It’s been three years since the Canucks last had a five-game winning streak. It came right around the same time in the season, too.
It was the 2016-17 season and the Canucks were struggling at the Christmas break. They were 14-18-3 and third-last in the Western Conference. For a team that was still refusing to admit they were rebuilding — they had just sent multiple young assets to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson in the off-season — it wasn’t ideal.
But then the Canucks came out of the Christmas break and went on a run, rattling off six-straight wins to climb into a playoff spot. It was heady times in Vancouver. Bo Horvat helped a kid get a weiner dog! He and Sven Baertschi were starting to look like the future of the Canucks’ offence! Ryan Miller was lights out in net! Nikita Tryamkin was really big!
Alas, it didn’t last. After that six-game win streak, the Canucks won just 10 of their next 41 games, with an 8-game losing streak to end the season that crashed them down the standings and earned them the fifth-overall pick at the 2017 draft. At the very least, they got one hell of a consolation prize: Elias Pettersson.
In many ways, that six-game streak was the last hurrah of a team that needed to bottom out to admit they needed to fully rebuild. At the trade deadline, the Canucks finally shipped off a couple veterans, trading away Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, albeit for prospects rather than draft picks, and the rebuild was on in earnest.
Fans can expect that this winning streak is indicative of the opposite: that this is a team on the rise, and that this is the first of many such winning streaks to come in 2020. Instead of the streak vaulting them to the edge of the playoffs, it has them all the way into second place in the Pacific. At the very least, they’re ending off the year and the decade in style.
I bid farewell to 2019 as I watched this game.
- The Canucks as a whole didn’t really defeat the Los Angeles Kings in their last game — Jacob Markstrom did, making a ridiculous 49 saves on 51 shots. You could tell the Canucks didn’t want a repeat of that performance, where they took over 10 minutes to record their first shot on goal, because they had a much stronger start against the Flame. Their start might not have been as good as Asafa Powell’s, but at least they left the blocks when the starter’s gun sounded this time.
- David Rittich, on the other hand, didn’t even know there was a race happening. “Big Save Dave,” as Flames fans call him, couldn’t even come up with the smallest of saves against the Canucks. Tyler Myers scored two softies early on, which was ultimately the difference in the game. I’d offer up an alternative nickname, but “Rickety Rittich” sounds way too mean.
- The opening goal came on an early power play, with the second unit going to work. Antoine Roussel, a relatively recent addition to the unit, won a board battle down low alongside Adam Gaudette, who moved the puck up to Jake Virtanen at the point. He relayed the puck to Myers, whose wrist shot Rittich never seemed to see, partly because his defenceman, T.J. Brodie, cut across his eyes right as Myers took the shot.
- Myers added another at even strength on an even softer wrist shot. Brock Boeser protected the puck brilliantly from Brodie, then found Myers at the point. There’s no excuses for Rittich on this one: Myers’ shot was unscreened and somehow ducked through Rittich’s legs like Nate Robinson.
- At the other end of the ice, Thatcher Demko got his first start since December 7th, and quickly laid to rest any concerns that he might be rusty after recovering from his concussion. At one point he even made an intentionally save with his mask, something he’s been known to do. It was a pretty good indication that he was feeling confident in his head health, if a little disconcerting.
- An undisciplined penalty by Matthew Tkachuk gave the Canucks another power play and the second unit got the start. It turned out to be a good move. First Virtanen rang a slap shot from the right faceoff circle off the post, then on a subsequent rush, Virtanen’s centring pass deflected in off Travis Hamonic’s stick for his 12th goal of the season.
- As much as it was a lucky bounce, it was also a brutal play by Rittich, who massively overplayed the initial pass with Tanner Pearson coming right up the middle. Even if it didn’t get deflected, Rittich would have left Pearson with a wide open net. Rittich was, quite understandably, pulled after Virtanen’s goal and replaced by Cam Talbot.
- Virtanen had a two-point night, giving him six points in his last seven games. He’s got a dozen goals, more than some of the biggest stars in the NHL, like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau. At 5-on-5, he’s putting up points at a rate second only to Elias Pettersson on the Canucks. And yet, it’s things like this flyby in the neutral zone that drive a coach batty.
- The Canucks were in a good defensive position until Virtanen swooped past Mark Jankowski, just hoping to pick off a pass for a home run play. It turned an innocuous rush into a dangerous 4-on-2 for the Flames. This isn’t to pick on Virtanen, but merely to give an example of why he doesn’t always get the opportunities that some think he should, given his offensive upside.
- You could tell this just wasn’t going to be Calgary’s night when their best chance of the first period, a breakaway for Michael Frolik off an awful Canucks line change, was nullified because Milan Lucic couldn’t get out of the zone fast enough to avoid the offside call. James Neal would have skated fast enough to get out of the zone
- Speaking of Lucic, the best moment of the game was easily when the frustrated Flames decided to get scrummy with the Canucks’ fourth line. Lucic went after Tim Schaller and got a little too aggressive, at which point Schaller audibly said, “Relax, buddy! Relax!” like Lucic was an over-excited schnauzer.
