence, stay on the fact that the Canucks weren’t able to generate enough good looks at 5v5, and come after me for saying Casey DeSmith “played well enough”: The Canucks weren’t good enough last night.

Does it really matter all that much? Of course not, and I sure as hell am not worried about this team right now; but I still have some thoughts about what I saw last night.

Podkolzin continues to show flashes + Dakota Joshua’s return to the lineup

Vasily Podkolzin’s trajectory to the NHL has been a weird one. His development path has been extraordinarily wonky ever since his D+1 year and it seemed to keep snowballing as the years went on.

The 2019 10th overall pick has not lived up to his draft pedigree, but there’s still some glimpses that he could be an effective winger for this team for years to come. There were a few instances that saw Podkolzin in Dakota Joshua’s spot with Teddy Blueger and Conor Garland: One in the 1st period and one at the start of the 2nd.

And, what do you know, they dominated possession in both instances.

This makes me wonder if the organization will let Joshua walk in the off-season to see what they still might have in Podkolzin, but I’m still not confident enough to call him an every day NHLer just yet.

Joshua – on the other hand – is an everyday NHLer (and a good one). His return to the Canucks lineup was needed, as I think a huge part of the bottom six’s identity revolves around Joshua. His size, penalty killing, and ability to make plays in tight were all sorely missed; and he was one of just 6 Canucks skaters who had a positive xGF% last night.

In case you were wondering, the other 5 were: Garland, Boeser, Blueger, Hughes, and Pettersson. 

#81 did what he always does: Lay the body, generate scoring chances, and draw penalties that don’t end up getting called- okay, maybe not that last one. I’m just happy to see him back in the fold and his presence should prove to be a boon come playoff time.

Oh, and he provides some more of that Zadorov-type aura that I’ve previously alluded to.

The elephant in the room

You know what I don’t like? Hockey games that are barely played at 5v5.

Sorry, let me rephrase that: You know what I don’t like? The Canucks vs Stars game from March 28, 2024.

Dan O’Rourke and Eric Furlatt needed to make this game all about themselves; calling eight penalties in this one (seven of which came in the first two periods). I am an advocate for officials calling the game how they see it and am very, very against game management, but some of the calls – on both sides – were… questionable.

I know everyone was freaking out over the blown call on Dakota Joshua – which absolutely should’ve been called – but what got me was the game’s opening goal. Now, before I actually talk about why this bugged me so much, I want to get this out of the way: This was a good goal…

It just shouldn’t have taken them 5+ minutes to come to that conclusion.

While this tweet from Trent Leith isn’t a perfect indicator, it’s tough to see how either call would be conclusive enough to warrant it going the Canucks’ way. If it’s not conclusive enough to overturn, the call should stand.

So, why do we need a 5-minute video review for the call to remain the exact same? Like, I’m not about the call but am perplexed at why the officials needed, you know, FIVE MINUTES. That’s like if I handed in an assignment, then asked for an extension because I forgot to add something, reviewed it, and then decided to keep it as it was. It just doesn’t make any sense to me and it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.

The way in which the NHL goes about handling the very apparent officiating problem will never cease to amaze me. But, you know, this is a league ran by a guy who thought George Parros was the best candidate to be the head of the Department of Player Safety. They are – and forever will be – their own worst enemy.

The Powerplay needs to get going

And now we get to the reason why I think blaming the refs outright is stupid.

Yes, them missing the Heiskanen trip on Joshua – to then have the game decided on a Dallas powerplay – raises more questions than answers… or maybe it’s the other way around (NHL officials are consistently incompetent); but we can’t ignore just how awful the Canucks’ powerplay looked, last night.

Going 0/3 is one thing; generating less than one expected goal on those three attempts is just, simply put, brutal. On the other hand, the Stars generated 1.612 xG on the powerplay and a staggering 6.55 xG in all situations.

The Canucks couldn’t generate anything whenever they got a 5v4 chance and there are some key reasons as to why.

1. Pius Suter at the bumper is a tired experiment

Okay, okay, I love Pius Suter as a player but I don’t think I ever need to see him manning the bumper/net-front positions on the top powerplay unit ever again.

This team has more intriguing left-handed options, too. The likes of Nils Höglander and Dakota Joshua seem like no-brainers to take that spot if Tocchet wants to keep both a righty and a lefty in the middle. Heck, I’d even try Podkolzin there, he has a quicker release and could be a nightmare in front of the net.

Even with that said, Elias Lindholm should man the bumper when he comes back, leaving Brock Boeser at the net-front (those two can also rotate). For now, though, Höglander should be the guy; I think he profiles as a good fit in Suter’s current role.

2. Pettersson needs to be more of a threat

I know that I sound like a 50 year-old Canucks fan that you may or may not have met at your local pub or bar, but Pettersson needs to unleash the ungodly beast that is his one-timer. Unless it’s a set play right off the faceoff, I feel like I haven’t seen his signature one-tee in play for much of this season, which is confusing since it is one of the most terrifying assets in his toolkit.

An old habit that seems to be creeping back up is that he’s also parking himself way too high in the offensive zone. You can’t execute the Boeser bumper play if you’re at the top of the circle all the time!

3. Give the Sedins free reign

The preferred option is to just throw them out there on PP1, but I’d be fine with the Sedins manning the powerplay behind the bench, instead. Those two were some of the smartest 5v4 players the league has ever seen, so, this should be a no-brainer.

Maybe next year, I don’t know.

