In the newest edition of Vancouver Canucks‘ News & Rumors. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller have their best game of the season while the team’s power play comes alive. The penalty kill (PK) continues to struggle, but the Canucks should have some help on the way. Also, Vasily Podkolzin is starting to adjust to the NHL game.
Pettersson, Boeser & Miller Click
The Lotto Line made up of Pettersson, Boeser and Miller, put together their best performance of the season in the team’s win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday night. The trio combined for four goals and three assists in the 6-3 win.
Sunday night’s performance from the trio, particularly Pettersson (one goal, two assists), is significant for the Canucks. Miller has been off to a great start this season with five goals and a team-leading 14 points in 12 games, while Boeser and Pettersson have had a slow start. Boeser has four goals and six points through nine games, while the Swedish forward now has two goals and eight points in 12 games after his three-point performance on Sunday.
According to The Athletic’s Thomas Drance, as of Nov 4th, the Lotto Line ranked last by expected goal differential out of 69 forward lines that had played at least 40 minutes together at five-on-five (from ‘Canucks stock watch: Who’s rising, who’s falling through 10 games this season?,’ The Athletic, November 4, 2021). He adds the line’s expected goal differential over 52 minutes at five-on-five is below 30%. Luckily for the Canucks, the line improved on that number on Sunday. The Lotto Line posted an expected goal for percentage of 75.49 in 10:25 of playing time. If the line continues to produce scoring chances at five-on-five, not only will the Lotto Line start converting and scoring goals, but the Canucks will improve their record.
Canucks’ Power Play Comes Alive
The highlight of Sunday’s win over Dallas was the team’s first unit power play. After going 0/11 on the man advantage in the previous two games against the New York Rangers and the Nashville Predators, the team converted on three of their six power-play opportunities(from ‘Canucks 6, Stars 3: Walking the walk helps Canucks deliver on promise to perform,’ The Province, November 7, 2021).
“It felt great,” said Pettersson. “We had a good honest talk with the power-play group this morning and it set us up with confidence to score more on the power play.”
The first unit made a few key changes to the power play. First, Boeser took Alex Chaisson’s spot along with Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, Pettersson and Miller.
Also, there was movement on the power play as each player rotated around the offensive zone to get different looks. Usually, Hughes remains at the top of the blueline and is flanked by Pettersson (right) and Miller (left). Meanwhile, Boeser is below the goal line looking to set up Horvat, who is in the bumper position, for a one-timer. This has led to most PK units figuring out the team’s power play. On Sunday, the group’s movement led to two goals. Pettersson scored the second power-play goal (PPG) from Hughes’ usual spot, while Miller scored from Pettersson’s usual spot on the third PPG.
Another change was shooting the puck instead of making an extra pass, which Miller did on his first PPG.
“Everybody has got to be shooters and simplify,” Pettersson said. “And funny enough, Miller scores five seconds (actually seven) into the first power play, so we just have to continue with that mentality to snap it around and move it quick and change positions.”
Motte, Sutter’s Return Could Help Penalty Kill
Although the Canucks’ power play found success on Sunday, the PK continued to hurt the team. Joe Pavelski scored the opening goal for the Stars on the man advantage, which was the 13th power-play goal the Canucks have allowed through 12 games this season. The team has ownership of a league-worst 63.9 penalty kill percentage.
The forwards the team has on the PK are Jason Dickinson, J.T. Miller, Justin Bailey and Juho Lammikko. Dickinson was brought in as a defensive forward, but so far, he has struggled. He’s having his worst season in the faceoff circle, registering 37.04 face-off win %. The forward stated he’s losing sleep over the team’s struggles on the PK (from ‘For Canucks’ Dickinson, it’s sleepless in Vancouver with NHL-worst penalty kill,’ The Province, November 8, 2021).
“We’re not blocking enough shots and it feels like a lot of times that we’re giving up easy ice,” Dickinson said. “The best PK’s are relentless and make it hard for teams to set up. Sometimes, it feels like we’re in between reads and it doesn’t look like it’s instinctual right now.”
The team has lost two players from their PK due to injury in Motte and Sutter. Both players have not played a game to start the season. Motte is expected to return soon, and he will likely replace Bailey. Meanwhile, whenever Sutter returns, he will replace Lammikko.
The Canucks hired Brad Shaw to improve on a disappointing defence and a decent PK, which had a success rate of 80.5% last season. Instead, the club is off to a worse start down a man this season. Before joining the team, he was known for his success on the PK with the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The team has only played 12 games, so it may take most of the players on the PK some time to learn Shaw’s system. Additionally, once the club gets Sutter and Motte back, there should be some improvement. Also, Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander could emerge as players the Canucks use on the PK.
Podkolzin’s Role Growing
Speaking of Podkolzin, the 2020 first-round draft pick is starting to get comfortable with the NHL game. He scored his third goal of the season, where he showed off his impressive shot.
The Russian forward is starting to gain the trust of head coach Travis Green. At practice, he played on the second power-play unit in the bumper spot. Horvat plays in the bumper spot on the first unit and thinks the rookie can be successful.
“There is an art to being in the middle a little bit, to know where to go and hit those holes,” said Bo Horvat. “I think [Podkolzin’s] smart enough to know that and I mean, he’s got a lot of good hockey players on his unit that are gonna be able to find him. He’s got probably one of the hardest shots on our team, so if they can get it to him, it’s probably gonna be in the net.”
Meanwhile, Green is seeing an improvement in Podkolzin, and he is progressing a lot faster than the team expected him to.
“He’s a strong skater, a top-end speed fast guy,” said Green. “I think he’s adapted well to the quickness part and getting places. Part of it his feet, but also his mind. We’ve thrown a lot at him from day one. You know I think during the game, I probably go up to him five six times just on little things that we see, just to make sure he’s grasping them. We’ve thrown a lot at him, but we’ve tried not to overload him as well.”
Dowling Return, Schenn Out
The Canucks activated Justin Dowling from injured reserve on Sunday and loaned Nic Petan to Abbotsford. Dowling played 8:16 against his former team on Sunday. He should be a part of the team’s fourth line for the remainder of the season as long as he’s healthy. Meanwhile, Luke Schenn missed action on Sunday and missed practice on Monday as well. He is out day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.