Tim Schaller is every beer leaguer who has to work in the morning pic.twitter.com/IjZSPcItRb
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion)
December 30, 2019
- The Flames got on the board on the 4-on-4 that resulted from the scrum, as Jay Beagle and T.J. Brodie got coincidental minors. Demko gave up a rare rebound on a Sean Monahan shot, and, like the Canucks at the 2015 draft, neither Quinn Hughes nor Myers picked up Rasmus Andersson.
- The Bo Horvat line played the matchup role against the Monahan line and had a strong game, combining to restore the three-goal lead in the third period. Loui Eriksson gained the zone and dropped the puck to Horvat, who sent a shot towards the net, looking for a tip. Instead, the puck landed on Tanner Pearson’s stick and he spun around and shot. Talbot, who somehow lost track of the puck and seemed to think Pearson had passed it, left half the net open for Pearson, which was more than he needed.
- Demko had a strong performance, but his save selection left something to be desired on the Flames’ second goal. He got turned around making the initial save off the rush and, instead of getting square to the puck, stretched his pad across the net with his back to the play, a technique goalie coaches call “oh god oh god help help help.” He tried to recover for Noah Hanifin’s shot from the high slot, but wound up in the “Marriage Proposal” pose, which is recommended for asking your significant other to make a lifelong commitment to you, but not so much for stopping a puck.
- That goal came with a minute left, closing the gap to two goals, but that’s as close as the Flames would come. With the Flames net empty, Alex Edler sent a dangerous pass into the middle in the defensive zone, but Horvat muscled it out of the zone, then dove out to spring Pearson on a breakaway. Pearson was blatantly hooked to the ice by Andersson, which would have been an automatic goal in lieu of a penalty shot, but Pearson scored from his knees anyway.
- That capped off a three-point night for Pearson, who has been streaky, but is one of the Canucks’ top scorers over the past couple months and is on-pace for 55 points this season. The Pearson for Gudbranson trade is a pretty nice feather in Jim Benning’s cap.
Bobby Ryan receives standing ovation after hat trick leads Senators to win – CBC.ca
Bobby Ryan had a hat trick in his first home game in more than three months to lead the Ottawa Senators to a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Ryan entered the joint NHL/NHLPA assistance program on Nov. 20 after admitting to having a problem with alcohol.
He had last played on Nov. 16 in Buffalo but had been skating on his own since late December.
Fans were quick to cheer Ryan on Thursday, giving him a standing ovation and chanting his name.
Bobby Ryan fighting back tears on the bench after recording a hat trick in his return to Ottawa and receiving a massive ovation from the fans <a href=”https://t.co/lpVpDSh7J1″>pic.twitter.com/lpVpDSh7J1</a>
Connor Brown and Rudolfs Balcers also scored as Ottawa (22-31-12) snapped a four-game winless streak. Marcus Hogberg was solid making 32 saves.
J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli scored for the Canucks (34-23-6), while Thatcher Demko stopped 21 shots.
Vancouver missed out on an opportunity to gain ground in the Pacific Division as they played game two of a four-game road trip (1-1-0).
Leading 2-1 to open the third, the Senators regained their two-goal lead just 14 seconds in as Ottawa won the opening faceoff to take control offensively.
Balcers scored when he picked up a Chris Tierney rebound. Brown hit the 40-point mark (14 goals and 26 assists) for the first time in his career with an assist on the play.
The Canucks made it a one-goal game again as Toffoli tipped Miller’s point shot midway through the period, but Ryan scored his second of the night with just over two minutes remaining and then added an empty-net goal to complete the hat trick.
There are no words for moments like these.<br><br>It’s great to have you back, Bobby! <a href=”https://t.co/JYdcMIpCuj”>pic.twitter.com/JYdcMIpCuj</a>
Hogberg was solid through the second period, but the Canucks finally found a way to beat him with 15 seconds remaining in the period to make it 2-1.
The Senators netminder had robbed Vancouver numerous times through the period, including a point blank save on Jay Beagle, but was unable to stop Miller’s point shot.
For the second straight game the Canucks gave up the first two goals as the Senators scored twice in a span of 31 seconds.
Brown opened the scoring as he took the puck at centre and came down and beat Demko with a wrist shot. Seconds later Ryan made it 2-0 with his first since the opening game of the season.
Notes: Ottawa’s Colin White and Anthony Duclair missed their second straight game due to injury. Vancouver’s Jordie Benn and Zack MacEwen were a healthy scratch.
All-female crew to work NHL game between Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames – The Globe and Mail
An all-female broadcast team will cover an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights on Sportsnet next week.
Play-by-play announcer Leah Hextall, game analyst Cassie Campbell-Pascall and reporter Christine Simpson will work the March 8 game in Calgary to cap the broadcaster’s week of programming recognizing International Women’s Day.
Sunday’s broadcast will be produced by a female production team live from Calgary, Toronto and Salmon Arm, B.C., including Rogers Hometown Hockey executive producer Alison Redmond, game producer Maria Skinner and director Dawn Landis.
Sportsnet’s campaign will also include features on female sports trailblazers including tennis star Billie Jean King, Toronto Raptors vice-president of basketball operations Teresa Resch and former WTA head Stacey Allaster.
