Canucks, Boeser Dazzle In Season Opener

The puck has finally dropped on the Vancouver Canucks 2023-24 season opener, and already the storylines are writing themselves. With the flu making its way down the roster, trade rumours stirring up, contract speculation surrounding star players, salary cap restraints, and a list of injuries, Canucks hockey looks to already be in midseason form. Much of the same could be said about the team themselves, who, on Wednesday night, made quite a statement with an 8-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers to start the season.

Offensive Output:

The Canucks had a dominating offensive performance to open the season, with nine different forwards pitching in on the scoring effort. Right winger Brock Boeser contributed four goals, becoming the first Canucks player in franchise history to score a natural hat trick on opening night. J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson put up four points of their own, each respectively netting a goal and three assists. Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland also got in on the scoring escapades, with Garland being the original goal scorer of the evening.

Garland’s opening night goal comes amidst a swirling of the rumour mill that a possible trade could be incoming. The forward recently changed agents, and with a Canucks team hard pressed against the salary cap, Garland has long been the target of trade talks around the league. Reports surfaced that Garland asked for a trade in the Summer, with Eliotte Friedman reporting on Tuesday the club recently granted Garland permission to talk to other teams. Naturally, with all of the trade buzz surrounding him and current state of the universe, he scores the Canucks first goal of the regular season.

Though Petey and J.T. Miller also left their mark on the stats sheet, there was one man in particular that stole the show Wednesday evening – Brock Boeser. A four-goal night from the embattled forward was reminiscent of the early Brock Boeser Canucks fans grew to love. The 26-year-old lost his father, Duke, last year after a lengthy battle with Parkinsons disease. The loss came as Boeser was struggling to shake the demons that plagued him a following a lengthy streak of early-season injuries, a streak in and of itself that was beginning to resemble a curse. His performance is the first four-goal performance of the salary cap era by a Canucks player, with the last Canuck to do it being Daniel Sedin in February 2004. Early talk surrounding the team suggests this could be the season Boeser finally cracks the 30-goal plateau, and if Wednesday’s performance is anything to show for it, Boeser will score 30 – and then some.

By Committee:

The Canucks forwards didn’t go without help from the their defensive group. Both Filip Hronek and newly minted Captain Quinn Hughes joined Boeser, Pettersson, and Miller in having a multipoint night. Hronek added two assists, while Hughes was involved in three Canucks goals. The team only iced six defensemen in Wednesday’s opening night match-up as, due to injuries, Carson Soucy and Guillaume Brisebois were both scratched. Considering Noah Juulsen also added a helper to a Canucks goal, that means 50% of the defensive group got a point on opening night.

Elias Pettersson goon season.

The secondary scoring was a great complement to Vancouver’s aggressive play, which saw the team stay involved in puck battles and keep the area around Thatcher Demko clear. The team did great at keeping the pressure turned on in their offensive end, oftentimes forcing the Oilers to turn the puck over in high-danger zones. With PK specialist Teddy Bluegar also being out of Wednesday’s game, the Canucks still managed to limit the Oilers’ special teams threat, only allowing one Oilers powerplay goal on four chances. On the opposite side of the puck, the Canucks powerplay was successful on three out of six man advantage chances. That’s a remarkably improved look in a small sample size when compared to last year’s 22.7% success rate at powerplay conversions.

In net, Thatcher Demko gave a classic performance. The netminder faced down 27 shots and only allowed in one Leon Draisaitl powerplay goal. Demko did leave the game around the halfway point of the third period, with Head Coach Rick Tocchet stating Demko was battling the flu throughout the game. Though the goaltender tried to persevere, Tocchet pulled him from the game after he threw up in his goalie mask. Despite the illness, Demko still finished the night with a .955 save percentage. Relief would come in the form of Casey DeSmith, who stopped all five shots thrown his way in the remaining minutes.

Building Forward:

Not without the typical Vancouver Canucks hijinks, Wednesday’s season opener was a good look at how the team should meld together under Rick Tocchet. The team did see improvement upon his arrival to the Canucks bench last season, but the 2023-24 season is the first one, with Tocchet pulling the reigns from the start. Already, the team is showing signs of critical growth. Players are not giving up on puck battles but rather hemming in offensive options along the boards and in the corners. They’re staying involved on the forecheck, and not scrambling as often to get back on the backcheck. No one appeared to be giving up on plays in the middle of the action, nor were there signs of frustration in the few times the Oilers could apply sustained pressure.

The team only iced 11 forwards and six defensemen due to injury and having insufficient salary cap space to call up more help. However, the Canucks didn’t look like a team fighting the flu with a short roster. Solid performances from guys like Phillip Di Giuseppe and newcomer Sam Lafferty displayed the depth brought in to bolster support for the other headline goal-scorers. They out-shot Edmonton, getting 32 shots in on the night compared to the Oilers’ 27. Four goals on 16 shots forced Edmonton to pull goalie Jack Campbell during the middle frame. It was a composed, mature, lethal performance from a team trying to shake the haunting negativity and be competitive long-term. The 8-1 victory becomes the largest margin of victory in a season opener in franchise history. Brock Boeser’s four-point night during his 399th career NHL game is truly just the cherry on top.

The Canucks square off against the Oilers again Saturday, October 14th.

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a freelance hockey reporter covering the ECHL's Jacksonville Icemen for Inside The Rink and the Vancouver Canucks for The Canuck Way. His work has been featured on Hockey of Tomorrow and The Daily Faceoff, and can be found on Twitter/X @FromTheDrewLine.

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