As I previously mentioned, the Canucks don’t play until Sunday. They’ll – yet again – have a shot at clinching their first playoff berth in nine years and it’ll be against one of the NHL’s most pathetic teams: The Anaheim Ducks. In the meantime, I’m going to look for Canucks playoff tickets for under $800, but it’s not going well at the moment.

The next time we speak, the Canucks should hopefully have clinched a playoff spot and I will hopefully have a playoff ticket in my inbox. I may have to avoid checking the bank statement when it’s all said and done.

Team Breakdown: The Winnipeg Jets are great… and that’s it.

So, I’m not crazy about the L.A. Kings and I don’t think it’s all that difficult to see why. Although they are a consistently great defensive team, they don’t have the firepower that typically wins cups.

Now, what if I told you that there was another Western Conference team that profiles pretty similarly, but just so happens to have slightly more firepower and a world class goalie?

No, I’m not talking about the Vancouver Canucks, they’re way better than the Winnipeg Jets.

If you’re a Jets fan, I would like to formally apologize in advance: I don’t really like your team all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Winnipeg Jets, just not on the same level as the actual top five teams in the west.

With that said, the Jets are still ranked 6th in the west (according to me) and them winning a cup wouldn’t be a shock to most (I think). Any team that can play defence like they do with a world beater in net has a chance to make some noise.

So, let’s anger Jesse Pollock for not putting them at number one and discuss why they’re only ranked 6th of 7 on this list.

Team defence is a big part of their identity

One of the constants for Winnipeg over the last several years was their reputation as a bad defensive team; a reputation that has been squashed this season.

If you put a lot of stock into counting stats then you’d probably assume that the Winnipeg Jets are the NHL’s premier defensive team, which isn’t too far off from reality. They have surrendered the least amount of goals in the entire league this year and have been consistent at preventing scoring chances, ranking 6th in xGA (expected goals against) according to JFreshHockey’s projections.

I won’t lie, I’m a bit shocked to see that they’re this good at preventing chances, but that’s not to discredit the players on their roster.

The Jets’ top pair of Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo has been a good one for a couple of seasons now and this season is no different. Thanks to moneypuck.com, their top pair ranks 31st in xGF%, rocking a 52.7% in over 1100 minutes played this season.

Oh, and Morrissey is pretty good at the whole “scoring goals” thing, too.

Their second pair is no slouch, either. Dylan Samberg and Nate Schmidt have only played roughly 530 minutes together, but have a 54.8% expected goal share at 5v5 in those minutes. Admittedly, both pairs have had their totals slip as of late and their bottom pair (and the multiple iterations of them) haven’t been up to snuff in comparison; as Brendan Dillon and Neal Pionk have controlled just 48% of expected goals at 5v5 in 837 minutes played together.

Having a pair with a negative xGF% is rough, but the Jets have clearly been doing just fine with these six on the backend.

Add in some solid two-way forwards to the mix like Vladislav Namestnikov, Gabriel Vilardi, and Alex Iafollo (thanks L.A.), and it makes total sense that Winnipeg has become a rather solid defensive team in 2023-24.

The obvious

Connor Hellebuyck is really, really good at his job. This could also explain why the Jets are absolutely suffocating teams this season.

Despite a rough stretch of form over the last week or so, Hellebuyck has consistently been the best goalie in the NHL this season; pretty much indisputably besides – maybe – Thatcher Demko from October to December.

Hellebuyck’s stats in 2023-24 are, frankly, stupid. He leads all NHL goalies with a .920 SV% (save percentage) and is second in GAA (goals against average) with 2.42, just 0.01 points off from the leader: Sergei Bobrovsky.

The counting stats are impressive enough, but it’s the underlying numbers which really highlight just how dominant Hellebuyck has been this season. Goals saved above expected (GSAx) is a reliable metric to use when analyzing a goalie’s individual performance; essentially tracking how many high danger chances a goalie saves above what is expected. The more high danger shots they save, the more the total increases.

In 53 games, Hellebuyck has a staggering 28.7 GSAx, with Thatcher Demko being second with a 20.4 GSAx. The gap between Hellebuyck and everyone else is quite massive and he should easily win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie.

Hellebuyck has been the league’s best netminder for many, many years and it doesn’t seem like he plans on slowing down any time soon. Having a premier goalie isn’t a necessity for winning a Stanley Cup, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt, I’ll tell you that much.

I am definitely not bitter that he’ll win another Vezina over Demko.

No, not at all.

A coaching decision that holds them back

Here’s where I start to lose interest in the idea that Jets are a top five team in the Western Conference.

Head Coach Rick Bowness has done a great job behind the bench for Winnipeg this season. That’s undeniable. But like any coach, Bowness has made some flat out weird lineup decisions, especially on offence.

Let me tell you a little bit about Nikolaj Ehlers. Drafted in 2014, Ehlers has-

Okay, I’m not about to give you a lecture on the player’s career. All you need to know is that this guy is a STUD. 

The counting stats don’t do Ehlers any favours. He’s dressed in all 72 games for Winnipeg and has 21 goals and 52 points. If you were to only look at the counting stats, you’d probably be under the impression that Ehlers is just a reliable top six scoring winger.

My friend, he is so, so much better than that.

Ehlers has the speed, shot, and playmaking prowess that most players could only dream of having and he uses these tools to create a lot of scoring chances for not only himself, but his teammates. Ehlers has generated 10.4 expected goals at 5v5 this season, good enough for being 5th amongst all Jets skaters. It’s even more impressive when you factor in that Rick Bowness refuses to give Ehlers any ice time.