“International Women’s Day is an opportunity to inspire young women and put a spotlight on what is possible, while encouraging continued conversation and action to overcome gender-based barriers for women in the workplace,” Redmond said in a release. “I’m proud to work with highly talented women, whose skill, experience and perspective allow us to deliver sports programming at its best.”
Powell’s pending return gives Raptors options in key March matchups – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – Going through a drill to get some shots up at one of the many hoops to be found at OVO Athletic Centre after practice Thursday, Norman Powell looked focus.
Launching threes from the left wing, Powell drilled three straight while catching the ball in rhythm. But when he switched to shooting off the dribble he finally missed and with it came an anguished “ahhh,” a familiar sound to anyone who’s been so convinced their shot was going to land only to see it rim out.
Regardless of the miss and show of frustration, it still had to feel good for Powell just to let the jumper fly.
Thursday marked the first time Powell was able to get into a full practice since fracturing the fourth metacarpal of his left hand, which has kept him out of action for all of February.
And now, nearly a full month since getting hurt, Powell could be back in the lineup as early as Friday’s matchup with the Charlotte Hornets at Scotabank Arena.
“Norm was practicing today, cleared to practice,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “Still be on the questionable list for tomorrow, but you can say there’s a chance.”
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Judging by Nurse’s tone, though he’s not closing the door on Powell returning Friday, it seems more feasible he returns during the upcoming west coast trip.
Nevertheless, for Powell to be back practicing now and close to a return, is rather fortuitous for the Raptors.
In the nine games Powell’s been out for, Toronto has gone 7-2, facing mostly weak competition in the span – and three matchups with the Indiana Pacers, of course. But the schedule will take a steeper turn here in the final quarter before the playoffs, with two more encounters with the Milwaukee Bucks, the two annual matchups with the Denver Nuggets and games with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers highlighting the pack.
Getting Powell back will be a major boon in time for those contests.
Powell’s been enjoying the best, most consistent season of his NBA career thus far, averaging 15.3 points per game on spectacular 49.8 per cent shooting from the field and 40.1 per cent from three-point range.
In particular, Powell’s return will provide an immediate offensive boost to Toronto’s bench. Powell leads the Raptors with a 13.7 scoring average off the bench and will figure to give a reserve unit a major lift with rookie Terence Davis the only guy from that group who’s proven to be a somewhat reliable scoring threat.
This is the second extended bit of time Powell’s missed this season. He first missed 11 games in mid-December running into January with a shoulder injury, and it’s looking like this finger injury is keeping him out of a similar number of games. This bad injury luck has marred what has been a stellar season for Powell, but instead of moping about it, he’s tried to find positives in it all.
“Honestly, I haven’t really looked at the injuries and these setbacks as something negative,” said Powell. “I see it as just an opportunity to get better in other ways. I think that just comes with the growth of my mental approach to the season and my play – through good games and bad games, whatever it is – just staying even-keeled and focused on what I’m trying to achieve and what the team is trying to achieve and not getting outside of that.”
This was a similar approach Powell’s teammate Matt Thomas took when he was sidelined for about six weeks with a finger injury of his own earlier this season and it’s come with it positive results.
“I couldn’t do a ton on the court with the ball, sort of like what Norm has been doing too – just stuff with your right hand,” said Thomas. “So I took it as an opportunity to try to improve on [the defensive] end of the floor.”
Thomas now has strung together a couple of pretty good outings starting with a 17-point performance against the Pacers as part of that 46-point blowout and then a nine-point showing against the Bucks with all of his damage coming in what was a memorable second quarter.
These are baby steps for the 25-year-old undrafted rookie, but important nonetheless for a player who’s still trying to carve out a role for himself.
“I said it when I first got here – I’m open to anything. I’m just here to help this team win,” Thomas said. “Whether I’m on the bench supporting and waving a towel and cheering guys on, or I’m on the court competing, and trying to knock down shots and defend. Whatever my role is that day, I’ll make sure I’m ready to contribute.”
Nurse was a little more effusive of Thomas’ role than Thomas himself, praising him for his preparedness, a sign that even when Powell returns there should still be minutes in there for Thomas more consistently than he was getting before.
“Shot prep’s pretty good. Other side of the ball, don’t really notice him being a big problem,” said Nurse of Thomas. “He plays great team defence, he plays hard, he’s not afraid to go up and challenge and pressure the ball and that’s what we’ve wanted him to do so he’s been good. They try to go at him a bit and I haven’t really noticed it being a big problem.”
Before figuring out the Thomas situation, however, it’s still more important for Nurse and the Raptors to get the Powell situation sorted out first – and Marc Gasol, whom Nurse said was doing “some light stuff at the beginning of practice” Thursday but still remains out.
Powell, when he’s on, is arguably the Raptors’ most potent offensive weapon. A microwave-like asset that can heat up at a moment’s notice and bury teams in the blink of an eye when he does.
That’s a pretty big piece of the Raptors puzzle that’s been missing for too long.
Bobby Ryan receives standing ovation after hat trick leads Senators to win – CBC.ca
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