The Sunday Crease: Pettersson’s magical debut, Gagner and the Season of Youth

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If you want to describe the Vancouver Canucks first two games of the 2018-19 season, you really only need two words.

Elias. Pettersson.

It was only fitting that Elias would be the one to score Vancouver’s first goal of the new season, for his first NHL goal on his first shot in his first game. But no one knew what was going to happen next.

In the Canucks’ two games against the Flames, Pettersson put up three goals and two assists, just one point shy of the seven he got in five preseason games and putting him in a five-way tie for the most points in the NHL. Sure, it might be way too early to start watching the points leaderboard, but the names around him like Jonathan Toews and Jamie Benn are no slouches either.

But as much as I’d love to turn this into a “Pettersson Appreciation Post”, that’d be unfair to a number of Canucks who made their presence known this week. Brendan Leipsic and Tyler Motte made the most of their depth roles and each notched a goal on Wednesday, Pettersson’s linemate Nikolay Goldobin has been a perfect fit on the wing and already has three points of his own and Jake Virtanen scored on a brilliant breakaway chance after working his way past a Flames defenseman to get it.

All these players represent a bigger positive to take out of their first week; the younger Canucks are not only succeeding, but playing an exciting up-tempo brand of hockey that Vancouver hasn’t seen since that fateful year of 2011. They might not be able to match the skill of the team that went to the Cup Final, but they might be able to match the intensity and entertainment value regardless of the results.

Blowing a 4-3 lead in the third period to the Flames last night at the Saddledome was disheartening, but I didn’t feel the same dull pain that took over my soul last season. I felt hopeful, that this Canucks core is getting closer to becoming a real threat in the Western Conference. This season is clearly going to be a year of learning and teaching in Vancouver, and if Travis Green and Co. can keep getting through to the kids in the lineup, a playoff berth might be closer on the horizon than any of us think.

If the next 80 games are anything like these first two, we’re in for one fun season.

A Brock and a Hard Place

When it comes to a superstar like Brock Boeser, being held scoreless in two games is not cause to hit the panic button. But the fact that he has no points isn’t the worrying part; it’s the way he’s been left off the scoresheet that’s concerning.

Last season firing at will was Brock’s bread and butter, but in the pair of matches against Calgary he seemed a little tentative to pull the trigger. There’s been a lot of theories thrown around online, such as Boeser’s wrist not being 100% yet, that he’s still getting accustomed to his new muscle or that his back injury putting the fear of God into him.

Most likely, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. A growing body and a nightmarish injury are sure to make a player second-guess himself, and during a camera shot of Boeser sitting in the penalty box on Saturday, I noticed his right wrist was entirely taped up too (I’d put up a photo if I knew how to get screen grabs from NHL TV).

If his wrist is still that hurt, it’d be in the Canucks best interest to hold him out of the lineup until it heals completely, and the long Eastern road trip ahead is arguably the best time to do it. As for the other two issues, it’ll simply be a bump in the road. Boeser is a great player capable of great things, and I have no doubt that he’ll be back to his old self in no time.

Gone-gner

The Sam Gagner era came to a pretty unceremonious end on Monday after the team decided to waive him on Monday and loan him out to the Toronto Marlies. I talked about Gagner’s struggles in Vancouver briefly last week, but I still assumed he had a spot in the lineup.

The Gagner demotion is a major change in mindset for Jim Benning, who’s frankly never been able to cut his losses on struggling high-paid veterans he’s signed or acquired. There’s a reason the Benning era is littered with contracts handed out to the likes of Loui Eriksson, Luca Sbisa and Erik Gudbranson, or why free agency is always the busiest day of the year in the Vancouver war room.

But now the team has cut Gagner, a player with two years remaining on his contract who simply never fit a role on Travis Green’s Canucks last season. The decision not only means that Benning is willing to take the ‘L’ on signings that don’t work, but also that the team wasn’t kidding when they said they’d make room for prospects who outplay their older counterparts. Because of this move the team was able to keep Tyler Motte, who played his heart out in the preseason and undoubtedly earned his place on the opening night roster.

If this is truly the route the Canucks plan on taking for the foreseeable future, it’s a welcome change of pace. Hopefully as players like Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen start to excel at the AHL level, Benning & Co. will continue to reward them for their hard work sooner rather than later.

Around the Rinks

  • Right before the regular season started, Capitals forward and repeat offender Tom Wilson was handed a 20-game suspension for his hit to the head on the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist during the preseason. In the past the NHL Department of Player Safety has been really lax on suspensions for these types of hits, so it’s great to see them throw the book at a player like Wilson, who does it far too often to be any sort of accident. The best part of this suspension might be the fact that Wilson has to give up his entire year’s salary thanks to his own recklessness.
  • The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are celebrating their 25th anniversary this season, and The Athletic recently published an oral history on the team’s founding that’s worth a read if you like hockey history or anything relating to Disney (unless you hate Michael Eisner). If there’s one thing I got out of this article, it’s that the Ducks really need to bring back that kick-ass Mighty Ducks logo, and not just on a gorgeous anniversary sweater either.
  • I know a lot of Canucks Nation members are thrilled to see the Maple Leafs get off to a shaky start, but as someone who’s also a fan of good hockey I’m just disappointed. When you’ve got a core that features Auston Matthews and John Tavares, you shouldn’t need OT to finish off a rebuilding Canadiens squad, and you definitely shouldn’t lose to the dumpster fire that is the Senators. As I write this the Leafs are up 5-4 on the Blackhawks, so for the sake of the game let’s hope this is just a cold start for Mike Babcock’s crew.

LITC Update: A Season Like No Other

Ever since I started this website back in 2016, my goal has always been to try and jumpstart a hockey writing career and, hopefully, one day get the opportunity to cover the Canucks and/or the NHL for a living. I may still have a long way to go before I get there, but thanks to my editors at Fear the Fin I was able to get one big step closer to that dream this week.

On Friday night, I got to sit in the press box at the SAP Center in San Jose and cover my first American Hockey League game, as the San Jose Barracuda opened their season against the Ontario Reign. Not only did I get to use the exact same facilities that NHL beat writers and scouts use when the Sharks are in town, but I also got the chance to interview members of the Barracuda like head coach Roy Sommer, winger Francis Perron and recent Shark call-up Dylan Gambrell.

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My pre-game view from the press box. Photo by Lach in the Crease.

The experience of covering a pro hockey game for the very first time was everything I dreamed of and more, and I’m so thankful that FTF gave me the opportunity to do it. I definitely plan on going as many times as they’ll let me this season, so if you want to keep on top of the prospects in the Canucks’ rival systems make sure to follow my work on FTF.

As the season gets underway, I’m interested to hear your suggestions and requests when it comes to content in 2018-19. My goal is to try and write some extra feature stories along with the weekly Crease, something I wasn’t really able to do last season. So if there’s a particular topic you want me to cover, feel free to email me, message me on Twitter or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of Elias Pettersson content to go around this season.


Thanks for reading! What did you like/dislike about the Canucks’ first two games of the regular season? Leave a comment below!

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