The word ‘normal’ really seems to have lost its meaning over the past couple years, and this week in the NHL, that certainly was the case. There were a metric shit-ton of jaw droppers and head scratchers over the past seven days, and while last night wasn’t even close to the strangest thing that happened, it was far from normal.
Unlike their meeting about three weeks ago, where the Leafs outplayed the Canucks but got utterly Demko’d, this game was a far more even and back and forth affair. If anything, the Leafs were the recipients of some fortunate bounces and gifts (looking at you, Brock Boeser and Travis Hamonic), but as we’ve been seeing from them lately, they were let down by subpar goaltending and passive defensive play. Leafs fans should have been heading towards the playoffs feeling good, and now they’re wondering if this is going to be another shortened post-season.
The playoff race is already over in the East, it’s all down to seeding, and comically there’s still a chance the Leafs could end up seeing Boston in the first round, and man is that going to bring about some anxiety in the COTU. One thing is for sure, they will be looking to shake things up at the deadline, and while much of their chatter centers around players like JT Miller, Conor Garland and Brock Boeser, they might do well to be looking at the back end instead, and a long, hard look at whether they have the goaltending to even get them out of the first round.
Meanwhile, it’s March and we honestly should be talking about what moves the Canucks are going to make as they sell off parts for cap space after another wasted season of this core, but we can’t. They sit three points back of the Dallas Stars for a playoff spot, and that is something that probably shouldn’t be, given the way this team played in the first two months of the season. It could still end up with them missing, but the fact that they were able to go from being a lottery pick lock to a potential buyer at the deadline to gear up for the playoffs is truly remarkable. And should they pull this ridiculous feat off, perhaps it’s time to start putting Bruce Boudreau’s name in the Jack Adams discussion for this season, even though they won’t even make him a finalist.
Perhaps the most impressive thing that Boudreau has done, is turn this team into an actual functioning four line team, something we haven’t seen in nearly a decade. And while his comments post game, saying he’d like to make the Canucks into a team that plays like the 2011 Boston Bruins were triggering for some, he has a point. The most successful teams in the NHL are the ones that can hurt you no matter who is on the ice at any given time. To get the kind of hockey he’s getting out of that fourth line of Tyler Motte, Matthew Highmore and Juho Lammikko, as well as guys like Tanner Pearson and Alex Chiasson is remarkable. And after half a season of virtually nothing (save for Quinn Hughes), they are getting regular, nightly offensive contributions from their defencemen, another thing they need if they hope to progress.
Let’s take a quick look at last night’s action, in all its glorious weirdness, shall we?
Robert Thomas scored late for the St Louis Blues, but it wasn’t enough as the New York Islanders hung on to take a 2-1 victory on Long Island.
Nick Schmaltz had himself a night, becoming the first player to score 7 points since Sam Gagner’s 8 point night in Feb 2012. His two goal, five assist performance was needed, as the Arizona Coyotes had to battle back and avoid the embarrassment of coughing up a four goal lead to the Ottawa Senators, skating away with an 8-5 win. Schmaltz has 17 points in his last 9 games.
Montreal has now won eight of their last nine as they rolled into Edmonton and skated away with a 5-2 win over the Oilers. The game was filled with a number of strange calls and challenges, including this one to Brendan Gallagher.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but Ryan shouldn't have his stick on the ice if he's on the bench right?— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 6, 2022
How is this a penalty on Brendan Gallagher? pic.twitter.com/WsGrsqrx0L
Anyway, Mike Smith is gonna sink the Oilers and that’s a darn shame. Heh.
At Rick Nash’s number retirement party in Columbus, the Blue Jackets sent things to extra time thanks to a Jakub Voracek goal with just three seconds remaining, but lost in Uncle Gary’s Super Fun Trick Shot Contest as the Boston Bruins won 5-4.
And in a battle of the Western Conference’s divisional leaders, the Calgary Flames got the OT winner from Johnny Gaudreau in a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche. It had looked like the Flames might have erred in starting Dan Vladar over Jacob Markstrom when he gave up a goal to Gabriel Landeskog just 42 seconds into the first, but they battled back for the win.
The Abbotsford Canucks dropped the second half of their back to back against the Laval Rocket in a 3-0 loss yesterday. The Canucks will hit Toronto again on Wednesday in an 11:00am Pacific start as they take on the Marlies, before heading home for a big weekend series against the 4th place Colorado Eagles. Abbotsford trails Colorado by ten points, but have five games in hand on the Eagles, so this series is massive as catching them would give the Canucks home ice advantage in the first round.