Week eight in altered 2021 NHL season
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Pettersson suffered a concussion with Matheson receiving a two-game suspension. The Canucks did not retaliate against Matheson.
It is week eight of the revamped and condensed NHL season due to COVID-19. So far, the hockey has been enjoyable to watch at times. However, at other points, some of the games have made beer league hockey look more intriguing—but I digress.
At the time of writing this, the Canucks had played 24 games—with a record of 8-14-2—putting them in sixth place in the Scotia North division. It also reveals the Canucks’ lack of consistency as their record in the last 10 games is 2-6-2. The Canucks started the first month of the season one game above .500 with a record of six wins and five losses. At the start of February, the Canucks began to go into a tailspin—losing six straight games. They finally ended their losing streak, defeating Calgary at home by a score of 3 to 1 on February 13.
The Canucks have played better, but they continue to be very inconsistent—and two recent performances have become very worrisome for Canuck fans. The first was a February 21 home game against Winnipeg where the Canucks failed to hold a 2 to 0 lead, and later lost to the Jets in overtime by a score of 4 to 3. Pierre-Luc Dubois would score the winner just 27 seconds into the extra frame (second goal of the game). Then two nights later, the Canucks blew a 3 to 0 lead against the Edmonton Oilers—and lost by a score of 4 to 3. Canucks coach, Travis Green, was not pleased with his team’s effort and told the media in a post-game Zoom conference: “Very disappointing, very upsetting. We didn’t play good enough to win, flat out. Quite frankly, we had some individuals that didn’t play good enough tonight. I think they want to do the right thing. But there’s a couple—I’m not going to name names specifically—but there’s a couple of key plays that all of a sudden changes all the momentum of the game. And it doesn’t take much for a team (like the Oilers) that has the firepower with those players on their team to turn the tide quick. And you could feel it.”
Nonetheless, if the Canucks continue their inconsistent play they will have a difficult time making the playoffs. A 56 reduced game schedule because of the pandemic leaves no room for teams to go on prolonged losing streaks. So, the Canucks need to step up their game and play better.
On the positive side, rookie Nils Höglander has been a pleasant surprise. He is showing offensive upside, skill in playmaking abilities, as well as some grit as he does not mind going into the dirty areas to get pucks. In 24 games played, Höglander has three goals and six assists.
While moral victories are about as meaningful as winning a participation ribbon in elementary school, the Canucks have improved in other parts of their game—their ability to stand up for each other. Case in point was the Canucks’ recent home doubleheader against the Winnipeg Jets. In the first game on February 19, Canuck rookie Nils Höglander delivered a hit late in the third period to Jet forward, Derek Forbort, who did not like it—and complained to the referee that it was a headshot. Forbort was getting more agitated and wanted retribution. With a minute left, Forbort went after Höglander with a series of cross checks. Forbort then grabbed hold of Höglander with Canuck players immediately coming to his aid. A line brawl ensued, with players on top of each other that would have made non-socially-distanced partiers in Florida envious.
After the game, Forbort told the media during a Zoom conference about the Höglander hit: “He was just finishing his check, I was just kind of reaching for the puck. He just kind of caught me. It wasn’t like a dirty hit or anything, but I was just kinda pissed off and gave him a couple cross-checks.” “Kinda pissed off” would be an understatement as Forbort’s use of his stick in cross checking Höglander would have made Paul Bunyan jealous.
Although fighting in the NHL has decreased over the past decade, intimidation in the game has not. The Canucks have been criticized previously for not standing up for players who were the recipient of dirty hits. The most recent example was in October 2018 when star Elias Pettersson was slammed to the ice by then Florida Panthers defenceman, Mike Matheson. Pettersson suffered a concussion with Matheson receiving a two-game suspension. The Canucks did not retaliate against Matheson, and this ignited fury with Canuck fans on social media and call-in radio shows.
On February 21, the second game between the Canucks and Jets, Canuck forward Zack MacEwen fought Forbort as a response to him taking liberties on Höglander. It was a one-sided scrap with MacEwen stunning Forbort with a left hook in the beginning. MacEwen proceeded to land several punches before Forbort dropped to his knees. Both teams tapped their sticks against the boards to salute both fighters. Cameras then captured Höglander with a big smile on his face. It was a smile as big as the smiles on the faces of some US citizens after finding out that Donald Trump had lost the election.
Finally, the onset into March will show what the Canucks are made of. They still have time to improve and get their game together. But if they continue to spiral and lose hockey games at such inopportune times, especially failing to hold on to two and three goal leads, then they do not deserve a spot in the post season. The Canucks instead would be most deserving of a spot on the first hole teeing off at Fraserview Golf Course.