Two Canucks got the monkey off of their backs on Monday night.
The slumping Bo Horvat, who was the only Canuck not to register a regulation point through the first 11 games got an assist on Jannik Hansen’s opening goal, and scored his first even-strength goal of the season. It was likely a goal that Flyers goalie Steve Mason wanted back as Horvat scored on an extended wrap-around with Mason in the butterfly. It was the eventual game-winner as the Canucks went on to win 4-1.
There wasn’t as much pressure on Jake Virtanen to score a goal. The 19-year-old winger was told on the weekend that he and Jared McCann would be sticking with the team passed the nine-game mark. He currently leads the team in hits with 32 hits despite missing three games as a healthy scratch. He has improved in every game and Monday night’s contest against Philadelphia was arguably his best game as a Canuck.
In the second period he made a great power move to get the puck to the net, and if it weren’t for a last-second clearing by Chris VandeVelde then Virtanen surely would have had his first NHL goal.
In the third period Virtanen made an even better power move towards the net, taking the puck towards the slot like a young Todd Bertuzzi, and backhanding it in for his first career goal. His linemates Brandon Sutter and Alex Burrows were celebrating almost as hard as Virtanen when his 3-1 goal put the game out of reach.
Scoring has not been a problem for the Canucks in the early going, and almost everybody is clicking after Horvat and Virtanen lit the lamp on Monday. The Canucks sit ninth overall in the NHL with 2.92 goals/game. They would surely like to see the Sedins and Vrbata put in a few more goals, but there shouldn’t be too many complaints about that with Vrbata on a subtle four-game point streak. However here are three Canucks who could use a goal.
Unlike the other two Canucks on this list, there is no pressing need for Hutton to put the puck in the back of the net. He has proven himself worthy of his NHL promotion thus far with decent play in his own zone, especially for a rookie. His first pass to exit the defensive zone is NHL-calibre, and can be compared to Chris Tanev.
On the offensive side of the puck he is tied with Alex Edler in points with five assists through 12 games. His presence has helped rejuvenate the Canucks second powerplay unit which was invisible last year. Hutton is putting up points, and surely with his offensive instincts the goals are bound to come.
Many people, myself included, thought Yannick Weber would have a decent shot at becoming a top four defenceman for the Canucks following his offensive outburst from last season. However that wasn’t the case as Weber found himself as the seventh defenceman once again to begin the season. It looked like the right-shooting Weber would play with Dan Hamhuis on the second pairing, but head coach Willie Desjardins has opted to go with Matt Bartowski and Hamhuis through the majority of the first 12 games.
That pairing stuck together through last night’s game even though they had some adventurous shifts in their own zone. To be fair, Weber has averaged almost a minute more per game than Bartowski, but that’s likely because of playing on the first powerplay unit where he has registered one assist through six games.
Much like last season, it looks like Weber will have to prove himself again to earn a spot in the lineup, since Desjardins has both Bartowski and Luca Sbisa ahead of him. He will likely remain in the line up for the forseeable future since Sbisa is out, but there is no guaranteed spot for him when Sbisa returns. Since Weber doesn’t bring the physicality that Bartowski and Sbisa bring, he will have to score some goals to stay in the line up.
Chris Higgins began practicing with the Canucks Wednesday on a line with Bo Horvat and Jannik Hansen. That means that Baertschi is going to have to score in a hurry, or else he’s in danger of losing his spot in the line up.
He is the only Canucks forward (other than Brandon Prust) who hasn’t scored a goal. He made a nice play against Philadelphia to set up Hansen’s goal, giving him four assists through 10 games. He also has the second-best Corsi on the Canucks at 51.1%, although it’s dipped from a couple of weeks back when it was around 55%.
Despite his offensive instincts, Baertschi has been play hockey a little too much on the perimeter.With Higgins on Horvat’s line instead of Baertschi, it gives Desjardins a more traditional checking line, a line that he would have more trust in. Baertschi hasn’t gained much trust from Desjardins in pressure situations, and has the second-lowest ice time among Canucks forwards, only behind Jake Virtanen.
That being said, Higgins is likely behind game speed since he got injured in the first preseason game of the season. Higgins is probably better suited easing into the flow of the game on the fourth line, replacing Adam Cracknell. Baertschi has better speed and offensive potential than Higgins, but he’s going to have to score to stay in the line up.
Desjardins’ patience is going to run out unless he finds a way to score.