The first week of NHL action could’ve gone better for the Vancouver Canucks. The week started with the Canucks losing a few players due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and finished with a 1-2-0 record.
They started the season with a win over the Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks won, 5-3 in Braden Holtby’s first start with the club on Wednesday night. Brock Boeser scored twice, while rookie Nils Holgander scored his first NHL goal. Captain Bo Horvat and Adam Gaudette also scored in the season opener. Holtby made 28 saves in his first win with Vancouver.
The Canucks played the Oilers once again on the back end of a back-to-back on Thursday night. The results were different, as Connor McDavid’s hattrick led the Oilers to a 5-2 win. Thatcher Demko struggled in his first start since Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, while Nate Schmidt scored his first goal as a Canuck.
Saturday night, the Canucks suffered a loss to a few familiar faces as Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Josh Lievo signed with the Calgary Flames this past offseason. Canucks struggled to score against their regular season MVP from last season and lost 3-0.
COVID-19 Protocol and Miller’s Return
The Canucks had a rough start to the first week of the regular season. They started the season without forward J.T. Miller and defenceman Jordie Benn.
The two were out of the lineup in the first three games because Benn may have had a false positive COVID-19 test, and Miller, who is staying in the defenceman’s basement suite, was a close contact. Miller was expected to be out of the lineup for most of the Alberta road trip. After being cleared by health officials and the league, the forward took a private jet to re-join the team.
The Canucks have felt Miller’s absence on 5-on-5 and the power play. Although Elias Pettersson and Boeser had a great start on the top line against the Oilers in the season opener, they struggled to produce in the other two games. Head coach Travis Green could not find another player to fit in with the two and get them going. Green shuffled Hoglander, Jake Virtanen and Gaudette on the top line but wasn’t successful. Miller’s return reunites the Lotto Line and should give the Canucks the jolt they need against the Flames on Monday.
Special Team Struggles
The Canucks have struggled on the power play without Miller as well. The Canucks have been unable to score on 11 power play opportunities to start the season. Last season, they were tied for the second-most goals on the man advantage, with 57 and scored on 27.2% of their opportunities.
Miller’s absence plays a factor in their power play struggles, as he tied Quinn Hughes for the team lead in points on the man advantage with 25 last season. His nine power play goals were second, behind Horvat’s 12. His return should give the first unit the boost it needs as well.
The Canucks also struggled on the penalty kill in their first three games, as they have allowed five goals on 11 power play opportunities. They have the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL to start the 2020-21 season. Unlike the power play, this will take time to improve, especially with the departure of Tanev, the club’s top penalty killer.
Boeser’s Rookie Season Shot
Last season, Boeser had a tough time scoring as he finished with a career-low 16 goals and a 9.5 shooting percentage (S%) in 57 games. His two goals in the season opener were a welcomed site for Canucks’ fans. Boeser’s first goal came on a pass from Hughes, who was on his butt, to give the Canucks a 4-2 lead. His next goal came off a great passing play from Hughes and Pettersson to extend the lead to 5-3.
Boeser’s shot seems as it has returned to the way it was earlier in his career. The forward scored a career-high 29 goals in his rookie season, with a 16.2 S%.
“I’m feeling confident and I feel like my shot’s back where it was in my first year… when I shoot I think it fuels my game and it gives me confidence.”Boeser said about his shot.
Hoglander’s First Week
All eyes were on Hoglander throughout training camp as he started on the second line with Horvat and Tanner Pearson. In his first game, the rookie impressed as he scored his first goal and showed confidence in his skills throughout the game. He’s been useful on the second line, which usually matches up against the opposition’s top line. Hoglander has a 53.33 Corsi For % (CF%) to start the season. If the 2019 second-round pick continues to play well for the remainder of the season, he can be the fourth Canucks’ prospect in a row nominated for the Calder Trophy.
The Canucks decided to move on from Markstrom in free agency after being unable to agree to a contract extension with the goaltender. He signed with the division rivals in Calgary, while the Canucks signed Holtby on a cheaper and shorter deal.
In his first game against his former team, Markstrom was impressive. Markstrom had a 32 save shutout against the Canucks, a bounce-back game from his previous performance against the Winnipeg Jets. The Swedish goaltender allowed four goals on 34 shots, finishing with a .882 save percentage (SV%). The Canucks play the Flames once again on Monday night and hope for better results against their former netminder.
Canucks Return Home
The Canucks wrap up their four-game road trip in Alberta against the Flames on Monday. They return home to start a six-game homestand, with three games against the Montreal Canadiens. The Canucks are hoping for a better result this week. Miller’s return could help them in that regard by providing a boost to the top line and the first power-play unit.
- Brock Boeser – 2 goals
- Quinn Hughes – 3 assists
- Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson & Travis Hamonic – 2 points each
- January 18 – at Calgary Flames
- January 20 – vs Montreal Canadiens
- January 21 – vs Montreal Canadiens
- January 23 – vs Montreal Canadiens
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.