Why Canucks struggled against Predators in Game 2 loss: 5 takeaways

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The defining moment of the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-1 loss in Game 2 happened early.

The Rogers Arena faithful, attempting to manufacture some urgency and punch, and support the team despite the devastating news of Thatcher Demko’s injury on Tuesday, chanted in unison in support of Vancouver Canucks backup goaltender Casey DeSmith.

“Let’s go Casey! Let’s go Casey!”

The chant had only just started when a Predators point shot took an absurd deflection off of Anthony Beauvillier, and slid short side, in the opposite direction that DeSmith was moving. It was the opening goal, and just about as unfortunate a bounce as the Canucks have dealt with all season.

It was just that kind of evening for Vancouver. This was a weird game.

Prime scoring chances evaporated on shattered sticks. Seemingly dangerous scoring chances dented the glass, rather than rippling the net.

On multiple occasions, pucks were loose in the crease, but Dakota Joshua and Pius Suter were split seconds late to them. Pucks parabola’d off of Predators defenders, deflecting absurdly off the post. The Vancouver power play was both feckless, and wildly unlucky.

Those are the breaks in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the margins disappear and the whims of the hockey gods rule arbitrarily and with unusual cruelty.

This was a game in which the Nashville Predators took over in the second period, tied the series and snatched home-ice advantage away from Vancouver. It’s all level now, as the series shifts back to Broadway on Friday, for a crucial Game 3.

It’s a rare opportunity for NHL players to go into the Stanley Cup playoffs with a team that’s rolling the way this Canucks team has all season.

That’s doubly true for long tenured Canucks like Demko and Tyler Myers, who have spent most of their Canucks careers either on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, or, back in 2020 when the club qualified for the postseason, playing playoff games in the unnatural, prison-like environment of the Western Phase 4 Secure Zone at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Demko and Myers put in tremendous performances in Game 1. Myers, in particular, was evidently moved by the experience postgame.

For both players to be on the sidelines in Game 2 feels remarkably cruel. These are games, after all, that can define careers. It’s impossible not to empathize with competitors in this situation.

In Myers’ absence, Noah Juulsen was pressed into action for Vancouver. He logged third pair minutes, playing very rarely as Vancouver chased the lead in the third period. Juulsen was fine, but lost a key battle down low with Filip Forsberg on the goal that gave the Predators a 2-0 lead and was assessed an interference penalty and a slashing penalty, limiting Juulsen’s ability to make an impact on the penalty kill — where he tends to shine brightest.

Without question, Vancouver missed Myers’ size and abilities in transition in Game 2.

As for DeSmith, the opening goal was a preposterous bounce. A fluke, although he probably overcommitted to the point shot too early.

Beyond that, he performed OK. Nashville’s goals were mostly off of high danger chances — Forsberg with a buttery finish all alone down low, a rebound off of the rush where he made the initial, tricky save — but had some shaky moments on saves he made where he’d lost the puck and he underperformed his expected goals saved above average by about a goal and a half.

DeSmith wasn’t at fault for Vancouver’s Game 2 loss — that responsibility should fall more squarely on the Vancouver power play — but it’s clear that Demko’s absence will be felt in this series, and going forward.

In a game filled with odd moments and unfortunate bounces, one play in the second served to typify an off evening for the Canucks offensively.

J.T. Miller’s line was cooking, but Miller took a moment and flexed his stick against the ice. It was as if he knew it couldn’t be trusted.

As the play shifted back to the offensive zone, Miller took up a position along the right-side half wall. This is Leon Draisaitl’s office, and a dangerous shooting location for a left-handed sniper.

When the puck came to Miller cross seam, Vancouver’s most dangerous offensive producer was ready for it. He put everything into the one timer attempt, only for his stick to completely shatter when it should’ve launched the puck dangerously past Juuse Saros.

Canucks power play power outage

The Canucks were one of only two teams that won Game 1 of the playoffs without scoring a single power-play goal. At some point, the man advantage needed to come through.

The early returns were rough.

Vancouver failed to generate a single shot on goal in 4:46 on the power-play in the first period. The first unit was inconsistent with executing clean zone entries and getting set up. Once they were in their formation, they had a lot of shots blocked. They still mustered some dangerous looks — Miller was able to hit a couple of threatening cross-seam passes to Elias Pettersson — on the first one, Pettersson just missed Brock Boeser for a backdoor tap-in and on the second one, Pettersson missed a wide-open net.

Down 3-1 with a late second-period power play, the Canucks had another chance to swing momentum. Miller’s shot-pass redirected off Alexandre Carrier in traffic and hit the post, with Vancouver coming empty-handed again.

The Canucks won’t go deep in the playoffs if the man advantage continues failing in key situations.

Elias Pettersson’s tough night

A lot of eyes were on Pettersson heading into this game. He didn’t play to his dynamic, game-breaking potential in the second half of the regular season. In Game 1 he had a quiet performance. Part of that was his linemates’ ineffectiveness, part of it was his inability to individually drive play. With Demko out for Game 2, the spotlight was even brighter on Pettersson to step up and be an elite difference-maker.

Everything went against Pettersson on Tuesday night.

He fired numerous shots that missed the net or got blocked on the power play. He wasn’t as sharp controlling the puck and making passes. And when he did get glorious opportunities — such as the empty net he missed or the backdoor pass to Boeser which would have been a tap-in — he missed by agonizingly close margins. To make matters worse, he turned the puck over inside his defensive blue line, stumbled and couldn’t steer DeSmith’s rebound out of harm’s way, leading to Nashville’s third goal in the second period.

Pettersson needs to author a monster bounce-back because it all went wrong for him in Game 2.

Zadorov did everything in his power to will the Canucks forward with his assertive, monster two-way performance.

He crushed Roman Josi with a huge hit on a zone entry attempt on the penalty kill, which led to a successful clear. Late in the first period, he used his long reach to make a key defensive stop defending the blue line, which ended Nashville’s rush and allowed the Canucks to transition up the ice the other way. Zadorov made an excellent pinch in the second period to keep the play alive in the offensive zone, which led to a lengthy, dangerous shift for Vancouver.

Zadorov then gave the Canucks much-needed life with a wrist shot through traffic that beat Juuse Saros on his blocker side, a weakness they’ve been repeatedly targeting. He drove play effectively, with Vancouver holding a healthy edge in five-on-five shot attempts during Zadorov’s shifts.

Zadorov was one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise frustrating night for the Canucks.

(Photo: Derek Cain / Getty Images)

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