Boeser undergoes hand surgery, Mikheyev hurt in Canucks' preseason opener
Sunday, September 25:
Calgary Flames 3, Vancouver Canucks 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4 - Vancouver Canucks 0
The Vancouver Canucks kicked off their preseason on Sunday with a pair of games against the Calgary Flames.
They came out on the wrong end of the score in both matches, but it was good to be back at the rink and see some live game action.
And while the announced attendance of 17,598 at Rogers Arena would suggest that quite a few paid seats went unfilled, the fans that were on hand made themselves heard despite a game that didn't have too many high points. They even kicked up a "Bruce, there it is" chant after Conor Garland's tying goal late in the third period.
Not surprisingly, the club's stretch of perfect health has now come to an end. Ilya Mikheyev started the game on a line with Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko, but left early in the second period after taking a hard hit along the boards from Calgary's Nicolas Meloche.
After the game, Bruce Boudreau said he didn't have an update on Mikheyev. In his three seasons with Toronto, he had two fairly serious upper-body injuries, missing 31 games following wrist surgery in 2019-20 and 29 games due to a broken thumb last year.
And it's too bad he didn't get to play the full game. The referees were busy, so he could have gotten some significant penalty-killing reps. As it turned out, in his 7:31 of ice time, he played 2:41 on the power play, 1:20 on the penalty kill and 3:30 at even strength.
Even without Mikheyev, Vancouver's penalty killers did well. They killed off seven man advantages for Calgary before Michael Stone, of all people, burned them on a 4-on-3 in overtime, after Vasily Podkolzin was whistled for a weak tripping infraction.
Farmhand Vincent Arseneau probably didn't do himself any favours, taking three minors. But after Milan Lucic turned him down for a second-period fight, he delivered one of the game's more entertaining moments when he went toe-to-toe with Calgary's 6'8" prospect Adam Klapka at centre ice in the third.
As you'd expect in a split-squad situation, the Flames roster was made up primarily of players who will land in the AHL this season.
In that respect, it was disappointing not to see the more talented Vancouver roster take control of the game, but Bruce Boudreau had an interesting take on why the game unfolded as it did.
"Usually the visiting team — at least, early — always comes out harder because it's usually the American League players," he said. "I thought competitively, we were fine and I thought we got stronger in the third, like we always do. The first always seems to be our weakest period — since I've been here, anyway. We got better and better and I think we would have gotten better still, if we had stayed out of the box."
The scoresheet certainly reflects that line of thinking. Ben Jones was a seventh-round draft pick by Vegas in 2017 and played his only two NHL games for the Golden Knights last season. Mitch McLain is an undrafted 28-year-old career minor leaguer. Each had a goal and an assist in regulation time, with McLain's tally opening the scoring after he created an outnumbered situation while dashing out of the penalty box and bearing down on Spencer Martin midway through the first period.
All told, Vancouver was outshot 45-28 in the game. But as Boudreau said, possession evened out somewhat as the game wore on. Shots were 13-7 in the first period, 12-9 in the second and 14-12 in the third. Calgary outshot Vancouver 6-0 in overtime but played a good portion of the frame with a man advantage as they maintained possession of the puck after Podkolzin was initially tagged for his penalty.
Among the forwards, Conor Garland was named the game's first star with a goal and an assist. Despite starting training camp on the left side, he was mostly back on the right on Sunday, while still skating with Bo Horvat and Vasily Podkolzin.
Podkolzin was the other goal scorer, finishing off an exciting rush play at 8:07 of the third period.
I also really liked Pettersson's game. He was carrying the puck well and making sharp plays — most notably the cross-ice pass that set up Garland's tying goal with Arturs Silovs on the bench for the extra attacker.
Nice puck movement all round, leading up to that goal. Andrei Kuzmenko drew the second assist.
Speaking of Silovs, I thought he looked sharp in his one period of work — only surrendering the overtime game winner. Spencer Martin allowed two goals on 25 shots through 40 minutes, but I don't think this result changes anything in terms of the goaltending depth chart. Boudreau called Martin's outing "fine" after the game. And at 21, Silovs' priority this season is to get lots of game reps after two vagabond seasons where he had trouble finding starts.
I think he has a ton of potential, and I'm hoping he plays big minutes in Abbotsford this year.
As for blue-line spots, Jack Rathbone earned significant points in his roster-spot battle on Sunday. His 25:45 of ice time led all Canucks players and he logged a ton of special-teams time on both the power play and the penalty kill. After the game, Boudreau said he thought Rathbone got better as the game went on, and praised his vision on the power play. He was muted when talking about Tyler Myers and Danny DeKeyser, saying he thought they "weren't great" together. But he softened that assessment by praising DeKeyser's NHL size and suggesting that the veteran blueliner was probably a bit nervous, coming into a new setting for the first time, and on a PTO.
While I was at the game, I also tried to keep an eye on the live stream from Calgary. But given the Canucks' lack of offensive production, that game didn't exactly hold my attention.
Collin Delia and Michael DiPietro split the goaltending duties at the Saddledome, with Delia giving up three goals on 24 shots, including two on the power play. All told, three of Calgary's goals came with the man advantage, so Vancouver's PK struggled on that side, with a number of different players getting burned.
Vancouver's ice-time leader in Calgary was Travis Dermott, at 22:49. Up front, Curtis Lazar was the top minute-man, at 19:13.
It does look like the plan to use both Lazar and Jason Dickinson to take opposite-side draws on the same line is showing early dividends. Lazar was 8-for-10 in the circle, while Dickinson was 9-for-11. Calgary's regular top-two centremen were beaten badly — but it is early in preseason, so their effort levels may not have been 100%. Elias Lindholm was 2-for-11 on draws, while Mikael Backlund was 4-for-15.
Despite that, Backlund was named the game's second star, and had one assist on the power play. Jonathan Huberdeau scored the game's opening goal and earned first-star honours in his Calgary debut, and Dan Vladar was named third star after making 15 saves in two periods of action.
And one final note: the Canucks did not make it out of Whistler injury free.
After coming into camp with such a good mindset, Brock Boeser will miss the next few weeks after undergoing hand surgery, the club announced Monday.
It's a setback in terms of his preparation — and it opens up an opening-night roster spot for another forward hopeful. But if the timeline holds, Boeser will be back with the club around the time of the Canucks' home opener against Buffalo on Oct. 22.
After a busy few days on the ice, Monday is a day off for the Canucks. The first round of training-camp cuts could come soon. Next game is Thursday in Vancouver, against the Seattle Kraken.