It’s only one game, but there was plenty to react to from Wednesday night’s season opening tilt between the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flame. Here are 5 Takeaways From Vancouver’s 5-1 opening night victory in Calgary.
When we last saw the Vancouver Canucks play the Calgary Flames during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, it was the Flames forecheck that was the big story. Calgary’s suffocating and rapacious forecheck pinned the Canucks in their end throughout, effectively neutering Vancouver’s offensive attack 180-feet from the Flames’ net.
Calgary’s forecheck did force a turnover that led to their only goal on Wednesday night, but what stood out in Vancouver’s regular season opener was the way Vancouver’s new-look defence corps was able to move their feet and skate the puck out of harm’s way. It was something we saw very little of outside Vancouver’s top-defence pair back in April.
On multiple occasions on Wednesday night Canucks offseason addition Matt Bartkowski was able to beat Calgary’s forecheckers and skate the puck up ice. 22-year-old rookie Ben Hutton was similarly effective moving the puck.
Vancouver’s transition game, far from being a weakness on Wednesday, was a strength. It was a big part of what permitted the Canucks to throttle Calgary, who were out-shot 28 to 8 in a decisive 30-minute stretch that extended from late in the first period until early in the third. By then, it was too late for the Flames.
An overall lack of backend speed was something the Canucks identified as a major issue in the offseason. It’s why they dealt Kevin Bieksa, it’s why they signed Bartkowski, and it’s partly why Hutton was able to steal a spot in the opening night lineup out of training camp.
It’s only one game, but so far, so good.
The Sedin-Sutter first line
The twins were mostly able to play their puck possession game while flanked by Sutter, and his solid hand-eye coordination resulted in the sort of tricky goal that a player needs to be able to score to thrive with the twins:
Generally speaking I thought the Sedins’ cycle game wasn’t quite as seamless or as dynamic as it generally has been with Radim Vrbata or Burrows, but perhaps that chemistry will come in time. After all this first line has only played six periods together, including the preseason.
The kids are all right
In his NHL regular season debut, Canucks rookie defenseman Ben Hutton logged 17 minutes of ice-time. He also picked up his first career assist by catching the Flames changing with an excellent stretch pass to Jannik Hansen, who converted on a blistering slap shot to open the scoring.
Hutton’s debut in the show was high event, both teams generated good looks when he was on the ice, but his skating and passing stood out in a good way throughout the contest. The 22-year-old blue liner was particularly strong on the power play, logging nearly two-and-a-half minutes of 5-on-4 ice-time and contributing to a second unit that, though they didn’t find the back of the net, threatened consistently.
Hutton wasn’t the only Canucks rookie who acquitted himself ably. Jared McCann, 19, made his NHL debut with his parents in the stands on Wednesday night and probably should’ve picked up an assist on Alex Burrows’ fluky third-period goal.
The goal was fortunate, but the defensive play that started it was legitimately NHL quality. Batting a puck out of the air in your own end and sending a pass through Johnny Gaudreau’s legs to key the rush the other way is a good way for a rookie to ingratiate himself to an NHL coaching staff.
Miller solid, if not spectacular
It’s a testament to the performance of Vancouver’s much-maligned defence corps that the Flames didn’t generate much in the way of 5-alarm scoring chances in Wednesday’s season-opening tilt. It’s a testament to Miller’s performance that the score was still level by the time Vancouver’s skaters hit their stride mid-way through the first period.
The Flames had more jump than the Canucks did early on in Wednesday night’s game, out-shooting the Canucks 6-3 in the first half of the opening stanza. While a variety of Flames tested Miller, Vancouver’s starting netminder stood tall.
There was an early Johnny Gaudreau chance that Miller turned aside, he made a sturdy glove save on a prime look by high-scoring Flames captain Mark Giordano, and then Miller robbed Jiri Hudler from close range off of a rebound.
Miller stopped 29 of 30 (perhaps generously counted) shots that he faced. It can be crucial on the road to ‘weather the storm’ early, though. In stopping a flurry of quality chances out of gate, Miller bought his teammates the time they needed to exert control over the proceedings.
It took Dorsett all of two seconds – a Canucks franchise record for the fastest fight to start a season – to take on Flames folk hero Michael Ferland on Wednesday night. Prust fought his first bout of the campaign precisely eight minutes later. With just over five minutes to play in the third period, both wingers were assessed 10-minutes game misconducts.
Add it all up the Vancouver’s bash brothers combined for two fights, six hits and 30 penalty minutes. And when Vancouver’s fourth line was on the ice, they outshot the Flames at 5-on-5.