In a preseason affair in which both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks shook hands and agreed to a “no-first-liners-allowed” game, the ‘nucks came out victorious albeit to the vexation of Vancouverites and the chagrin of Calgarians.
Before you open up a dictionary (as I’m closing mine), let me say that while I – seemingly alone in my new circle of peers since relocating to the big “clique du pleut” that is Vancouver – was frustrated watching this game, despite the agreeable result. Calgary spent a dominant amount of time in Vancouver’s end throughout the game making clean passes, creating scoring chances and basically looking like a team whose entire roster is so familiar that hopefully in the last two weeks they’d already begun making Home Alone references at rookie Ryan Culkin’s expense.
That said, and in continuation with a mediocre joke/analogy, every player on the ice bar a few looked like a filthy animal. (Note: it’s also my preseason, so lower your expectations)
Vancouver opened the first of a back-to-back series with a pragmatic first period: individual players played as individuals whilst eyeballing their linemates to figure out how best to complement one another and from a viewer’s perspective, it was terrible. They were defensively accountable for the most part, but the flow of play was marred with passes-to-the-legs, stop-and-dumps, I-thought-for-sure-you’d-be-theres and other hyphenated turnovers. If Calgary’s Lance Bouma had scored on his penalty shot – ultimately courtesy of a terrible neutral zone half-pinch by an underwhelming Henrik Tommernes – this could have been a different game. Luckily, Chris Higgins’ warm-up near-miss shots, Zack Kassian’s net-crashing, and VAN’s faceoff supremacy set the tone for the second period.
Of which began with my reverse-first star of the night, Kent Huskins – whom I just now realized isn’t a prospect but is rather a 35-year old veteran of 318 NHL games – being 30 feet out of position and tripping fellow d-man Ryan Stanton with his whole body. I had a small paragraph planned on what I thought he could do better, how he could develop and the like, but I would have had to write that article when I was 11 which coincidentally was probably the peak of my skating, awareness and general hockey-ability that Huskins did not display during this game. Him and Tommernes did not look good at all, save for one Tommernes particle-collider shot from below the blue line which goaltender Jonas Hiller struggled with, on account of a new element being formed between the puck rubber and his collarbone.
Otherwise, Hunter Shinkaruk – whom I thought should have made the big club last year – picked up where he left off from last campaign’s preseason and has improved for this year’s. He skates laterally like no player I’ve seen before and has the avoid stat of an Assassin in any JRPG you can think of, meaning he’s tough to hit and I need an outdoor hobby. He should have been credited with a second assist on Chris Higgins’ opening goal for his work along the boards and cycling vision, but fell victim to an unfortunate Flames’ stick that deflected the puck two inches onto Nick Bonino’s (who was impressive, but given an “A”?) stick and eventual sole-assist pass.
Two quick thoughts at this point:
First, while Bo Horvat had another quiet night on the attack, the game he’s playing which he’s gone on record saying is the game he’s been asked to play despite “wanting to contribute more offensively” is very much in the vein of the recently-departed Ryan Kesler’s ability. I know he’s playing against hopefuls and third-liners, but his strength on the puck and possession ability were both surprisingly apparent. I get hyped on prospects all the time (Nicklas Jensen is going to be a 20-goal scorer in three years if he makes the club full-time), but Horvat is the most complete prospect I’ve seen since the aforementioned Kesler. Both Ryan and once-linemate Alexandre Burrows cut their teeth as shutdown third-liners and I don’t see why Horvat can’t follow those (albeit large) footsteps to become the next Canucks Selke Trophy nominee.
Secondly, Jonas Hiller’s mask is probably the worst I’ve ever seen. I’ve personally lauded him (in bar conversations) for his against-the-grain creative style, but Arizona Coyotes-maroon, snakeskin texture with a handwritten “Calgary Flames” sigil on the temples suggests to me that he’s either not pumped on playing for the 403 or that his helmet artist emphatically shook his head when commissioned, which is funny because haha, Calgary.
Speaking of, I wasn’t kidding about CGY dominating this game. Without looking at the official stats, they seemed to have the puck over 60% of the time, which is a big deal in hockey considering the puck floats in no-man’s territory for a chunk of the game. Notable rookie Sean Monahan (22 goals in his first year? On Calgary?!) was a force and in hindsight, played against Huskins and Tommernes frequently, so one could chalk that up to good vision by coach Bob Hartley. Between him and highly-touted recent draftee Sam Bennett – who was scary-good tonight, and for the first time in five years makes me worry that the Flames will be better at 1-2 centre than VAN in a couple years – would have made this a laugher if not for goaltender Eddie Lack’s solemn and poised performance in the first period, stopping an onslaught of twenty shots in twenty minutes. That’s exhausting for a netminder; Lack was was seen laughing at the end of the game, and that’s why everyone loves a goofball.
That’s why when Shinkaruk scored the insurance goal in the third, immediately taking out his mouthpiece and pointing at some fans in the first row nodding and smiling, even Flames fans couldn’t help but smile and clap for the hometown kid. Grudging applause is better than diehard applause I always say, though I receive only the former for my oft scarce clever word tricks. By the end of sixty minutes, CGY played a game it could be proud of, only to be stymied by an in-form Lack and rebounding Joacim Eriksson who stood tall behind a soccer-esque, counterattacking VAN team which made the most of its opportunities through its hustle and cycle game, and the Sedins weren’t even playing because it’s bad luck to be the colour red playing against Calgary.