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THE MOJ: Vancouver Canucks get a dose of second-half hockey in loss to Flyers

It was also an indicator of what’s to come as the season moves along
Philadelphia Flyers’ Joel Farabee (86) scores on Vancouver Canucks goaltender Casey DeSmith (29) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

“It’s going to get tougher.”

It’s something that Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet has stated in almost every media session he’s had this year.

Thursday night at Rogers Arena, Tocchet’s words were prophetic as the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Canucks by a 4-1 margin.

READ MORE: Second-period flurry lifts Flyers to 4-1 win over Vancouver Canucks

The Flyers erupted for three goals from Egor Zamula, Sean Walker and Joel Farabee in a span of two minutes and six seconds late in the second period to break a scoreless tie and secure the win. Vancouver’s Teddy Blueger scored 25 seconds into the third period but a shorthanded goal by Garnet Hathaway at 5:01 ended any comeback hopes from the Canucks.

Samuel Ersson made 18 saves on 19 shots for the Flyers before leaving due to dehydration early in the third period. Carter Hart made eight saves finishing up for the Flyers. Casey DeSmith got the start for the Canucks and wound up with 21 saves.

It was a classic road performance by the Flyers, whose stifling style negated any offense the Canucks could muster.

It was also an indicator of what’s to come as the season moves along.

The Canucks – given where they are in the standings – won’t be sneaking up on people as they’ve gone from being the hunters to the hunted.

And it’s also the type of game the Canucks can see more and more of as the season winds down. Teams fighting for playoff spots will crank up the intensity which will result in time and space on the ice becoming a premium commodity. Teams with playoff spots secured will be focusing on playing air-tight defensively.

“It’s time and space but it’s about owning that space. It’s winning the battle. It’s boxing out. It’s making a smart play. It’s getting the puck in deep and getting on the forecheck. That’s the hardness of the game. The game is not played with one or two steamboats – take your time – it doesn’t work that way,” Tocchet said afterwards.

His counterpart on the Flyers side saw the game the same way.

“It’s that time of year. You get into after Christmas and you go through January and February with all of these games that still have to be played…the grind and the checking part of the game has to come to the forefront. I thought we were patient. I thought we checked well and you just wait for a team to open up,” John Tortorella explained during his post-game session.

While Tortorella was quick to praise his team’s patience, Tocchet was quick to criticize his team’s lack of it.

“We’ve got to be comfortable playing a 0-0 game. Who cares? Just take what’s given. You can’t get frustrated just because people are in your way or people are hitting you. You cannot get frustrated because it’s going to get ramped up even more than this game. That’s the learning lesson we are talking about,” said Tocchet.

In games such as this one, it’s about making the simple play instead of trying to do too much.

A prime example that was defenseman Nikita Zadorov’s second period miscue which resulted in the Farabee goal. Zadorov tried to stickhandle through Farabee and Bobby Brink at center ice instead of just making a pass or an easy dump in. Brink stripped Zadorov of the puck and Farabee would score on the subsequent breakaway.

Tocchet believes in his team but also realizes by no means is it an end product with plenty of work left to do.

“You got to have that mentality that if things are at a stall that you are okay. I think that’s the next level for this team,” he said.

It was only one game yet questions will arise as the season progresses on whether or not the Canucks’ game is suited for what’s coming.

“I do,” responded Zadorov when asked the aforementioned question. “I think we’re learning. I’ve only been here for 12 games but I think we are taking steps forward all the time. We’ve got five days off now, so we can get a few hard practices in and get it back. There’s a lot of time to fix those mistakes and be ready on the 2nd (for the Ottawa game).”

OVERTIME: The quote of the night came from Tortorella. When asked about the 5’ 9” Brink’s play on the 6’ 6” Zadorov, Tortorella came up with an epic response. “Yeah, yeah but Brink has got to learn how to check. He’s driving me crazy. I love the kid but he doesn’t know how to check his *!@. I don’t’ care who he stood up to, he’s got to learn that part of the game.” Canuck legend Markus Naslund was in attendance at Rogers Arena. He was recognized on the jumbotron midway through the first period and received a standing ovation. Naslund, now into real estate back home in Sweden, is in Vancouver helping one of his kids move here. One of my favorite Naslund stories was one night the Canucks got drilled at home and the captain was the only player in the dressing room as all his teammates had vacated the premises. Naslund turned to then-media relations director T.C. Carling and told him to get some more players in the room. It wasn’t Naslund trying to dodge the media scrutiny but rather holding his teammates accountable. The win was the 723rd in Tortorella’s career putting him in tenth place all-time. He passed another former Canuck coach in Alain Vigneault, who has 722. Tortorella should reel in Darryl Sutter, who has 737 wins, by season’s end for ninth place. Speaking of milestones, Zadorov was appearing in his 600th NHL game. The Canucks are the fifth NHL team for the 28-year-old Russian, who has suited up for Buffalo, Colorado, Chicago and Calgary. Next up for Vancouver is a home date with the Ottawa Senators on January 2nd. The Sens have rebounded from an eight-game losing streak with wins over Pittsburgh and Toronto in their last two games. They will face New Jersey and Buffalo at home this weekend before starting a six-game road trip against the Canucks.

Black Press Media Staff

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