VANCOUVER – There is always risk to sports teams that stage their own history as the Vancouver Canucks did Wednesday when they invited a few of the best and most beloved players in franchise history to help anoint Bo Horvat the new captain.
Yes, there will be emotion and energy and excitement on nights like this. But then you have to play the actual game, and where will those emotions take you?
On Wednesday, it took the Canucks straight over the Los Angeles Kings, who were over-run early and late and beaten 8-2 to start this new era for Vancouver’s National Hockey League team.
The only guy who looked nervous was Horvat, who shortly after accepting the captain’s jersey from future Hall-of-Famer Henrik Sedin, promptly passed the puck to no one a couple of times. But the rest of his team was focussed, and Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick was not.
“Honestly, I was kind of getting emotional on the ice a little bit,” Horvat said. “Even in warmups, you hear people chanting your name.
“I had butterflies in my stomach. I was nervous obviously. It’s a huge moment and a huge opportunity. I got more comfortable as the game went on. I started making more plays and getting back to being myself. But (at the start) you’re pumped so full of adrenalin, your heart is going a million miles an hour. You just want to have a great game on this night. What a way to start.”
If Canucks coach Travis Green made a checklist before the game of the many things he wanted his team to accomplish – and he probably did – there would have been no empty boxes at the end of the night.
Last season’s Calder Trophy winner, Elias Pettersson, and this season’s rookie-of-the-year candidate, Quinn Hughes, scored their first goals. Newcomer J.T. Miller had the first four-point night of his career.
Vancouver’s power play scored a goal and penalty killers were perfect in four disadvantages that included a 45-second five-on-three late in the second period. Centring a reworked third line that included new Canuck Micheal Ferland, dropped by Green from Pettersson’s first line after only two games, checking centre Brandon Sutter scored twice — half his total from last season.
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom was as sharp as Quick was suspect, making 37 saves and doing his best work in the middle of the game when the Kings had started climbing back from a 3-0 deficit.
But the best thing of all was that after scoring just two goals in two hours while losing road games last week in Edmonton and Calgary, the Canucks won a game emphatically and made their first standings deposit of the season.
“Anytime you can put up eight, it’s fun,” Miller said after his first-star performance. “But I also thought we did a lot of good things. I don’t want people thinking we lost our first two games, (so) it was a bad start. We felt comfortable and confident after those games. It’s nice to see the pucks starting to go in. We really wanted to win tonight. To get that done was the first priority.”
After Sean Walker’s wrist shot lifted the Kings with two goals, down 4-2, at 6:51 of the third period, the Canucks poured in four goals in eight-and-a-half minutes to win by a touchdown.
That surge began on a sequence that, as more than any other, illustrated how this rebuilt Canucks team is trying to be different than the one that missed the Stanley Cup playoffs the last four seasons.
The shift after Walker’s goal, the Canucks countered on a three-on-two rush. Brock Boeser passed cross-ice to Hughes, who froze Quick, then lasered a pass into the net off the stick of defence partner Chris Tanev.
Tanev is the stay-at-home defenceman who has scored twice in each of the last three seasons.
But the way the Canucks are now trying to play, and with the dynamic Hughes as his blue-line partner, Tanev isn’t stay-at-home anymore. Just like Tanev, the Canucks plan on going places.
It was another tantalizing night for Hughes, who doesn’t turn 20 until next week but already has six points in eight NHL games, including a five-game trial straight out of the University of Michigan at the end of last season.
The five-foot-10 defenceman scored his first NHL goal to make it 1-0 just 5:26 after the Horvat ceremony, blistering an unscreened slapshot past Quick’s glove. And shooting the puck is supposed to be the least impressive weapon in Hughes’ offensive arsenal.
“You’re always thinking about when you’re going to score your first goal,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Just to get that one under my belt was nice. I’ve told everyone from the start: I’m going to try to get better every game. At Game 30, I think I’ll be a different player. Same thing goes for Game 60. But I feel really good right now. Just a special night for everyone.”