Miller’s efforts under the microscope in the Canucks’ loss to the Flames

Miller’s efforts under the microscope in the Canucks’ loss to the Flames

The Vancouver Canucks ended 2022 with a whimper.

2022 started with a win for the Vancouver Canucks, a comfortable 5-2 win over the Seattle Kraken on January 1st.

It was the last win in the Canucks’ first nine-game hitting streak under new head coach Bruce Boudreau. Canucks fans, who had been calling for the old general manager and coach to be fired, now shouted, “Bruce, there it is!”

Things were looking up for the Canucks. It seemed so clear that 2022 was going to be different from 2021.

To be fair, it was. In 2021, the Canucks went 38-44-7 for a .466 scoring percentage, which was the NHL’s 24th-ranked record that year. In 2022, the Canucks improved to 41-32-12, a .553 fielding percentage, 19th best in the NHL. It is, by definition, both different and better.

But it’s not particularly good either, especially when you consider that it’s bolstered by the Canucks’ slightly above-average record from the second half of last season. After the Jan. 1 win, the Canucks went 24-15-9 to finish the 2021-22 season – 24 wins and 24 losses to just miss the playoffs.

This season was supposed to build on how the team performed under Boudreau last season. Instead, it has looked more like a relapse. The Canucks finished 2022 with back-to-back losses that took them back below .500 for the 2022-23 season, with a record of 16-17-3. That’s a percentage of .486 points, just a hair better than 2021.

What will 2023 be like for the Canucks? Can they turn this sinking ship around in time to return to port, make repairs and set sail again? Or is it already a lost cause and all that’s left is to scrap the ship, salvage it for parts and start over?

It has been hard to watch at times, but I did my duty diligently all year. I watched all the other games in 2022 just like I watched this game.

  • Before the game, Nils Åman was surprisingly sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks of the AHL and Will Lockwood was called up, with Lane Pederson sitting as a healthy scratch despite playing on a top six line with Elias Pettersson and Andrei Kuzmenko. However, Lockwood has gotten the call with 12 goals and 18 points in 24 games in Abbotsford this season, along with some strong two-way play.
  • Lockwood quickly made an impression – literally. He sent 6’6″ Nikita Zadorov tumbling into the Canucks bench with a huge hit in the neutral zone, one of three in the game. He was one of the few Canucks to show any kind of jump, which was enough to get him to look in line with Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson when Bruce Boudreau pulled out the Line Blender 4000™.
  • The spotlight was supposed to be on JT Miller after his freakout on Collin Delia last game, so he picked a pretty awful time to have the most scrutinized game of the year. It started with a bad penalty on his very first shift, unnecessarily hooking Chris Tanev behind the Calgary net, as far as he could be from the Canucks net.
  • Fortunately, Spencer Martin was called as a radio station in the ’88 Ford Ranger, robbing Elias Lindholm, one of four saves he made on that power play. He finished the first period with 13 saves on 13 shots, keeping the Flames off the board until the Canucks could right the ship.
  • The ship never fully righted itself. Early in the second period, Miller covered at the point for a pinching Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He held the puck at the point and hacked it down the boards, but it was picked off. Instead of backing up safely in the neutral zone, especially because Horvat was already pushing the puck, Miller moved up the boards instead, giving up a 2-on-1 behind him. Lindholm had all day and all night to pick his place past Martin’s blocks.
  • Later on the power play, Miller lost the puck on a zone entry and took a hit. Frustrated, he slowly turned to the bench and went for a line change as another 2-on-1 developed behind him. Rasmus Andersson hit a pass over Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s stick to Blake Coleman for the 2-0 goal.
  • To be fair, Bo Horvat was also on his way to the bench on that line change when he instead needed to recognize the danger and beat his feet on the backcheck. The optics just look that much worse for Miller when he was the one giving the puck away and was five feet from the bench.
  • Five minutes later, the Flames entered the Canucks’ fourth line and wore them out like cheap pants. Finally, Mackenzie Weegar sent a shot through the tired traffic that Martin didn’t even see to make it 3-0.
  • The Canucks came back with a goofy goal a minute later. Some hard work down the line by Conor Garland, Sheldon Dries and Brock Boeser led to Dries trying to poke a puck into one side of the goal, only for Zadorov to accidentally chip the puck through the groove to the other side of the goal . net, where Dries would hit air that was mediocre and underwhelming: mid-air.
  • Martin and Lockwood — who sounds like a law firm — combined to keep the Canucks in the game early in the third period. Martin robbed Coleman with a fantastic blocker save. Then, on the rebound, Lockwood got his stick out to deflect another Coleman shot over the open net.
  • Pettersson got the Canucks within one. He stole the puck on the forecheck and set up a point shot for Ethan Bear. Jacob Markstrom came out aggressively to make the save but was unable to control the rebound with Horvat crashing. Like the watery stuff in an unstirred mustard bottle, the puck splashed out to Pettersson at the side of the net and he put it in the net.
  • Despite a handful of chances, including a big Markstrom stop on Quinn Hughes, that’s as close as the Canucks would get. An early goaltending move gave the Canucks the extra attacker, but they managed just one shot on goal in the final three minutes at 6-on-5.
  • Here is the most frustrating moment. In the final minute, down one goal, with the game on the line, JT Miller stood at the blue line and watched the puck get tangled up on the boards, making no effort to push to the boards to try to keep the puck inside. If he had, he might have been in a position to do more than just wave his stick at Trevor Lewis, who knocked the puck down and gave it away.
  • There were some fans who excused Miller’s behavior at the end of the game against the Jets because they said he is a fierce competitor, who just wants to win so badly, and in the heat of the moment had a passionate reaction. And yet here, when the Canucks needed that fiery competitiveness and passion in this game, it was nowhere to be found.
  • It stood out especially because moments earlier Pettersson had gone to his knees in the neutral zone and desperately did everything he could to prevent a Flames counterattack that could have scored in the empty net. The difference in effort was great.
  • The Hockey Night in Canada crew spent an entire two-minute segment during a break highlighting Miller’s lack of effort on the two goals against. “I can’t defend it,” Kevin Bieksa said. “I think you can be hard on your teammates, and I think if you’re a .500 team and you’re mediocre — I like the fire and I like the passion, but you absolutely have to back it up with your work ethic.”

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