The Jets offence is pretty solid, all things considered. Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Gabe Vilardi, and newly acquired pieces – Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli – are all great players in their own right; but for my money, Ehlers is the best of the bunch.

I could not tell you why Bowness continuously opts to use, basically, any other forward in the top six in big minutes and PP1. Yeah, Ehlers doesn’t even get consistent powerplay time. Perplexing. I don’t know, but when your top line’s numbers consistently improve whenever Ehlers is utilized there, he might just be a top line forward.

Again, I don’t know, I’m not behind an NHL bench, rather, I’m in front of a computer screen; but instead of aimlessly attacking people for supporting Palestine and gloating about how good the Jets are, I opt to complain about my favourite underutilized forward not named Nils Höglander.

So, besides some occasionally questionable coaching decisions, the Winnipeg Jets are no slouch and one of the best teams in the NHL this season; and full credit to them. They have the firepower, defensive acumen, and elite goaltending that can potentially give the city their first ever Stanley Cup.

While they’re only ranked 6th on my list of The Best Teams in the West, I doubt that many would be all that stunned if Connor Hellebuyck leads this team to the promised land come June.

Only time will tell.

The Go-To Guy: The 1-3-1, Podkolzin, and other notes from a 3-2 Canucks loss to the Kings

I feel groggy this morning. When attempting to determine why I feel this way, it usually comes down to two reasons: Lack of sleep, or too much sleep.

I woke up this morning with lingering feelings of apathy, dread, and other negative connotations one would use when describing the word “groggy”; but I wasn’t entirely sure as to why? I mean, I got ~8 hours of sleep, which should be the perfect amount.

So, as one does, I asked my mom why I might be feeling this way. She said: “Sean, you watched Los Angeles Kings hockey for three hours and then got 8 hours of sleep: Of course you’re feeling groggy”. 

She’s right: If you’re having the same problem that I’m having this morning, just remember that you essentially got 10-11 hours of sleep last night.

We all anticipated an absolute slog fest and the L.A. Kings delivered, as is customary for them. I know that I bash their 1-3-1 system a lot (and I won’t stop) but there’s no doubt that it works. The Canucks had no answer for it in the 3rd period, especially; repeatedly dumping the puck in, chasing after it, losing battles, and then circling back to try again.

The Kings’ structure frustrated the Canucks for the second time this season, but there were some positives to take away from the loss.

A guide to breaking down the 1-3-1 with Sam Lafferty and Vasily Podkolzin

This game started with a ton of physicality, especially from the Canucks. Nikita Zadorov continued to provide aura for this team, launching Blake Lizotte into next week with a thunderous hit.

Adrian Kempe wanted to join in on the fun, but instead of laying a big hit he simply cross checked Carson Soucy…

The Canucks powerplay didn’t generate a single good look.

Kempe eventually exited the penalty box and was met by J.T. Miller, who simply dumped him the moment he got the chance to. Listen, I would much rather watch the Canucks face literally any other team in round one (from a sheer entertainment value perspective) but these two teams clearly don’t like one another, and Miller and Kempe were especially going at each other throughout the first period.

L.A. would eventually open the scoring thanks to the Canuck killer Kevin Fiala, who received a pass in front from Pierre-Luc Dubois and one-timed the puck on his strong side.

That’s not all, though! Watch this goal and see if you can spot what went wrong,

Brock Boeser misses his check and decides that backchecking isn’t an option for this particular instance; yet that wasn’t even the worst part of the goal. Quinn Hughes goes for a change as L.A. is carrying the puck in transition – which is totally fine – but what isn’t fine is that no one jumped on the ice!!!!!

A tough breakdown, a bad change, and Brock Boeser opting to be lazy: A recipe for success. 1-0 for the bad guys.

I really don’t get how the Canucks consistently opt for the dump and chase formula against a Kings team that can easily counter it… oh, great, here comes the fourth line.

Time for more dump and chase hockey!

…Why is Vasily Podkolzin actually cooking here?

Oh, he just stapled someone to the boards, freeing the puck for Sam Lafferty.

I want to quickly go over the top 10 reasons why Sam Lafferty is the greatest hockey player to ever lace them up for the Vancouver Canucks:

10
9
8
7

1 – This play:

Sam Lafferty with an absolute game-breaking play, spinning off of one L.A. defender, taking advantage of Vasily Podkolzin tying up Vladislav Gavrikov in front, and driving the net for an absolute stunner. The fourth line cooked, ate, and left no crumbs. It was a strong night for the Podkolzin-Suter-Aman line, especially Podkolzin who throwing the body and creating chances in tight all game long; but Lafferty got the ball rolling.

We’re all tied up at one apiece.

The Canucks came alive for the end of the first period, generating some quality looks for the first time all game. It finally seems like the Canucks are getting going- and as I say that, Quinn Hughes gets called for one of the weakest slashes I’ve ever seen.

The officiating in this one was what you’d expect from the NHL and was far from being the main issue for the Canucks last night… but, wow, this call was so soft that it may as well be Charmin Ultra. The good news is that the penalty kill was, again, razor sharp. The Kings simply couldn’t break into the offensive zone, and when they did, they couldn’t set up shop.

Vancouver continued their physical play ’til the first buzzer went off and they left the ice after one, tied at one. It was a solid, solid period for them once they got on the scoresheet (thanks, Sam).

Who needs melatonin, anyway?

