Pre-season games don’t count. But for an NHL journeyman like Phil Di Giuseppe, every point he scores helps his chances of being on the opening-night roster when the Vancouver Canucks kick off the regular season against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
“It’s just one step in climbing the mountain, coming out fighting for a job,” said the 29-year-old, who was named first star as he tallied a goal and an assist in the Canucks’ 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday.
Playing with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser on a line that typically sees Vancouver’s toughest defensive matchups, Di Giuseppe finished out the exhibition schedule with five points in three games, tying him with Boeser and Quinn Hughes for the team lead in points.
“You just have a guy who is a survivor,” said Canucks coach Rick Tocchet of the Toronto native, who has 231 games of NHL experience with four different teams. “Every day that comes around, he’s trying to learn.”
After the Canucks were embarrassed by the Flames in a 10-0 loss at the Saddledome to open the pre-season on Sept. 24, Di Giuseppe helped ensure that Friday’s game would be a different result.
With the game barely a minute old, he tipped a long clear from goaltender Thatcher Demko along the boards into the offensive zone. There, Miller fed Tyler Myers for a long shot that eluded Jacob Markstrom low to the blocker side, giving Vancouver an early lead.
With 4:42 left in the first, Nazem Kadri poked a puck past Demko to tie the game 1-1, but that’s as close as Calgary would come.
“Oftentimes, we had the right idea,” Kadri said. “It’s an execution thing, really, and with a team like that’s got some dangerous offensive players, obviously you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot a little bit if you turn it over too much.
“We saw them capitalize on a couple of chances, their goalie made some key saves at key times, and that’s just the way it went.”
At 13:55 of the second, Teddy Blueger picked up his first point as a Canuck when he converted a pass from Hughes for what proved to be the game winner. Di Giuseppe’s insurance marker came with 47 seconds remaining in the second period, when he took a feed in tight from Boeser.
Final shots were 31-18 for Vancouver, and neither team scored on the power play. The Canucks were 0 for 4 and the Flames were 0 for 2.
After finishing 32nd in the NHL on the penalty kill last season with a 71.6 per cent success rate, Tocchet said he has been pleased with his team’s recent play while shorthanded. Vancouver closed out its exhibition schedule at 20-for-23, a success rate of 87 per cent.
“We’ve got seven or eight guys that can P.K. for us,” Tocchet said. “That’s huge. I like the attitude and I like the structure. (Assistant coach) Mike Yeo is doing a nice job of teaching what we want.”
With the win, the Canucks finished out their pre-season schedule with a 2-3-1 record, while the Flames fell to 4-3-1.
“It was a good lesson for us,” said newly minted Flames captain Mikael Backlund. “We played a good team and it was good for us to play against a full NHL roster and get ready for Wednesday. But we all know in here it wasn’t good enough.
“We talked about it all training camp: We are at our best when we play the right way, and when we start turning pucks over and give teams opportunities, that’s when we struggle.”
Rookie Matt Coronato was Calgary’s leading scorer, with seven points in six exhibition appearances, but was held off the scoresheet on Friday.
NOTES: Vancouver defenceman Carson Soucy left the bench with an apparent left leg injury late in the second period. He did not return … The Canucks will open their regular season against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena next Wednesday, while the Flames host the Winnipeg Jets at the Saddledome the same night … The Flames officially announced on Thursday that they’ve reached the necessary agreements to undertake a new arena project, which is set to break ground in 2024.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2023.
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