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Ugly: Unbeaten Sabres Outplay, Outskate the Canucks, 5-2

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The Buffalo Sabres celebrate their second of five goals against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks iced the following line-up against their 1970 expansion brethren, the Buffalo Sabres.

Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat, Conor Garland

Nils Höglander, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser

Justin Dowling, JT Miller, Vitaly Podkolzin

Juho Lammikko, Jason Dickinson, Matthew Highmore

Brad Hunt, Tyler Myers

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tucker Poolman

Jack Rathbone, Luke Schenn

Thatcher Demko

Big Picture: At 1-1-1 on the season opening road trip, the Canucks are looking to score first in a hockey game for the first time this season. You may know the old saying, “come from behind hockey is losing hockey”, especially when the tendency becomes habitual. It’ll be fun to see if the Canucks can operate with a lead. It was a busy pre-game. Brock Boeser returned to the line-up for his first game of the season, while Quinn Hughes, who missed practice on Monday due to a “maintenance day” was apparently still “maintaining”. He was absent from the line-up. Nic Petan was waived and sent to Abbotsford of the AHL. He didn’t see action in the three previous Canucks games.

Brad Hunt replaced Hughes in the line-up. With Boeser re-inserted, Alex Chiasson was the healthy scratch out of the forward group.

It’s a pivotal game to start the second half of the road trip. Win, you’re roses. Lose, there’s a lot of pressure to win in Chicago on Thursday, and with pressure comes angst.

How it went: Not good. It’s the first time this season the Canucks were outplayed at even strength and the power play failed again. Demko was busy, turning aside 38 of the 42 shots he faced. In an effort to generate some offence down two goals in the third period, coach Travis Green turned to the “Lotto Line” of Boeser (6), Pettersson (40), and Miller (9).

1st Period:

Boeser looked normal, cruising comfortably in his first shift, a little more than a minute into the game. On his second shift Boeser had a scoring chance 4:20 into the period from the slot on the rush. Pettersson took a pretty big hit to make the pass while crossing the blueline. Colin Miller the culprit.

The Sabres didn’t have their first shot until 5:20 of the period, a shot by Vinnie Hinostroza into Demko’s bread basket.

A beautiful passing play including Pearson’s feed from behind the net earned the Canucks their first early lead of the season, on Horvat’s marker at 6:57 from the slot. At 8:22 15-year veteran Kyle Okposo evened it up for the Sabres from the right circle on the rush for his 200th career NHL goal.

After hitting the post along the ice on a breakaway at the 13:15 mark, Dowling was redeemed at 16:01 with his first goal of the season and his first ever as a Canuck. It was a nice tip-in on a Schenn point shot.

The Canucks looked comfortable after 20-minutes, potentially overconfident.

VancouverBo Horvat (1), Pearson and Garland, 5:57 ES

Buffalo – Kyle Okposo (2), Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Dahlin, 8:22 ES

VancouverJustin Dowling (1), Schenn, Miller 16:01 ES

Vancouver Canucks 2, Buffalo Sabres 1

2nd Period:

Excellent start, good puck movement in the offensive zone for the Canucks, but the quick start was short lived. Three minutes in we saw the ice tilted the other way, the Sabres with some sustained pressure. Following an icing infraction, defencemen Ekman-Larsson and Poolman were trapped out for a 2:17 shift and were hardly able to move their legs. An offside call against the Sabres after a quick neutral zone re-group saved their Canucks butts.

The one break for Vancouver came with the first minor penalty of the hockey game, a hooking call against Okposo for dragging down Boeser in the Sabres zone. There was nothing happening on the power play except an excellent penalty kill for Buffalo. The Canucks mustered one good scoring chance on a tip by Pearson at the end of the PP. Out of the penalty box Okposo jumped into a 3-on-2 and a good backcheck by Vancouver ruined it.

Buffalo had an even more sustained surge during the mid-point of the period. For three minutes they cycled effectively and created traffic in front. They ran off a stretch of having ten consecutive shots on goal. The lone opportunity the other way came off the rush for Höglander.  Right back came the Sabres with Jacob Bryson drawing a high sticking call, a double-minor against Pearson.

