The shots will say 27-24 in favour of the Vancouver Canucks, who were starting a junior goalie in his first professional game. But make no mistake, that didn’t reflect the actual nature of the contest. No, in a game that featured rookie goaltender Michael DiPietro making his first NHL start, the narrative will be that he was repeatedly left out to dry by the team’s lacklustre defence.
That’s not to say that DiPietro played exceptionally well (more on him later) but the play in front of him was especially porous. The Sharks took a 3-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game and despite Elias Pettersson’s best efforts to will the club back into the match, it was all but over then.
The Sharks have been rolling lately and this had to serve as something of a wakeup call to a Canucks club that was still likely feeling the high of Saturday’s win over the Calgary Flames. A 7-2 loss tends to bring one back to earth.
Here’s what else we saw in the Canucks’ 7-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
Three that impressed
1. Evander Kane
The Vancouver native imposed his will on the Canucks tonight, rolling into the opposition zone with speed and using his puckhandlign skills to confound Vancouver’s defence. He scored twice and was a plus-3 in over 18 minutes of ice time. He also antagonized the Canucks, beating up on Hutton in a scrum and drawing Erik Gudbranson into a useless slashing penalty.
2. Zack MacEwen
The other Canucks rookie playing in his first NHL game, MacEwen took awhile to get going but when the third period rolled around, he looked good. The Charlottetown, P.E.I. native fed Pouliot very nicely for his first career NHL assist on the Canucks’ second tally. He also used his 6’4 frame and considerable speed on the forecheck. It sounds like Canucks fans may see more of MacEwen, as Brandon Sutter is on the IR with a groin injury. Coach Travis Green said it’ll be "a little while" until the veteran centre gets back into the lineup.
3. The Canucks crowd
No booing in a 7-2 game was a weird thing to see at Rogers Arena, but the crowd had a lot of support for DiPietro, who they saw do his thing earlier this year at the World Juniors. They cheered whenever the rookie made a save and gave him a standing ovation at the end of the game.
Three that didn’t
1. Erik Gudbranson
Yikes. Another really messy game for the much-maligned defenceman and at this point, one really has to wonder how long Green is going to keep trotting him out there. He and Tanev have been a disaster together. Could Guillaume Brisebois really not be more competent out there? Gudbranson gave up the puck on the Sharks first goal and he was routinely taken advantage of throughout the game.
2. Nikolay Goldobin
A costly turnover on a Sharks goal meant Goldy saw some time on the bench. He did get a secondary assist on Pouliot’s goal, but the turnover was exactly the type of play Green has been trying to banish from his game. It was hard to see from a player that the Canucks need in the lineup. He won’t stay in it if he makes plays like that.
3. Jim Benning
So, you trot a junior goaltender out against one of the best teams in the league in his first NHL game with a messy defence corps in front of him? The general manager deserves the heat for this, not DiPietro, who battled but clearly wasn’t yet ready for this. Not having another goaltender on the roster in case of injury was puzzling. And though Green hinted that the Canucks were on the lookout to grab one, DiPietro doesn't get another first NHL game. Little too late, Jim.
- Not many Canucks can say their stock went up after this one, but Markstrom sure can. He’s kept the team going even with the aforementioned poor defensive play and has made a case to be the team’s most valuable player (even if it’s a hard one to make against Elias Pettersson). Green called Markstrom “day to day”, but you have to think he’ll be in the pipes against Anaheim on Wednesday.
- With his assist tonight, Joe Thornton passed Gordie Howe and moved into ninth place on the all-time list. He also tied former Shark Teemu Selanne for 15th place on the all-time NHL points list. It’s been a phenomenal career for Jumbo Joe, and his point tonight was a classic one. Breaking in on a 2-on-1 he feathered a pass across to Kevin Labanc, who made no mistake.
- Speaking of great passes, Canucks super rookie Elias Pettersson had one for the ages.
This was vintage Pettersson, as he looks off Brent Burns and fires a rocket to a wide open Bo Horvat. Even Petterson couldn’t will the Canucks back into this one, though.
- Jay Beagle was given the alternate captain designation tonight as both Sutter and Alex Edler were out of the lineup. What has he done to earn that, other than be one of the older player on the roster, you ask? We, uh, are not sure.
- The Canucks play the Sharks again soon (Saturday) and one has to think Vancouver will be ready for it. The Sharks will likely get Erik Karlsson back for that contest though, so it could be another tough one.
“You kinda feel bad for the guy. We’ve kinda been on a roll. Tough position to put the young goalie in. But we needed the 2 pts. I just feel bad for him.” – Thornton on DiPietro
“Getting rewarded with an assist late in the game is definitely a bit of a relief, especially for my family to see that, it’s a great feeling.” – MacEwen on a bittersweet game
“Not the result you wanted, but good to get the first one under my belt and hopefully as it goes on, get more and more comfortable and keep improving on my game.” – DiPietro reflecting on his first NHL game
“Marky came in, had a strain, felt like if we played him tonight it would risk a longer injury that I didn’t want it to turn into and he’s the backup, so we had to play Mikey.” – Green on his decision to play DiPietro