Canucks Takeaways: Familiar mistakes return but stars nearly steal win

Jakob Vrana scored a pair of goals including the game-winner 21 seconds into OT and Pavel Buchnevich pitched in with a goal and an assist as the St. Louis Blues recovered after blowing a late lead to defeat the Vancouver Canucks 6-5.

Tuesday was Retro Night for the Vancouver Canucks in St. Louis. Retro, as in they played like they did three months ago.

The Canucks gave up a pile of out-numbered rushes early, looked disorganized at times defensively and couldn’t escape the “big mistake” while falling behind the St. Louis Blues by three goals. But just like they used to, the Canucks were dragged back into the game by their offensive stars and nearly outscored their problems in a 6-5 overtime loss.

Vancouver capped its three-goal comeback when defenceman Quinn Hughes scored his second of the game with 52.8 seconds remaining and goalie Thatcher Demko replaced by an extra attacker.

The Canucks’ determination was admirable, and the sheer talent of Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko and J.T. Miller was dazzling again. But, overall, it was a very un-Rick-Tocchet-like game for the team under its (relatively) new coach.

The six goals allowed were two more than the Canucks had yielded in their previous 18 games — 13 of them wins. And although he bore little responsibility for the loss, goalie Demko was not at the elite level he has displayed for most of the month since he returned from a serious groin injury.

The Canucks were just too slack defensively, and not engaged enough physically. Still, they were playing their third game in four days and with the loser point returned to Vancouver overnight with five of six points from their whirlwind road trip.

Importantly, the points they surrendered to the Blues allowed St. Louis to pass Vancouver on a tie-breaker, which left the Canucks one place better in the National Hockey League draft-lottery order with eight games remaining.

The Canucks open a five-game homestand Friday against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena.

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The Quinn Hughes World Tour continues to be one of the best shows around, as the Canucks star demonstrates nightly that he is not only one of the top offensive defencemen in the game but is a dominant blue-liner, period.

The 23-year-old had two goals and an assist in 28:33 of ice time. Scoring chances were 24-11 and high-danger chances 8-1 for the Canucks when Hughes was on the ice and, by no coincidence, the Blues scored the winning goal in OT after Hughes lost an edge and immediately went to the bench to have his blade checked.

Tyler Myers came onto the ice for him and he and Brock Boeser, who had another excellent game, appeared to be confused about who should defend whom on Jakub Vrana’s game-winner.

Hughes’ expected-goal-for was 72.9 per cent, according to

Seventy games into his fourth NHL season, Hughes has 72 points, including 65 assists, and is plus-18 on a team that has been outscored by 19 goals at five-on-five. Among defencemen, only the San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson has more points this season.

“Very assertive… but in all facets of the game,” Tocchet said of Hughes. “I loved his compete tonight. Even when it was 5-2, you could tell the gleam in his eye, he didn’t think we were out of it. And obviously, he was the main reason why we got back into it.”


As the Canucks pressed for the tying goal, skating six against five, it was revealing that Tocchet had Phil Di Giuseppe and then Dakota Joshua out as the “fifth” forward on successive shifts instead of, say, Conor Garland and Anthony Beauvillier.

DiGiuseppe and Joshua have, arguably, made the greatest leaps up the depth chart since Tocchet replaced Bruce Boudreau on Jan. 22.

DiGiuseppe was actually in the minors when the coaching change occurred but for weeks has been a second-line staple on Miller’s left wing. Joshua’s ice time has been up and down under Tocchet but his average TOI is creeping higher, and on Tuesday the winger played on the first line with Pettersson and Kuzmenko.

What DiGiuseppe and Joshua have in common is they are big, mobile wingers who finish checks, win board battles, get to the net and have enough skill to hang with better players.

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Tocchet went mainly with three lines in the third period, leaving Sheldon Dries, Jack Studnicka and Vitali Kravtsov on the bench. Studnicka and Kravtsov, both low-cost, low-risk trade pickups this season, are still trying to prove they should be part of whatever the Canucks are going to be next year under Tocchet.

Kravtsov has all the skills — plus size — you’d expected from a ninth-overall draft pick by the New York Rangers (in 2018). But after being a healthy scratch Sunday in Chicago, where college grad Aidan McDonough made his Canucks debut, Kravtsov showed little in his return to the lineup in St. Louis, failing to register a shot in 10:17 of ice time.

Tocchet said last week that this is an important summer for the Russian and that if Kravtsov trains well for four months he could be a good player for Vancouver next season. But the 23-year-old is a restricted free agent on July 1 and could return to the Kontinental Hockey League, his destination of choice when the Rangers wouldn’t guarantee him an NHL spot last season.

Kravtsov’s agent is Dan Milstein, who has an excellent relationship with Canucks GM Patrik Allvin and this week steered another client, college free agent Max Sasson, to Vancouver. Milstein also helped broker the deal that brought Kravtsov to the Canucks from the Rangers on Feb. 25.

At this point, Canucks management expects to be able to re-sign Kravtsov and that he will compete for an NHL job in Vancouver next season.

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With two more assists on Tuesday, including a Sedin-like interchange with Kuzmenko on Vancouver’s fourth goal, Elias Pettersson’s 13-game points streak is now just two shy of the franchise record co-held by Todd Bertuzzi (2001-02) and Petr Nedved (1992-93). Pettersson is up to 35 goals and 95 points in his 72 games.

Pettersson’s 50 points in 38 road games are second in the NHL in road scoring, and the centre’s 72 points at even strength and shorthanded are behind only Connor McDavid’s 76.

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