August 24, 2020

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Ed Willes: Canucks have much more to worry about than Ryan Reaves

Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights hits Tyler Motte of the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on Sunday in Edmonton.
Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights hits Tyler Motte of the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on Sunday in Edmonton. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

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One of the hoariest of all hockey clichés concerns the old saw about your best players being your best players, and an examination of the game sheet from Sunday night reveals the extent to which the Vegas Golden Knights’ stars dominated the Vancouver Canucks.

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Mark Stone, for example, was named the game’s first star after recording a goal and assist to go along with his formidable defensive game. He had plenty of company.

Max Pacioretty scored a goal while recording eight shots on net and five more that were either blocked or went wide. Reilly Smith, maybe the most underrated player in the NHL, had a goal and an assist. Defenceman Nate Schmidt played 24:07, recorded an assist, six shots on goal and 10 shot attempts in total. Goalie Robin Lehner stopped all 26 shots and, while he wasn’t exactly overworked, a shutout is still a shutout.


Tuesday | Game 2

(Vegas leads best-of-seven series 1-0)

6:45 p.m., Rogers Place (Edmonton), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM

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It was hard, in fact, to pick the single player who stood out in the Knights’ comprehensive 5-0 win. At least it was for most observers. The panel on Sportsnet, however, had no such problem, as was quickly revealed when the post-game autopsy was conducted.

First, Kelly Hrudey discussed the Knights’ excellence in general terms. That took about 40 seconds.

Then the panel started in on Ryan Reaves. Three minutes later, an eternity in the television world, they were still talking about him.

“He was all over the ice, getting in everyone’s kitchen,” Anthony Stewart said over a montage of Reaves’ hits.

“He was the first star of this game,” said old pal Kevin Bieksa. “He was all over the ice. He was hitting guys, punching guys.”

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Elliotte Friedman opined that the turning point of the first period came when referee Brad Meier warned Antoine Roussel about his repeated attempts to fluster Reaves; attempts which were about as effective as everything else the Canucks did in Game 1.

And it didn’t end there. There was an endless loop of Roussel chirping Lehner in the pre-game warm-up before Reaves arrived on the scene. There were the close-ups of Reaves mugging on the Knights’ bench. There was the audio of Reaves clucking from the bench in the direction of Roussel, suggesting the Canucks winger was a chicken. And maybe I’m being overly sensitive here, but that was offensive to bird people in general and the poultry industry specifically.

Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights checks Christopher Tanev of the Vancouver Canucks into the boards during the third period in Game 1 at Rogers Place on Sunday. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

By the end of the game, Reaves, had more screen time than every other player put together plus Anderson Cooper. And here were his stats from the night: 14:20 of ice time, including six minutes in the third when the game was decided, no goals, no assists and the big one, or so we’re told, 11 hits.

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“I mean Reaves is a physical guy and a physical player,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green. “We know that. I don’t think either player (Roussel or Reaves) decided the outcome of the game, if that’s what you’re asking.

“The game was 5-0. I don’t think it was decided on (Roussel’s) game or Reaves’ game. I just don’t think we played a great game and they won.”

Oh yeah? Try telling that to the panel.

“Ryan Reaves has an impact on the game every night,” said Knights head coach Peter DeBoer. “It might not show up on the score sheet with 11 hits and the type of publicity he got last night.

“But there’s a reason why (the Knights’ fourth line has) started every game since I’ve been here. I’ve seen it from the other bench, the impact when he’s in the lineup. It gives the rest of your group the freedom to play bigger.”

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So does that explain a 5-0 win for the Golden Knights? Depends who you ask.

Reaves is an effective role player. He’s also the undisputed heavyweight champion of the NHL. But he typically plays 10 minutes a game; to suggest he was the key to the Game 1 win is like suggesting Bill Wennington was the key to the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty.

Obviously he plays a loud game, and the 11 hits were a factor on Sunday night. But when he was on the ice, the Canucks directed 13 shots at Lehner while the Golden Knights attempted six shots at Jacob Markstrom and his replacement, Thatcher Demko.

Just playing a hunch here, but I think Green is more concerned about stopping the Pacioretty-Stone-William Karlsson line than game-planning for Reaves.

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“I don’t think it was a factor one way or another, to be honest,” Green said of the feud between Roussel and Reaves. “I know the media made a lot out of it.”

No kidding.

Unlike others, Green wasn’t interested in dissecting Reaves’ part in the Canucks’ evisceration. He was quizzed about a number of the talking points to emerge from Game 1: a tough night for Quinn Hughes, the Knights’ forecheck and the Canucks’ response to a one-sided loss, and he kept coming back to the same place.

Vegas is a very good team. The Canucks didn’t have a very good performance and Green fully expects them to rebound in Game 2. It was a boilerplate answer and didn’t make for the best television.

Maybe that’s why the panel didn’t spend three minutes talking about it.

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“Playoffs are never about one game,” said Green. “It’s what you do in the one game and how you react and play in the next game.

“The challenge gets harder, and that’s why it’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup. You’re going to go through some tough times. We went through a tough game last night and I’m confident our group will be better tomorrow night.”

They’d better. Not sure if Canucks fans could handle a repeat of The Ryan Reaves Television Hour.

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