The last few games have been less than stellar for the Vancouver Canucks. After looking like world-beaters by taking points in 12 of the team’s last 13 games, the Canucks have lost two straight going into Sunday’s brother versus brother (Quinn Hughes vs. Jack Hughes) showdown against the New Jersey Devils.
At the start of the season, the Canucks lost their first two games on the road (to the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames). Most recently, they have lost their last two games on the road (to the Chicago Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets). In between, the team sandwiched quite a point streak. They haven’t been beaten at home in regulation all season.
As the team prepares for the Devils, there are a number of news items emerging from the club. In this post, I will try to keep Canucks’ fans up-to-date on what some of these are.
Item One: Pettersson Is Playing a Different Game this Season
Elias Pettersson is productive, which is no surprise, and he has been in both seasons he’s been in the NHL. However, he’s productive in a different way this season than last. Although his scoring is relatively the same in its total (this season he has 21 points in 17 games, last season he had 19 points in his first 17 games), there’s a difference between the balance of his goals and his assists.
The specific difference is that this season he has 6 goals and 15 assists (for 21 points) in 17 games. In his first 17 games of the 2018-19 season, Pettersson had 12 goals and 7 assists (for 19 points). He had twice as many goals last season and less than half the assists in the same number of games.
Pettersson’s linemate Brock Boeser’s scoring reflects the impact of that difference in the young Swede’s game. Comparing Boeser’s first 17 games for each season, this season he has 7 goals and 10 assists (for 17 points); in contrast, he had four goals and eight assists (12 points) last season. That’s a five-point improvement. Projected over the entire season, that would be a 25-point increase.
However, perhaps the biggest change in the top line has been the addition of J.T. Miller, whose 8 goals and 10 assists give Pettersson another scoring option. This means that he doesn’t need to do all the scoring himself.
It was interesting that the great Wayne Gretzky said about Pettersson this time last season, “From my point of view, he’s got a lot of my similarities.”
Indeed, for someone who watched the Edmonton Oilers for many seasons as a professor at the University of Alberta and now has retired to British Columbia where the Canucks are my home team, it seems that Pettersson is growing towards becoming the assist machine that Gretzky was at his best. Obviously, Gretzky could score goals – he leads the NHL in career goals with 894 – but he was at his very best when he made those around him better.
That’s what seems to be happening with Pettersson this season. It’s a stretch to compare a second-year player – regardless of how good that player is – to Gretzky. However, from someone who’s watched them both – they do, as Gretzky admitted himself, have similarities.
Item Two: Demko Finally Shows Himself to Be Mortal
Prior to Friday’s 4-1 loss on the road against the Winnipeg Jets, the only other game Thatcher Demko lost was the bad luck of being on the wrong end of a 1-0 shutout against the Devils on Oct. 19 in New Jersey. Against the Jets, Demko showed himself to be mortal by giving up three goals on 34 shots.
It wasn’t as if Demko played poorly, but the Canucks couldn’t generate any offense. And, this season, that’s a surprise. Demko’s record is now 4-2-0, with a 1.98 goals against average and .933 save percentage.
Item Three: J.T. Miller Keeps Scoring
The only Canucks goal in the Friday night loss was J.T. Miller’s. Actually, Miller scored the first goal of the game, but that lead didn’t last. The Jets then took over. The other interesting stat about Miller is that he won five of six faceoff chances. He’s now scored in consecutive games.
Item Four: Baertschi Plays His First Game of the Season
It was a surprise to many Canucks’ fans that Sven Baertschi, who seemed healthy after last season’s concussion issues, was cut at the end of training camp. A second surprise to some was that he wasn’t plucked off waivers. For me, it was good to see the 27-year-old Swiss winger back in a Canucks’ uniform. He totaled 13:13 minutes of ice time in his NHL season debut playing with Bo Horvat (with whom he’d had success in the past) and Jake Virtanen.
After Baertschi cleared waivers, he played seven games with the Utica Comets. During his time in the AHL, he scored two goals, eight assists, and 10 points. Head coach Travis Green said of Baertschi’s return: “Not bad. He had his looks.” (from ‘Jets 4, Canucks 1: Better effort, but Vancouver heads home after turbulence on the road,’ The Vancouver Sun, 9/11/19)
Sadly, as much as I wanted to see Baertschi back, I didn’t want to see Adam Gaudette demoted to the press box. But that’s exactly what happened. Gaudette has played in seven games and had looked good recently, with three points in his last four contests.
Item Five: Tanev Was Down, But Not Out
Chris Tanev is a soldier, and fans love him because he suits up and plays game after game. In Thursday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Tanev had to leave the game because of an undisclosed injury. On Friday night against the Jets, he “briefly” had to leave the game after taking a Patrik Laine shot off his leg during the second period.
About the injury and his brief departure, Tanev reported that, because it wasn’t broken, he came back to the ice. Tough guy.
Tanev blocked four shots in the 4-1 loss to the Jets. In total this season, Tanev has four points and 49 blocks in 17 games. He makes a great partner for rookie star Quinn Hughes. Tanev is the defensive presence that allows Hughes to jump into the offense. That tandem has been working well this season for the Canucks.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
The Canucks come home to play the Devils in a Sunday afternoon game. The Devils are not without star appeal. Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP for his play during 2017-18. He can flat-out fly. During the offseason, the Devils acquired P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and Nikita Gusev. They’re worth watching.
Finally, they won the first choice in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and picked Quinn’s brother Jack. Brother against brother should make this game interesting.
The Canucks could use a win.