In case you don’t know what melatonin is:

 “a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep.”
– National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
I think I have found a perfect replacement: Just watch the final fourty minutes of this Canucks vs Kings game.
The Canucks had the puck throughout the second period but weren’t able to consistently generate much of anything. The Höglander-Pettersson-Garland line looked good at times and Teddy Blueger had another wicked game. Side note: We really need to give Teddy Blueger his flowers more often; he may not score a ton of goals, but his playmaking is an extremely underrated part of his toolkit.
Guess what happened late in the frame. If you guessed: “The Kings got a bounce” then you’d be correct!
Well, sort of. Try three.

Carson Soucy has been so good that the puck needs to bounce off of his skates three times (!) for it to go in when he’s on the ice.

But hey, the Canucks have typically battled adversity with ease this season. Surely they’ll bounce back after such a tough break, right?

If a “bounce back” involves Anze Kopitar extending the Kings lead to 3-1, then I guess the Canucks are continuing the trend?

I, personally, would have really liked a save there from Casey DeSmith. His puck tracking during net-front scrambles has been a consistent issue all year and it was no different last night.

Boeser would eventually bring the Canucks within one late in the third period with a lucky one, but that would prove to not be enough as the Kings came away with a 3-2 victory at Rogers Arena.

Let’s do some housekeeping before I wrap this up.

The Zadorov – Hronek experiment was a disaster

Rick Tocchet opted to put his defensive pairings in a blender last night and it wasn’t that bad, unless we’re talking about the Zadorov – Hronek pairing. They had the lowest xGF% amongst all Canucks defencemen, and it was just brain fart after brain fart all night.

I don’t think I want to see Phil Di Giuseppe in the lineup again

Ah yes, playing Mr. Dump n’ Chase in the top six against the L.A. Kings is surely the way to go about things.

Easily the Canucks’ worst player last night. He’s a fine 13th forward and not someone who should be playing in the top six.

Vasily Podkolzin is looking confident

There weren’t many bright spots last night, but among them was Vasily Podkolzin. The Russian power forward continued to throw his weight around and create chances in tight. I hope we see more of that.

Dallas on Thursday

The Canucks are set to face the Dallas Stars on Thursday with another chance to clinch a playoff spot. The Stars are one of the scariest teams in the entire NHL this season and have a ton of quality depth.

If the Canucks win, they’ll have a chance to clinch their first playoff berth in nine years.

I say they do it.

We’ll talk then.

What I’ve been spinnin’ – March 24, 2024

The Go-To Guy is taking a bit of a break at the moment, so, I figured I’d try my hand at a music piece, once again.

Much like hockey, I’m pretty much obsessed with music as a form of media. While some enjoy a book or a movie, my medium of choice when I need to wind down is music. There’s just so much to love about it: The sonic textures; the lyricism; the occasional, horribly bad song that gets recommended to you from the Spotify DJ feature; there’s just so many aspects of music that keeps me entertained.

In all seriousness, it’s incredibly easy to find new music in today’s world, which has it’s pros and cons. I have decided to be on the side of the pros today: So, I’m starting a new series for my catalogue.

This is mainly inspired by Anthony Fantano’s “Weekly Track Roundup” videos which he posts, typically, every Sunday night, highlighting the best and worst new tracks that he hears in a week. Instead of highlighting only new tracks, this series is just an avenue for me to express my love for any music that I am currently listening to, as well as sharing these tracks, albums and artists with you.

This is what I’ve been spinnin’ over the last week:

Cheerleader – Porter Robinson

I hadn’t heard any of Porter Robinson’s work prior to this song’s release, but I have been meaning to for a while, now.

To my understanding, this is the start of a new sound for Porter, just with many of his previous producing tendencies: Beautiful instrumental layering, electronic elements, and borderline abrasive sonic textures, with some Japanese-pop fused in to the mix.

I’m typically not a fan of these types of artists, but I just keep hearing amazing things about Porter’s work up until this point.

I absolutely love Cheerleader; an early song of the year candidate for me.

With a runtime of just under four minutes, Cheerleader kept me enthralled throughout its duration. The song mixes pop-rock, j-pop, and EDM for one of the best pop songs that I have heard this year.

The verses are so, so bubblegum pop, but they are wrapped up brilliantly with a pre-chorus buildup like you’d hear on a Blink-182 song from 1999. The choruses are stupidly catchy: It makes me feel like I’m in an Anime world, which I think (and hope) is a good thing? All I know is that it makes me want to dance like Uma Thurman, and I certainly can’t the melody out of my head.

The main hook has habilitated in my brain since I first heard it; it may as well set up shop and starting working from home because I sure as hell don’t think it’ll be out of there any time soon. It’s a serious earworm but in the best way possible and could very well end up being the catchiest hook I’ll hear all year. I don’t know if it has the power to take down last year’s “hook of the year” – Welcome To My Island by Caroline Polachek – but that song has maybe the best pop chorus I’ve ever heard.

Cheerleader‘s lyrics are all about Porter’s fans, specifically how some have become pretty parasocial – essentially obsessing over him. It’s an interesting topic, and a relevant one at that, and I think Porter nails it with his own interpretation; recognizing that he needs his fans more than they need him, even if they think otherwise.

This is a good one, man, and one I’ll keep in my back pocket for a potential year-end list.

Eternal Life – Jeff Buckley

A lot of incredible talents have to leave us too soon, and Jeff Buckley is a standout on a long list of greats.

Eternal Life is quite the change of pace from anything else on his incredible 1994 record: “Grace”, but it’s a welcomed one. Instead of the typical somber, lush balladry that consistently keeps the record afloat, Jeff is utterly revolted on this track; opting for an anti-bigotry rocker instead of the usual soft-rock stuff.

