Wednesday July 29 - Winnipeg Jets 4 - Vancouver Canucks 1
The Vancouver Canucks may have dropped their exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night, but a 4-1 loss as the 'road' team was so darn familiar, it was almost like we aren't in the middle of a global pandemic.
It's also almost like the game wasn't played at Rogers Place in Edmonton in a cavernous, mostly-empty arena. But here we are.
Going into the game, lineup decisions were at the forefront of the conversation — and Travis Green chose not to show his cards. He kept his practice lines out of the public sphere.
When game time rolled around, the big news was that Olli Juolevi was in as the seventh defenseman, while Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson joined the Black Aces as the spare forwards.
Up front, that meant Micheal Ferland played his first complete hockey game since December 7, when he was a minus-2 with two shots on goal and 8:50 of ice time in the Canucks' 6-5 overtime home win over the Buffalo Sabres.
On Wednesday, Ferland played 12:52, including 1:06 on the power play. He had one shot on goal, two hits, and a takeaway in his third-line role, and picked up a plus-one when Antoine Roussel broke Connor Hellebuyck's shutout bid with 7:47 left to play in the third period.
After the game, Travis Green said that he was happy with Ferland's play. He also liked what he saw from Juolevi, who played 6:37 and managed two shots on goal.
Green on Ferland and Juolevi: Ferly was good. Hasn't played for awhile but I liked his game. Seemed like his conditioning was up to par. Looked quick. I was really happy with Olli. Thought he did some really good things. Settled in, played well. #Canucks
I did see both Ferland and Juolevi gently run into guys during the course of the game. I think, at this point, everyone is still aware of the fact that it's been four and a half months since the last real NHL game — and even longer for these two. Juolevi was also on the injured list, in Utica, when hockey was paused. He played his last game on February 28.
Playing as the 13th forward, MacEwen finished the night with just 5:15 of ice time, no hits, and one shot on goal.
So, I expect MacEwen will join the scratches on Sunday for Game 1 against Minnesota, while Green ices the same Top 12, in the same combinations, as he did against the Jets.
Did the Canucks deserve a better fate against Winnipeg? Perhaps. But not only is Connor Hellebuyck an absolute machine against Vancouver, he's also tracking to potentially win his first Vezina Trophy this year. He's just a reaaaaaally good goalie, who did what he normally does against the Canucks — make some big saves early to frustrate the scorers and give his team a chance to capitalize on mistakes.
The Canucks did outshoot the Jets 12-8 in the first period and 38-34 overall. Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson showed flashes of their skill, but were stymied on some early chances.
“I liked a lot of our game, really liked our start, felt like we played that fast and aggressive game we want to play. We got away from it for 8 minutes in the 2nd period; then had a pretty good push in the 3rd. I felt like it was pretty good for an exhibition game.” -Coach Green
Nice to see Ferland right in there mucking around, too.
As for Juolevi — how high is his ceiling right now? We thought the 22-year-old was going to consider himself fortunate just to get in front of the Canucks' main coaching staff during this summer's training camp. Then, we thought he'd consider himself lucky to have made the cut for the Hub City roster. Yesterday, we were impressed that Green had tagged him to dress in the exhibition game.
Juolevi has played a bit of pre-season in past years, so Wednesday's game wasn't a milestone for him. But does he have a chance at supplanting Oscar Fantenberg on the third pairing against Minnesota on Sunday? I won't rule it out right now.
If Juolevi does play, it'll be his first NHL game, but it still won't break the goose-egg on his main stat line when he's listed with the rest of his 2016 draft class. For statistical purposes, the qualifying round games will count as playoff games.
Nevertheless, I'm rooting for him. While it's true that eight members of that 2016 draft class have already accumulated more than 100 regular-season points — including defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (9th overall) and sixth-round winger Jesper Bratt — there are also still 10 other first-rounders from that draft, in addition to Juolevi, who currently have less than 50 games played.
If Juolevi's really now ready to make the jump, he could climb those rankings quickly next season. Assuming there is a next season...
As for the Wild, all reports are that they played well in their 3-2 exhibition loss to the high-flying Colorado Avalanche earlier on Wednesday. Matt Dumba had a power-play goal and Eric Staal scored at even strength and the Wild outshot the Avs 34-29 in a penalty-filled affair that saw Minnesota go 1-for-8 on the power play, while Colorado was 1-for-5.
Just four total penalties in the Canucks/Jets game — two for each team. All the scoring came at even strength except for Blake Wheeler's empty-netter with 1:39 left in the third.
Now with three days to kill before the qualifiers start on Sunday, the Canucks are off on Thursday. I guess that'll mean more chill time in the bubble. If the players do want to take in some hockey, they have their own team lounge at Rogers Place where they'll have the opportunity to watch Dallas/Nashville at 1 p.m. PT and/or Arizona/Vegas at 7 p.m.
No games on the schedule on Friday, then the qualifying round begins on Saturday!