After dropping the first three games of the road trip to the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, the Vancouver Canucks finally broke through against the Washington Capitals on Sunday with a 4-2 win. Not only that, but Elias Pettersson also broke out with two goals and played some of his best hockey of the season.
Now it’s off to Music City and the Nashville Predators where the Canucks will try to salvage four out of a possible 10 points before returning home to face the same Panthers team that beat them 5-2 at the beginning of this road trip. Luckily for them, the Predators are coming in on a four-game losing streak after dropping their latest game to the St. Louis Blues on Monday. Jussi Saros started that game, so it’s possible they will get to see David Rittich instead of the recently-named NHL All-Star. Let’s take a look at some storylines as they get ready to face them for the 79th time.
Storylines: Nashville Predators
Tanner Jeannot Generating Calder Trophy Buzz
After a solid 15 games in 2020-21 where he scored five goals and seven points, Tanner Jeannot has burst onto the scene as a legitimate Calder Trophy contender in 2021-22. He already has 12 goals and 24 points in 40 games and currently leads all rookies in goals, one ahead of the favourite Lucas Raymond. What makes his goal-scoring exploits impressive is that he isn’t a flashy top-line forward like Raymond. He makes his living in the dirty areas, winning battles along the boards and scoring goals around the crease. He also kills penalties and plays a regular role in the bottom six. Not many Calder Trophy candidates can boast that type of playing style.
Jeannot will likely not win the award, but he certainly deserves to be in the running for it. He’s on pace to post his first 20-goal season in the NHL and he’s doing it as an undrafted free agent. Again, not many Calder Trophy candidates can say that either.
Matt Duchene Turning Back the Clock
Since signing a massive seven-year contract with the Predators worth $8 million in average annual value (AAV), Matt Duchene has not lived up to the hype of a superstar top-line center. Before 2021-22, he only had 19 goals in 100 games. This season has been a different story, however, as he already has 17 goals in 35 games and leads all Predators in goals. This is what the Predators envisioned when they signed him to that contract.
Currently on pace to shatter the career-high 30 goals he scored in 2015-16 with the Colorado Avalanche, Duchene has seemingly figured out how to score in the NHL again. With how bad the Seattle Kraken are right now, I’m sure general manager Ron Francis is kicking himself for selecting Calle Jarnkrok over him. For those of you wondering, Jarnkrok only has five goals in 26 games so far.
So Is Mikael Granlund…
The same goes for Mikael Granlund, the man the Predators gave up Kevin Fiala for at the trade deadline in 2018-19. Since the trade, Granlund has 36 goals and 95 points in 167 games while Fiala has 55 goals and 126 points in 168 games. Before the surge in 2021-22, the gap was much larger as Fiala had 50 goals and 101 points to Granlund’s 31 goals and 62 points.
Granlund hasn’t rediscovered the form that saw him score a career-high 26 goals in 2016-17, but he has unearthed his playmaking skills again. He already has 28 assists this season, which is double the amount he had in the last two campaigns combined. That may have something to do with the success of two particular teammates, Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg. 18 of his 28 assists have come on goals scored by one of them. I guess the adage rings true here, playmakers need their goalscorers to put the puck in the net for them to be successful.
Storylines: Vancouver Canucks
Is Elias Pettersson Back?
Before Pettersson broke through against the Capitals on Sunday, he had not scored two goals in a game since February of 2021, which was nearly a year ago. He also was on yet another seven-game goalless drought. Hopefully scoring against the Capitals was the tonic he needed to rediscover the game we have not seen since the 2020 Playoffs.
Pettersson looked more like himself on Sunday as he flashed his patented wrist shot on his first goal on the power play and his elite hockey sense on the second. He was shooting the puck and hitting the net as well. If the Canucks hope to make the playoffs this season, that better be a sign of things to come.
Captain Bo Leading The Way
Bo Horvat is on pace for yet another 20-goal season as he leads the Canucks with 13 goals. He has at least 20 goals in four out of the seven seasons he has played in the NHL. He also leads the NHL in faceoffs taken with 891 and is rocking a tremendous 56.5 faceoff percentage. Without him, they would be up the creek without a paddle, especially when it comes to faceoffs as J.T. Miller is the next one up with 542. Yes, you read that correctly, Horvat has taken a full 349 more faceoffs than his closest competition.
By the time the season comes to an end in April, Horvat probably will be touching the career-high 2,018 he took during the 2018-19 season. Since his career started in 2014-15, he has taken a grand total of 10,780 faceoffs, which is behind only Ryan O’Reilly, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby. Three out of the four have won multiple Selke Awards during their career. Could Horvat be in the running this season? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
Projected Lines, Defence Pairings & Starting Goaltenders
Tanner Pearson – J.T. Miller – Brock Boeser
Vasily Podkolzin– Elias Pettersson – Nils Höglander
Tyler Motte – Juho Lammikko – Matthew Highmore
Justin Dowling – Jason Dickinson – Alex Chiasson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes – Tucker Poolman
Kyle Burroughs – Luke Schenn
Thatcher Demko is 2-1-1 against the Predators in his career with a 3.06 goals-against average (GAA) and .908 save percentage (SV%).
UPDATE: It was announced by the team that Bo Horvat was placed in COVID protocol this morning.
Filip Forsberg – Mikael Granlund – Matt Duchene
Nick Cousins – Ryan Johansen – Luke Kunin
Yakov Trenin – Colton Scissons – Tanner Jeannot
Eeli Tolvanen – Michael McCarron – Philip Tomasino
Roman Josi – Alexandre Carrier
Ben Harpur – Matt Benning
Mark Borowiecki – Philippe Myers
David Rittich is 4-2-2 against the Canucks in his career with a 2.42 GAA and .903 SV% to go along with one shutout.
Canucks Next Game: Jan. 21 vs. Florida Panthers (26-7-5, 57 points)
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.