The vocals are one thing, of course, and they especially rock on this song. Jeff’s wailing roars are still so, incredibly lovely, especially at the end of the track where he lets out one of his greatest high note holds ever; but he brings some serious grit and attitude that typically isn’t there in his studio work.

The guitar tone on this one is to die for: Bluesy, rockin’, and matches beautifully with the driving bass and drums. Even with all of this hard-nosed stuff, we still get gorgeous string arrangements that contrast effortlessly with all of the loud business at the forefront of the song. The instrumental work on this record is some of the best of the 90s, and I think Eternal Life might be the most versatile track on the entire project.

Jeff Buckley was an absolute songwriting marvel, and it really is unfair that his life ended so abruptly. I don’t know enough about him as a person to form a well educated opinion on the guy, but what I do know is that he was an incredible talent who is impossible to replicate. In my mind, a generational caliber artist.

Also, give this live version a run. It’s fantastic.

Alright, let’s do a rapid fire section so I’m not only highlighting three songs in this article:

It’s Catching Up – Nomeansno

A quirky, heavy and rapid hardcore track from these Victoria, BC punks. If you’re at all into hardcore punk, these guys are incredible; and their 1989 record: “Wrong” is a masterpiece.

Obsession – Thornhill

The Melbourne boys are back at it with a Deftones inspired slow rocker. The vibes are vibin’; Jacob Charlton’s vocals are borderline seductive; and it’s just an overall solid song from Thornhill, as is customary.

A LA CARTE – Quadeca, brakence

This song is going to live in my head forever.

THE DEATH OF PIECE OF MIND – Bad Omens

There are only a select few metalcore bands that I enjoy these days, but Bad Omens remain among them. This song was my top song of 2022 and is now re-entering the rotation. I think I’m getting real close to considering this one as an “all-timer”.

And with that, the rapid fire section is done.

TEXAS BLUE – Quadeca, Kevin Abstract

If you read my “A glowing review of SCRAPYARD by Quadeca” piece, then you know just how much I love this song, but I wanted to give the song it’s own, individual moment in the sun.

Good lord, this song is stunning. Quadeca seriously destroyed sonic worlds with his SCRAPYARD mixtape; TEXAS BLUE being the perfect sendoff for a near-perfect record.

I think that the instrumental layering on this track is masterful and an actual triumph, as I still sit here and wonder how one can make a song that, sonically, sounds this pleasing to the ear.

Kevin Abstract (formerly in BROCKHAMPTON) makes an appearance on the song, and his presence is one of consistency. He is heard at least once in every section of the song and you won’t find me complaining about that at all: It’s a highlight of his career, in my eyes.

I suggest you read my article linked above and just listen to the entire record, as Quadeca came out with an album of the year frontrunner before anyone else could even get remotely going.

SCRAPYARD feels bigger than a traditional mixtape, and it’s songs like TEXAS BLUE which help propel it into a different stratosphere.

The Go-To Guy: The return of the Höglem Globetrotterssons and “T.J. Miller” propelled Canucks over Flames

I think it’s safe to say that Saturday night was a good one for me. While I was absolutely addicted to the new Porter Robinson song prior to the game between the Canucks and Flames, I wasn’t actually looking forward to the game, in all honesty. I wish there was a concrete reason as to why, but all I know is that I just wasn’t feeling like watching a hockey game last night, like, at all.

But I knew that there was important work to be done: I knew that there was going to be something magical.

I don’t even think the Canucks played all that great, to be honest; they never really dominated the game at any point and were relatively leaky defensively compared to most nights. But all of that doesn’t matter when you play a team that is an absolute turnover machine a-la the Calgary Flames.

I’m not entirely sure what Ryan Huska is doing over there, but it ain’t pretty. Almost everyone’s defensive numbers on that team have plummeted compared season’s prior – funny enough, one of the guys who’s results didn’t plummet was Elias Lindholm – and it showed last night. That team is an absolute tire fire when they have the puck in the defensive zone. It’s like the snowball scene from Elf, but instead of Will Ferrell chucking snowballs at 13 year-olds, it’s guys like Oliver Kylington and Martin Pospisil launching pucks to any Canucks player that’s in their vicinity.

Also, man, as bad as the Canucks are at generating chances off the rush, Calgary made it real easy for Vancouver to do so.

Yeah, there was a lot that happened, especially in the first half of the game: So, buckle up and enjoy the guide on what happened at Rogers Arena last night.

It was a fun one.

The Hög, the alien, and the buzzsaw + Superman Teddy

A common theme with this Canucks squad is how they love to play with the lead. While they’ve been doing that all season, it seems that, lately, they’ve been scoring in the first ~ten minutes of play with ease.

Nils Höglander thought that 5-10 minutes was far-too long of a wait, so, he opted to score just 48 seconds into this one.

Don’t worry, Nils Höglander will receive some flowers from yours truly in rather short order; but how about this play from Conor Garland and Elias Pettersson?

The buzzsaw (8) hits the Flames with the NHL 24 strategy of simply holding the puck on the forehand… and holding it…. and holding it. He then zips a pass on the tape to the alien (40) and, oh, there’s the Hög (21) parked all alone in front. Easy pickings for the Canucks’ current top line.

I know that Darryl Sutter was the NHL coach equivalent of an internet troll (he was such a hater), but wow was he ever an infinitely better coach than Huska, at least from what I’ve watched this season.

Calgary seriously played an ugly, ugly game last night and it can’t be overstated.

On the contrary, the Canucks played an ugly game, but their version of “ugly” is probably what Calgary hockey people consider to be “classy”.

