It was a back and forth game but, finally, the Vancouver Canucks beat the New York Islanders 5-4 when J.T. Miller scored the only goal in a shootout. Watching the game on television with hockey analysts giving their own viewpoints and interpreting the play sometimes doesn’t give fans a sense of how players even feel about their team’s play (or even their own). And having never played highly-competitive hockey myself, it’s hard for me to know what’s likely going on in players’ heads.
So it was a bit of a surprise that Miller commented on the team’s last few games when he said,
“I think we have played a lot of the same hockey here for the last six games or so. It’s just nice to come out on top. We are doing a lot of good things.”
What immediately intrigues me about Miller’s statement is that he seems to believe the team is playing good hockey and, as he says, “doing a lot of good things.” Perhaps that’s true. What the record reflects is much of what I’ve seen. The team gives up lots of shots on net and, except for the rare 9-3 win over the Boston Bruins, can’t generate enough offense to win many more games than it loses. In fact, over the last seven games that Miller is talking about, the Canucks have a record of 2-5.
Unless Miller was misquoted or I am misinterpreting what he says, he believes the team is playing well but not being rewarded. If so, this game of hockey is a funny one.
With the victory, the Canucks currently move into a wild-card playoff spot. Assuming the NHL continues to play hockey, the team has two tough games coming up when it plays the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday and then the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. Those will be tough places to win for the team, who desperately needs a couple of victories in a row to firmly position itself into the race for the playoffs.
As the team waits for the remainder of the NHL season to unfold, in this post I want to share some of the news and rumors emerging from the Canucks team.
Item One: Elias Pettersson’s Assist Helps Him Match Last Season’s Total
Elias Pettersson’s assist on Tyler Toffoli’s goal in the first period gave the second-year Swede 66 points (27 goals and 39 assists) in 68 games this season. That point total matches his rookie scoring mark from last season. From my perspective, he seems to be playing well recently. I thought he looked injured and as if he were laboring a few games ago. So, it’s good to see him playing more like himself again.
Item Two: Brock Boeser Returns to the Ice, But Not to the Score Board
Brock Boeser’s return to the ice after missing 12 games was – well – quiet. He had been out with a rib issue (I had read “fractured rib cartilage,” but can’t imagine what that is) but returned ahead of schedule. Originally there was a suggestion his regular season was over so it was good to see him skating again.
Boeser played a full game, moving back into his top-six spot and logging 17:17 of ice time. For the season, he’s scored 45 points in 57 games. His return probably means Jake Virtanen moves into a bottom-six role and Loui Eriksson moves back to the press box.
Item Three: Zack MacEwen Scores Third Goal in Three Games
Zack MacEwen is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Vancouver. He scored what used to be a rare goal for him when he tipped in an Alex Edler shot. It was the 23-year-old MacEwen’s fifth goal of the season (to go along with a single assist) and was his third goal in his last three games. Like the stat or not, he has a plus-6 rating in the 17 NHL games this season.
Item Four: Alex Edler Hits and Passes 400 Career Points
Speaking of Edler, in my last Canucks post I reported that he’d reached a career milestone with 300 assists to go with his 99 goals. His two assists in the Islanders game (setting up Adam Gaudette and MacEwen) were his 400th and 401st points in his 873-game career.
Given that the veteran Swedish defenseman is sitting at 99 goals, he’ll likely add another goal soon to hit the 100-goal mark. He’s one of the best defensemen in Canucks history and, from what I hear about his community work, one of the all-round good guys. Congratulations to him on this milestone.
Item Five: J.T. Miller Hits the Scoresheet and then the Game-Winning Shootout Goal
There’s no question in my mind that Miller has been one of the best stories of the Canucks season and a great addition to the roster. He scored a power-play assist and then, although it doesn’t count on his personal scoresheet, scored the only shootout goal to carry his team to a victory. The 26-year-old winger now has 72 points (27 goals, 45 assists) in 69 games.
Item Six: Tyler Toffoli Sets a Career Milestone with His 300th Career Point
Edler wasn’t the only Canucks player who hit a milestone scoring number. Trade-deadline newcomer Tyler Toffoli scored both a goal and a power-play assist in the 5-4 win. For his entire season – both with the Los Angeles Kings and the Canucks – he has 24 goals and 44 points in 68 games.
However, Toffoli’s been a point-a-game player with his new team with 10 points in his 10 Canucks games. In addition, his assist on Bo Horvat’s goal was his 300th career point, an achievement that took him 525 games to reach.
Item Seven: Canucks Injury Reports
Chris Tanev suffered a “lower-body” injury against the Islanders and will be considered week-to-week. The rugged defenseman hasn’t missed a game this season (playing all 69 of them) despite playing tough hockey.
The 30-year-old Tanev has only scored two goals but he has tied his career-high in points with 20. The Canucks should be pleased they have Jordie Benn waiting in the wings – probably anxious to get on the ice. Today’s reported depth chart shows that the team has moved Troy Stecher into Tanev’s important spot beside rookie star Quinn Hughes.
Jacob Markstrom (who has a lower-body injury) skated for the first time since undergoing surgery Tuesday. We’re not certain what the timing is for Markstrom to return to the ice, but just having him practice is a good sign for the Canucks. The team misses the 30-year-old Swede. Once he begins to practice, there will undoubtedly be more updates on his return.
Jay Beagle remains sidelined with an undisclosed injury. The team hasn’t released any timing for Beagle’s return but it isn’t a good sign that he hasn’t practiced yet with the team. He missed his fifth game straight in the team’s win over the Islanders.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
As I type that phrase “What’s Next for the Canucks.” I realize I might not type it again for a while. The NHL will announce on Thursday, Mar. 12, if the league – similar to its sister NBA – might suspend play because of the coronavirus.
As a result, I’m simply unsure what’s next for the team. It’s a scary time all over and facing the Coyotes and the Avalanche over the next two days might be the least of the Canucks’ worries. Here’s hoping things come under control sooner rather than later.