A shooting gallery. Demko was excellent again. Just when I started to think he might not be one of the Canucks three stars …

Just as the four minutes expired, with Pearson returning to the defensive zone and the team still in PK mode, Okposo fired a shot that Girgensons tipped past Demko to tie the game. No chance for the goalie, particularly with Girgensons alone to deflect.

The tying goal seemed to serve as a wake-up call to Vancouver. They owned the last two-and-a-half minutes. Off the rush, on the cycle, they were bumble bees in the Sabres zone but didn’t finish.

Other than the first 60-seconds and the last 150, this was a Buffalo period. Shots were 16-10 for Buffalo in the second with a great majority of the scoring chances belonging to them.

Two nervous moments, one for each team: Garland was planted, ribs-high into the neutral zone boards by Colin Miller about a minute into the period but bounced back. Sabres defenceman Dahlin took a puck to the face in open ice and went off for potential repairs 5:30 into the period. He returned for his next shift.

Buffalo – Girgensons (1), Okposo, Dylan Cozens, 17:37 ES

Vancouver Canucks 2, Buffalo Sabres 2.

3rd Period:

Good start. First minute, Conor Garland drew a penalty against Dahlin, actually at 1:02. Here comes the power play. And there goes the power play.

There was one moment where Rathbone was blatantly tripped carrying the puck to the right wing corner but there was no call.  Other than that, no threats.

The Sabres rode the momentum off the PK to two goals, :21 seconds apart, both involving apparent defensive zone breakdowns. Jeff Skinner, say what you will, overpaid or not, he’s too talented a player to leave alone for a rebound in front of your goalie, even while falling down on the backhand.

No one appeared to be close to where they were supposed to be when Tage Thompson scored moments later. The Canucks weren’t moving their feet. Coach Green took his team’s time-out to settle things down.

Later, with Boeser off for hooking, the Sabres had more fun at the shooting gallery but failed to score. Sabres were 0-for-3 on the power play. The Canucks then got their final opportunity, Dahlin for interference at 14:14.

Pettersson hit the post right off the O-zone face-off and then the puck was cleared. The Canucks gained the zone but failed to come close. Back to even strength Vancouver went to the extra attacker with the net empty. Off a scramble, Rasmus Asplund from his own slot fired the puck into the goalie-less net.

Buffalo – Skinner (1), C. Miller, Cozens, 3:33 ES

Buffalo – Thompson (2), Will Butcher, Victor Olafsson, 3:56 ES

Buffalo – Asplund (1), Unassisted, 17:05 EN

Final Score: Buffalo Sabres 5, Vancouver Canucks 2

Simmer’s Canucks 3 Stars:

3) Vitaly Podkolzin – He only played 12-minutes but was the key driver on the Canucks opening goal. Gaining the zone and pulling up inside the blueline, he spun a pass back to Garland who picked up the first assist. He was also noticeable on a few of back checks. I basically could have picked the third star out of a hat.

2) Justin Dowling – Was all around the net. Had a goalpost and missed with the tip prior to actually scoring his goal in the first period. Part of the group out for at least one of the defensive lapses, but had four shots on goal and three blocked shots.

1) Thatcher Demko – He stopped 38 of the 42 shots he faced, many of them Grade-A during the shooting gallery stages of the game. It’s not unusual for goalies to play an even bigger role than normal during the early season while teams are still figuring things out.

Notable Notes:

It looked like a limited capacity Covid crowd in Buffalo but it wasn’t. Many of the diehards there are essentially boycotting the team over the recent messes and the Jack Eichel injury situation. It looked like a minor league game in North Carolina crowd-wise, but the one’s that were there had a chance to celebrate with plenty of noise.

The Canucks are practicing Wednesday with a game Thursday night in Chicago.

— Some of the big names were less noticable. Pettersson was less a factor after taking the big hit in the first period. Horvat turned the puck over in his own zone on a rink-wide backhand pass early in the third. Symbolic of the night.

Nothing from the Hockey Gods in this one. Get outworked, outpaced, you’re usually gonna lose.

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