1-0 for the good guys.

The score would stay the same for the remainder of the first frame, but the first period had plenty of entertainment value. Casey DeSmith made a brilliant save on Daniil Miromanov, who was rocking Sean Chesman’s PeeWee number 62: And, you know, some big hits here; some big saves over there; and is that Teddy Blueger full on Superman diving to deny Martin Pospisil a partial breakaway?

I’m glad that this market has fully embraced the likes of Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter. While you’re not going to get consistent point production from either party, they provide exceptional two-way value, which is such a boon for this team’s bottom/middle six.

Nikita Zadorov also continued to provide aura for this team, yet again, as he served Rogers Arena a big hit at center ice towards the end of the first frame.

The first period was just flat out entertaining. It may not have been the prettiest hockey, but it was a lot of fun, and I have time for fun hockey. I wasn’t at all thrilled to watch this game, but I had already gained value from it just 20 minutes in.

A man that wasn’t even excited for this game was impatiently waiting for the 2nd period to begin.

Canucks hockey in 2024 is different.

The return…

Okay, the start of the 2nd period didn’t have the fireworks the 1st-

Well, Filip Hronek just belted Conor Zary in open ice. Lovely stuff.

I’m not entirely sure what happened to him (maybe he was upset that the Canucks posted a video of him and his dog) but Filip Hronek was unhinged in last night’s game. He was throwing big hit after big hit and, simply put, he was awesome.

This is why Zadorov is an important piece: He’s giving other Canuck defenceman his same aura. 

Look, the hit on Zary was a “hell yeah moment” if I’ve ever seen one, but we know what the highlight of this hockey game was. No, it wasn’t Elias Lindholm’s empty netter against his former team… although that was really funny. The best moment of this game, and frankly, one of my favourite moments of the entire season was the Canucks’ second tally of the night, as it marked the long awaited return of a certain duo…

Hello to all: The Höglem Globetrotterssons are BACK!

Conor Garland makes a beautiful stretch pass to Elias Pettersson- Okay, I’m sorry, but what on earth are the Calgary Flames doing here? This could very well have been a 2-on-0 had Pettersson decided to carry the puck, but he instead passed it to Nils Höglander who just came off the bench.

And it’s him, in alone, 1-on-1 against Jacob Markstrom. Höglander could have, you know, shot the puck like a normal person, but he knew what was at stake: He knew that the Globetrotterssons had a chance to make a statement.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The Hög paid homage to Alex Burrows on this one, going for the leg kick backhand top shnizz combo that brought out a childlike reaction from me. Burrows was instrumental to my hockey enjoyment growing up and I would steal that move any time I got a breakaway; so, seeing my current favourite Canucks forward replicate a move from my favourite Canucks forward of all time is something that I’ll probably remember for years.

Oh, and he went bar-down for good measure.

Nils is such a rockstar.

T.J. Miller?

While Greg Millen had a tough night in the broadcast booth, J.T. Miller – or “T.J. Miller”, according to Millen – had a tough night of his own. I don’t know if he was upset that he couldn’t star in Silicon Valley or not, but none of it matters since he was able to make a positive impact in the end.

Miller clearly wasn’t happy with his performance (judging by his post-game presser), but Rogers Arena didn’t care; chanting his name ’til the sun went down.

Elias Lindholm would eventually seal it with an empty netter (HAHA), ’til Chris Paul hit a huge three to cut the lead down to 42- I mean, Joel Hanley scored with 19 seconds left.

Calgary’s ugly, ugly brand of hockey was no match for the Canucks; easily handling them, 4-2. The Canucks are now 4-1-1 through the first six of a nine-game homestand and sit atop both the Western Conference and the overall NHL standings.

Monday night could be a big one, as a win vs the Kings and a Blues loss to Vegas can clinch a playoff birth for Vancouver; their first legitimate one since 2014-15.

I say they do it. We’ll talk then.

The Go-To Guy: Zadorov’s aura, the Aman effect, and other takeaways from another strong Canucks win

This was a perfect game for The Sean Agenda.

In case you don’t know, I am not a fan of the Montreal Canadiens… at all. There are few teams that I actively want to see lose since I usually don’t hold grudges against NHL teams, but I have just never liked the Habs at all. Their roster has been boring since I was a kid; even when they had the likes of Carey Price and P.K. Subban in their primes, the rest of those mid-2010’s Habs teams were so uninspiring (thanks, Marc Bergevin).

But how about those Canucks, eh?

Thomas Drance of The Athletic has previously talked about “head tap” games: When a bottom feeder puts up a good fight against a top dog and the top dog isn’t really trying to go all out for the win, just lightly tapping the opponent on the head; essentially saying “nice try”, instead.

That was a textbook “head tap game” from the Canucks. Montreal tried to overwhelm Vancouver with their physical play, but like… do you really think the likes of Nikita Zadorov and J.T. Miller are going to be intimidated by “Michael Pezzetta” and “Arber Xhekaj”?

I don’t care how “tough” those guys are. They can’t play hockey, at least not well.

The Canucks’ tough guys, well, can play hockey, and that’s exactly why they won this game. Let’s get into it.

Aura matters + Hronek on PP1

Nikita Zadorov’s time in Vancouver can be summed up in two words: Perfectly fine. He’s thrown the big hits, scored some big goals, and has AURA. 

Listen, I’m a stats guy and I put a lot of stock into what the numbers suggest. Zadorov hasn’t been great since he arrived at YVR in early December, at least according to the numbers…

BUT THE NUMBERS DON’T CONSIDER AURA, DON’T THEY?

