You knew it was going to happen eventually.
The way Elias Pettersson was dangling through opponents, it was a matter of time before a hard-nosed defenceman decided that he’d had enough. In this particular game, it was Florida Panthers rearguard Mike Matheson who didn’t like being embarrassed by the Canucks rookie and decided to execute a UFC-style move.
The play wasn’t penalized, but make no mistake: this was a targeted attempt to injure an opposing player. The initial hit isn’t to the head or from behind, no, but the way Matheson uses his stick to open up Pettersson and the way he throws him down after is not a hockey play, it’s a blatant attempt to injure.
And, of course, because this is Vancouver, the hit ignited a ton of talk about potential retribution on Matheson.
Last year, Brock Boeser was the victim of a cheapshot by Trevor Lewis and turned the ensuing power play into a Canucks goal.
When the Canucks opted to re-sign Erik Gudbranson, it was done in part to protect the Canucks’ talented youngsters from exactly what Pettersson endured. The same mantra was toted this July when the Canucks inked Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Tim Schaller.
And yes, of course, winning should be more important than getting retribution, as coach Travis Green said in the aftermath of the win. But a team more concerned about winning hockey games than sending messages or protecting its players wouldn’t have gone out and spent good dollars on spare parts like the Canucks did this summer.
The fact that those players didn’t answer the bell during the exact situation they were brought in for shows that, one, it’s not smart to construct a roster with those ideals in mind; and that general manager Jim Benning failed in his stated goal by getting the wrong guys for the job anyway.
If it seems like we’re being overtly negative after a game the Canucks won, that’s fair. But there are some serious problems with how the team is being constructed and it’s hard to trust the current management to build a team around the young stars being compiled.
Here are a couple other things we saw during Vancouver’s 3-2 win over Florida.
Three that impressed
1. Jake Virtanen
The Canucks’ defacto third line of Virtanen with Brandon Sutter and someone else (which changed throughout the game as the Canucks tried different combinations all over the lineup) looked lively. In particular, a Virtanen pass to spring Antoine Roussel on a breakaway (that would lead to a Roussel penalty shot goal) is exactly what the Canucks need out of Virtanen.
There was no #ShotgunJake last night (the trend of shotgunning a beer whenever Virtanen scores a goal), but there were moments to feel good about the young forward’s progression.
2. Elias Pettersson
The Canucks have an incredibly dangerous power play, mostly because Pettersson can do things like this.
We’re all holding our breath and hoping that the Golden Boy can return soon (though not too soon) from what appears to be a head injury.
3. Sven Baertschi
Another two points for Baertschi as he found himself on the top line when the game really mattered. Bo Horvat’s game winning goal was the result of a beautiful Baertschi pass.
Three that didn’t
1. Mike Matheson
Honestly, we were going to put him here even before he throttled Pettersson. He spent the game being turnstiled by Vancouver forwards and taking bad penalties. He’ll get a call from the NHL for his “play” on Pettersson, though it’s tough to see it being anything more than a slap on the wrist given that it went unpenalized and Matheson doesn’t have a history with supplemental discipline.
2. The home crowd
There were plenty of empty seats at the BB&T Center, particularly in the lower bowl. For a Saturday night (not to mention it was the second home game of the year for the Panthers), it wasn’t an encouraging development for hockey in South Florida.
3. James Reimer
Hard to blame the Panthers’ tender for the Pettersson goal, or the Horvat tally. But he was giving up rebounds all over the place and almost gifted Nikolay Goldobin a goal by misplaying the puck. In a game the Panthers celebrated the Roberto Luongo's 1000th game (though he hit the milestone last year, the goaltender insisted the celebration was moved to early this year and not during the team’s playoff run), Florida probably wished it had the veteran ‘tender in the pipes. Out with a knee sprain, Luongo was his usual classy self in the lead up to the game and during the pregame festivities.
- Antoine Roussel had an up-and-down game, including two penalties, a demotion off the top line and the aforementioned penalty shot goal. The best part of his debut as a Canuck? Trolling Vincent Trocheck by imitating his goal celebration when the Frenchman got his own tally.
- Jay Beagle reportedly broke his hand after blocking a shot late in the game. Though the returns on Beagle have been mixed, he has eaten up a sizeable portion of the team’s penalty killing minutes. Adam Gaudette will be called up from Utica to replace Beagle.
- It’s a somewhat promising sign that the Canucks didn’t call up someone to replace Pettersson as well, but consensus is that he’ll be out for Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the very least.
“Really good. Great team win, proud of our group.” – Travis Green on his team’s effort
“It’s a dirty play. The league’s trying to protect the good young players and that’s just a dirty play.” – Green on the Matheson hit
“Vancouver came in here and played a patient road game. I didn’t think we gave them a heck of a lot in the first 40 minutes.” – Panthers coach Bob Boughner