The Vancouver Canucks are playing very fine hockey to start the 2023-24 season.
Again that was on display Saturday night at Rogers Arena, even if they lost 4-3 in overtime to the New York Rangers.
They played solid hockey at even strength, only undone by some trouble on the penalty kill.
And there was an egregious missed call on the game’s final play as Elias Pettersson was blatantly tripped as he drove to the net in overtime, but neither referee blew their whistles.
Instead the Rangers raced away on a three-on-one, with Chris Kreider setting up K’Andre Miller for the winning goal.
After the game Canucks head coach was careful with his reaction, even if you knew he wasn’t happy with how the game finished.
“That’s one of those bang-bang plays. I guess that’s how the ref saw it,” Tocchet said after the game. But you knew he was burning inside.
Still, he spoke of an exchange he once had with former NHL referee Don Koharski about how hard it is the ref in the NHL.
“I remember when I was working for TNT and I was talking to Don Koharski, and I said ‘I can ref in this league.’ I can’t. It’s a hard job. You know, I played 18 years in the NHL. I think I know hockey and it’s tough. It’s tough out there, you know. The bang-bang plays. These guys are working their asses off, the refs, I get it. They’re going to make mistakes, just like we make, like I made mistakes as a player,” he said.
J.T. Miller looked at the bigger picture, implying that maybe they shouldn’t have been in overtime in the first place if they’d gotten their details down better earlier in the game.
“It’s not even about the ending. It’s a long season. It was a penalty-driven game and they executed a little better on their special teams than we did,” he said.
The Canucks got goals from Miller — tipping a Filip Hronek point shot on the power play — a short-handed tally by Tyler Myers, which sent the Rogers Arena faithful into a frenzy, and Carson Soucy in the third period, capping a wild back and forth third period.
Ups and downs
It’s becoming clear the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks are a calmly competent five-on-five squad.
This team is night and day under coach Rick Tocchet compared to Bruce Boudreau.
They defend well. They can carry the puck up the ice with control.
These are — to borrow from Tocchet — the staples of their game.
At least at even strength.
On special teams, it’s a different game.
The New York Rangers came into the game scoring 30.4 per cent. That’s red hot.
Saturday’s game was the second game in back-to-back nights for the Canucks, the first time this year they’ve faced this physical challenge.
But other than looking a little sluggish for the first 10 minutes or so, the Canucks did just fine at even-strength.
A pair of five-on-threes undermined their five-on-five efforts though.
You’re going to lose games — it’s just difficult to take when those losses happened because of your mistakes.
And even worse when it’s bad work by the referees.
Nashville Predators vs. Vancouver Canucks
7 p.m., B.C. Place, TV: TSN, Radio: AM730
Myers’ scoring swagger
Rumour has it that Myers deserves to be given a go in the shootout.
With the way he buried his surprise shorthanded 2-on-1 over the shoulder of Rangers goalie Ilya Shesterkin, you can see why.
It was a powerful, quick strike that the Russian star goalie had no chance on.
Saturday Night DeSmith
Three Saturdays in a row Casey DeSmith has played in goal for the Canucks and he’s been solid each time out.
He gives up a lot of rebounds, but they’re very well controlled. Rarely does he face an immediate followup chance.
And in front of him the Canucks have done an excellent job keeping most shooters to the outside, on top of preventing cross-slot passes.
The Rangers’ first-period goal came on a five-on-three, which only happened because Filip Hronek was careless in clearing the puck. He had time to make a safe play, but instead rushed the puck and his effort sailed over the glass.
Hard to defend against a power play that’s shooting 30.3 per cent before the game when you’re down to three defenders.
Line change details
The Rangers’ third-period five on three came on a similar moment of carelessness, where the Canucks were very, very sloppy on a line change and got dinged with a penalty for too-many-players on the ice.
The Rangers made the Canucks pay.
Recommended from Editorial
Canucks: The renaissance of Brock Boeser
Rick Tocchet’s Coyotes were good. His Canucks could be better.
Bookmark our website and support our journalism: Don’t miss the news you need to know — add VancouverSun.com and TheProvince.com to your bookmarks and sign up for our newsletters here.
You can also support our journalism by becoming a digital subscriber: For just $14 a month, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.