Nikita Zadorov opened the scoring with a relatively harmless unscreened wrist shot from the point. It’s the type of goal that you’d like to have back if you’re Sam Montembault. 

Thankfully, I’m not a NHL goalie making millions of dollars, I’m just some college student who’s trying to break into sports media… and also a Canucks fan; so, I don’t want that goal back. I loved it.

And then he scored again!

AURA!!!!

He may not have completed the hat trick, but a two-goal game is still incredible for a guy who wasn’t acquired to rip the twine… and it was against my least favourite team in the entire league, so, bonus points.

This game practically had zero pace before Daddy Zaddy got the ball rolling, and that’s thanks in large part to the Habs taking penalties and the Canucks failing to generate much of anything on the power play, especially the 5-on-3.

Yup, the Canucks squandered a two-man advantage, and it’s not hard to see why…

Rick, please get Filip Hronek as far away from PP1 as possible.

I once had a debate before the season started with my friend about using two defenceman on a power play unit; a concept which I immediately shot down. He then called me out for this months later when the Canucks were using Filip Hronek on the first power play unit… which kind of worked.

I had no issue with Hronek being there whenever they would have a two-man advantage, but last night was an indicator that J.T. Miller should still be on the left flank even on a 5-on-3. Hronek bobbled passes, took bad shots, and just wasn’t an option (at least not a good one) throughout that entire sequence.

Look, Hronek is a really solid player, and one that I am totally open to keeping if the money is right; but if the reports are, in fact, true about him and his camp wanting north of $8,000,000 per year on his next deal, I’d look for a replacement… like, right now. Get ahead of the game, y’know?

I’ll probably do a Filip Hronek breakdown piece at some point within the next handful of weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Anyways, the Canucks exited the first frame up two thanks to Nikita Zadorov, and only Nikita Zadorov. Do we just go ahead and assume that the game was pretty much done then and there?

Well, yes, but there’s still some stuff to unpack.

Conor Garland is really, really good at hockey

While Kaiden Guhle was continuously diving trying to draw calls, his teammates didn’t resort to such stupid behaviour and actually drew calls! Fortunately for the Canucks, their penalty kill looked pretty sharp throughout the night, but Montreal’s powerplay wasn’t particularly threatening at any point.

You want to know who was threatening for most of the night? Conor Garland.

The 5’8″ (he’s listed as 5’10” but, like, come on) buzzsaw had a killer game on Thursday night and, for my money, was the best player on his line with Elias Pettersson and Nils Höglander. Garland controlled 77% of his individual expected goal share, and his line controlled 90.3% whenever they were on the ice together. Another important bit of context here is that Pettersson and Höglander’s totals were considerably lower (52%, 42%), yet the line were still dominant as a trio.

Maybe this is could be a possible combination come playoff time? I rate Garland pretty high and he can play anywhere in the lineup-

HA. Garland’s goal to make it 3-0 was assisted by Teddy Blueger.

Scratch that!

This goal was a thing of beauty, too. Blueger lays an incredible stretch pass to Garland, who absolutely picks that top right corner. That thing was labelled.

I can’t wait to see Dakota Joshua return to the lineup so we can all watch the no name line cook a-la Marco Pierre White.

The Aman effect

The Canucks have had some struggles in regards to their fourth line; specifically speaking about who they’ve decided to deploy on said fourth line. It has involved a rotating cast of forwards ever since Nils Höglander’s promotion to the top six.

This game featured a combo of Vasily Podkolzin, Teddy Blueger and Nils Aman, and this line seemed to be clicking all game. As a unit, they controlled 98% of their expected goal share at 5v5, and Nils Aman had the highest individual xGF% with a whopping 95.5%.

Oh, and he scored the Canucks’ fourth goal; his first in 23 games.

Podkolzin receives the puck off the faceoff, sends it to Tyler Myers who’s posted up at the blueline, he sends it on net and Aman tips it in while being bumped by a Montreal defender in front. All of that was in a ~5 second span. Not bad.

Besides that one goal, nothing else (of note) happened in the third period. As is routine for this squad, they flipped their switch to auto pilot and came away with an easy 4-1 victory.

Sounds about right.

Let’s go to Sean’s checklist to see if this game was actually worth watching or not:

Zadorov scored twice and they beat Montreal.

That’s all I need. Good game!

While I’m writing akin to how Donald Trump would tweet in his bathroom in 2016(*!*), the Canucks are getting set to face the Calgary Flames; and hey, it’s Andrei Kuzmenko’s return to Vancouver!

In the meantime, I’m going to listen to the new Porter Robinson song on repeat while I wait for the game to start. I’ll see you afterwards.

The Go-To Guy: Hittin’ Hughes, the Pettersson revenge tour, and the deserve to win o’meter

You know those games where you look at the score line and you just know that it wasn’t nearly as close as the score may have indicated? At first glance, you may look at a 3-2 score and think: “Huh, the Sabres held up quite well against one of the league’s top teams!” when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Vancouver Canucks absolutely destroyed their 1970 expansion brothers.

It’s bittersweet, really: I want Buffalo to make the playoffs more than any other team currently hunting down the second wildcard spot in the east, but the Canucks need points real bad right now. I mean, do you not want to see this team finish atop of the western conference?

I don’t care if that means they face Vegas in the first round. Bring it.

There’s a lot to unpack from the expansion brothers in arms’ battle, which the Canucks won, of course. Let’s not waste any more time and discuss what was one of the most dominant Canucks performances of the last few weeks.

