Boeser returns but Canucks come out flat in 5-2 loss to the Sabres
Tuesday October 19: Buffalo Sabres 5 - Vancouver Canucks 2
The Abbotsford Canucks head home from their season-opening road trip at .500 after erasing a 2-0 deficit to grab a point in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Ontario Reign on Tuesday night.
Abbotsford will also have a new No. 1 centre for its home opener on Friday. Local boy Nic Petan has cleared waivers after making room for Brock Boeser's return to the roster of the big club.
As for those big brothers, they now need to grab three out of the four points still up for grabs this week if they hope to match Abbotsford's pace. The Vancouver Canucks are now at three points in four games this season after dropping a 5-2 decision in Buffalo on Tuesday.
One bad minute undid the Canucks, who did manage to score first for the first time this season when Bo Horvat beat Craig Anderson at 5:56 of the first period.
With the score tied 2-2 after two, breakdowns led to a pair of Buffalo goals 23 seconds apart in the third, by Jeff Skinner and Tage Thomspon. That was basically the game.
With Buffalo off to an unexpected hot start, I expected the Sabres to put up a good fight — even though their rink looks like they're still operating at reduced capacity. Officially, the attendance on Tuesday was listed at just 7,376 — although I do wonder how much they've been impacted by the border closure. They typically have so many Canadian fans in the building that they sing both anthems for every home game, not just when a Canadian team is in town.
And the Canucks should have had some good energy. Their effort was strong in a losing cause in Detroit. They had a day off to relax and a day of practice before facing Buffalo. And they got Brock Boeser back into the lineup for the first time this season.
But after starting the year with three entertaining games, this one was a bit of a dud. Travis Green wasn't wrong when he said after the game that his group wasn't engaged.
Officially, they logged just 10 hits and 10 blocked shots in the game although, for all the focus on accurate data tracking, hits in particular remain a very nebulous stat in the NHL.
Vancouver was credited with 29 hits to start the year in Edmonton and 23 in Philly — then just five (!) in that very physical contest in Detroit on Saturday. Conor Garland didn't even get one for whatever-that-was against Filip Zadina...
Nevertheless, after a decent start, the Canucks' intensity quickly sagged in Buffalo. I've been playing around a bit on the Natural Stat Trick page. This Gameflow chart definitely matches my eye test from Tuesday!
The shot clock also showed Vancouver's lack of commitment, as the Sabres were the first opponent to crack the 40-shot plateau this season. Final shots were 43-34 for Buffalo — although with an average of 33.3 shots allowed per game so far this year, the Canucks are actually sitting a surprisingly respectable 21st in the league in that category so far.
Edmonton is leading the way with 40.3 shots against, which is probably a bad way to treat Mike Smith, who had to leave midway through their game on Tuesday with a potential injury.
For his part, Thatcher Demko now sits second in the league behind Andrei Vasilevskiy in total shots faced. But his .910 save percentage is still pretty decent as it looks like Vancouver still has some work to do on its overall defensive game. Tuesday night brought back some uncomfortable memories of last season.
Some of this is going to get hung on Brad Hunt and Luke Schenn, who made their season debuts.
After taking a maintenance day off practice on Monday, Quinn Hughes didn't dress on Tuesday — although Travis Green downplayed the issue during his postgame comments.
Schenn and Rathbone survived. They were on the ice for Justin Dowling's first goal as a Canuck, which put Vancouver up 2-1 in the second period, and Schenn got the primary assist as he threaded a shot through to the net.
They ended up even for the night in plus-minus, also on for Buffalo's quick-strike backbreaker by Tage Thompson. Looked like a bit of a fire drill defensively, didn't it?
As for Brad Hunt and Tyler Myers — they were on for the Sabres' three other 5-on-5 goals. I'll just say that the chemistry here is...questionable...and leave it at that.
But I will mention that Olli Juolevi has yet to get into his first game for Florida; two healthy scratches so far as the Panthers improved to 3-0-0 with a 4-1 win over the Lightning on Tuesday.
Back to the Canucks...
With Hughes out of the lineup, Oliver Ekman-Larsson took over as high-minute man at 25:56. His pairing with Tucker Poolman was effective, but he couldn't make much happen in Hughes' spot on PP1. For the second-straight game, the power-play failed to click — but on the bright side, the penalty kill didn't give up a goal for the first time this season. All the scoring on Tuesday came at even strength, including an empty-netter for Buffalo.
As for Boeser, he slotted onto the top line with Pettersson and Hoglander, and tied for the team lead with six shot attempts, although he didn't get onto the score sheet. Overall, it was a quiet night for that group.
But with J.T. Miller as their centre, Justin Dowling and Vasily Podkolzin made some noise. Dowling scored, and Podkolzin got into double-digits in ice time for the first time. He played 12:48, but they were the forward group that was on with Schenn and Rathbone on that Tage Thompson goal you saw above.
So if the Canucks weren't able to reverse the early momentum for the Sabres, will they be able to capitalize on the Chicago Blackhawks' disastrous start in their next game on Thursday?
After dropping a 4-1 decision to the New York Islanders in their home opener on Tuesday, the Blackhawks are now at 0-3-1, with a minus-nine goal differential that's third-worst in the league — behind only Montreal (-12) and Arizona (-10).
At minus-five, though, the Canucks aren't sitting too much higher above them. But while the Canucks' 3.5 goals against per game isn't great, Chicago is sitting at 4.25.
They're not defending well, they're not scoring much, and they haven't held a lead yet this season.
Does that set the table for the Canucks to rediscover their mojo and try to play out the last two games of this road trip on a high note? We'll find out Thursday. Game time is 5:30 p.m. PT.