VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks made two important statements Saturday. Three if you count their fashion choices.
About two-and-a-half hours before the Canucks played the Calgary Flames, team owner Francesco Aquilini — after hearing and reading all week that he was about to fire someone — issued a strong six-tweet statement in support of general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green.
“When the media starts pouring gas on the fire, dealing in rumours and misinformation as if it’s fact, it’s time for me to speak up,” Aquilini wrote on Twitter. “Contrary to what you may have read or heard, we’re sticking to the path we’re on.”
Aquilini stated: “I have full confidence in Jim, Travis and this group. I have no plans to make changes.”
Then the Canucks went out and largely dominated their opponent for the third straight game. The difference Saturday is they actually won, getting outstanding solo goals from defencemen Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers to beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 at Rogers Arena and halt a six-game losing streak.
Had you not seen the dark weeks that preceded Saturday’s game, you would wonder how the owner’s statement could even be necessary given the emphatic statement by his team, which had more shots in the first period (20) than the Flames had in the game. The final shots were 46-19.
Even with the Canucks’ determined efforts earlier in the week against the Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs, who were badly outplayed through two periods but won anyway, it would be ridiculous to declare Saturday’s win a turning point.
It was Vancouver’s first victory since Jan. 30. And where, exactly, would they be turning to? At 7-11-0, the Canucks still have the third-worst winning percentage in the National Hockey League and are well behind in the North Division playoff race when games-played are factored in.
But for a team that had gone unrewarded the previous two games despite elevated intensity and execution, their win Saturday felt like a breakthrough because it was achieved against ex-Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom, who was already 3-0 against his former team and had stopped 120 of 123 shots before Hughes finally beat him at 9:27 of the second period.
“What I liked from our group is we stuck with it, we didn’t deviate from our system and what we were trying to do,” Myers said of finally solving Markstrom. “We didn’t try and cheat or force plays. It was a big win (to) finally break Marky. It was nice to get one past him.
“On a bit of a skid here, and sometimes getting that first one is the toughest. But we’ve really liked our team game the last three games. To come out on top and to get that (winning) feeling again, we just have to remember it, remember how we got it and just keep going.”
Hughes stepped up on a Flames breakout and intercepted a soft pass by Sean Monahan by skating in front of Johnny Gaudreau. On a two-on-one, Hughes turned to pass, freezing Markstrom in his net, before scoring with a high wrist shot to make it 1-0.
After Sam Bennett tied it for Calgary 75 seconds later, beating Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko from the high slot after J.T. Miller’s difficult pass to Elias Pettersson turned into a turnover, Myers won it with 5:11 remaining in the third period.
The six-foot-eight defenceman held his ground just outside the Calgary blue line, stuffing another Flames breakout and turning back the other way with the puck. Galloping like a giraffe on the Serengeti, Myers cut hard to slot between two defenders then scored with a shot that went arm-and-in off Markstrom.
Brandon Sutter scored from 130 feet into an empty net with 1:23 to go, set up by Loui Eriksson, who was healthy-scratched by Green in 16 of the Canucks’ first 17 games but was still trusted by the coach to defend the late lead.
“Obviously, we needed a win bad, and we felt like the last two games that we could have won,” Hughes said. “We played really good hockey, but tonight to get rewarded is nice.
“We just wanted the result and we kept going, we didn’t fall asleep and, you know, we played a good game.”
Hughes seemed more excited to talk about clothes than his goal. With pandemic restrictions preventing the kind of team-bonding exercises the Canucks could have used in the first month of the season, players agreed to leave their bespoke suits in the closet on Saturday and wear “work clothes” to the game.
“I think that’s maybe the most promising thing to come out of the win,” Hughes, who is 21, said. “It was pretty cool to just put on a jacket and come to the rink. We’re just trying to have fun as a group again and I think it’s been helping.”
It will be a casual Monday for the Canucks when they play their third straight game at home against the Flames, who are a point ahead in the standings but have played four fewer games than Vancouver.
“We made a thing that we all had to wear workboots coming into the rink,” Myers said. “And, you know, I think it showed on the ice we were ready to work. It’s nice to get a win. I’m sure we’ll keep the casual going and try and keep these (good) things coming on the ice.”