A worthwhile promotion + A strong night for Elias Lindholm

The Canucks know what’s up for grabs and they took no exception to a Buffalo squad desperate for points. Like, seriously, that first period was Globetrotter-esque. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes were clearly feeling it all game, and same goes for J.T. Miller.

But it was a player who was given a promotion that got the ball rolling.

Conor Garland barely squeaks one past Devon Levi and the Canucks take an early 1-0 lead just under five minutes into the game!

Oh no, wait, Don Granato challenged the play for goaltender interference. Why he chose to do so will forever be a mystery as that puck was clearly in before Garland shoved Levi’s pad into the net. So yes, the Canucks do, in fact, take a 1-0 lead.

This is the “college phase” for the coaching staff; they’re trying a whack of different line combinations to see what works as the playoffs draw near. I’m not sure as to why Tocchet hasn’t used Elias Lindholm with Elias Pettersson and Nils Höglander, but I can’t complain about what I saw from any line last night.

Höglander-Pettersson-Garland was easily the best line at 5v5 for Vancouver last night, but I also want to shout out Elias Lindholm; his performance last night was maybe his most complete as a Canuck. He was getting into the soft areas, was disruptive in all three zones; it was basically the Elias Lindholm that we were sold on when he arrived here, just minus the goalscoring.

But hey, if he puts up more performances like this one, the goalscoring will come.

Lindholm got some help from Ilya Mikheyev and Sam Lafferty on his wings; both had strong games. Their speed and forechecking tenacity opened up a lot of opportunities for trailing teammates, which makes me curious if combining those two on the fourth line would be a viable option once Dakota Joshua comes back into the fold. Realistically, I think putting a rejuvenated Ilya Mikheyev alongside Elias Pettersson, Nils Höglander and/or Elias Lindholm is the best possible formula for a successful top six in the playoffs.

QUINN HUGHES DID WHAT?

I love to just nerd out about the intricacies of the sport, but sometimes there’s a play that just brings out caveman-type reactions from me.

For example: Did you see Quinn Hughes absolutely belt Victor Olofsson in open ice?

You want to talk about a player that’s ready for playoff hockey?

Like come on, when do we ever see Quintin Jerome Hughes lay the body like that? That was beautiful!

While Miller and Pettersson were dancing like John Travolta and Uma Therman, Quinn Hughes had one thing on his mind: Annihilation. Just a textbook open-ice hit. No notes.

Just give me playoff hockey, already.

Pettersson’s revenge tour + good things happen with Miller at the left flank

Elias Pettersson takes so much flack in this market and I just don’t understand any of it. I get holding star players to a high standard, but this guy will probably be the greatest Canuck of all time when it’s all said and done; and while he hasn’t necessarily been at his best, he’s still a top 10-15 scorer in the league.

Last night was a statement game for Pettersson: 3 points and dominant underlying numbers.

Oh, and he got the 2-0 goal on the power play. Nice.

Can I just say that this team’s aura gets a +1000 whenever they rock these jerseys? The matte black helmets rock, too.

Pettersson went backhand shnizz and it was a thing of beauty, but this play happens because of J.T. Miller doing what he does best: Set up plays from the left flank on PP1.

It’s not like 90% of the fanbase was screaming about this for the last few weeks or anything…

The Canucks power play has been a hot topic of discussion in the market basically all season, and for good reason. This team’s success hasn’t relied on the power play, but oh man, when that thing is clickin’ it is an absolute force of nature and gives this team a totally new gear.

I really, really hope that the coaching staff opts to keep Miller on the left half-wall for the remainder of the season and going into the playoffs. The best version of this power play always consists of him in his spot; Hughes at the point; Pettersson on the right flank; Brock Boeser at either the net-front or bumper; and then I don’t think it really matters who the 4th forward is (ideally it’s Elias Lindholm).

The stupidest stat line I have ever seen

Shocker: The Canucks won this game.

3-2 was the final score, but the score doesn’t do the Canucks any favours. This was a seriously dominant performance?

Want proof?

Oh, I got proof, alright.

It’s basically routine for me to periodically check moneypuck.com during every Canucks game. It’s a tool I use mainly to see if the stats back up what I’m seeing, which isn’t always the case.

I knew the Canucks dominated this game and I was really hoping that the stats would back that up…

And this is was the first thing I saw when I clicked on the game’s metrics:

In case you don’t know: The Deserve To Win O’Meter is the site’s main attraction that essentially gathers different stats, puts them in 500 simulations, and the team that wins the majority of the simulations should probably win the actual game.

This isn’t always the case. Heck, the Canucks have deserved to win a lot of games this season, but you can’t win every game!

This, without question, is the most lopsided one I have ever seen. This was before the Canucks had even scored the empty net goal late in the third (also before Buffalo brought the game back within one).

The best part about this is that it’s not even the funniest stat from the game…

I don’t care if he didn’t win this game. Take a bow, Devon Levi.

I don’t think I have ever seen a team generate that many expected goals in a single game. It’s genuinely preposterous how the Canucks were able to generate chances at that magnitude.

I don’t know what this actually means for the rest of the season, but that’s stupidly funny, regardless.

So, yeah, it was a fun night in Vancouver yet again (there seems to have been a lot of those this season). The boys are set to face the Montreal Canadiens this Thursday, and I’ll be very disappointed with anything less than an absolute battering from Vancouver (I am not a big Habs guy).

Hopefully it’s another fun night at the Rog, but that might be too much to ask considering the fireworks that were on display Tuesday night.