The Vancouver Canucks opened up the pursuit for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a shutout loss to the stingy Minnesota Wild on Sunday night and will be looking for redemption in Game 2 on Tuesday.
The Canucks were blanketed all night by the sound defensive structure of the Wild led by head coach Dean Evason. No matter what they did, they could not generate enough quality chances on back up-turned starter Alex Stalock. Obviously, they will need to change that to win Game 2. It won’t be easy, but the Canucks do have the skill and offence to turn the tides.
Though for that to happen the Canucks will need better performances from everyone not named Elias Pettersson, who was probably the best player on the ice even though he never hit the scoresheet.
If the Canucks don’t want to fall behind 2-0 and consequently face the possibility of leaving the bubble only a week into the postseason, the following three players have to step up to the plate and hit one out of the park, or at the very least make contact with the ball.
Tyler Toffoli has to be more noticeable in Game 2, period. The veteran winger, who had a monster start to his Canucks’ career with 6 goals and 10 points, needs to return to form and become the impact player he appeared to be just before the pause occurred. He was held to nary a shot on goal and never threatened in the 15:22 he was on the ice. When you are playing with Pettersson on the top line, that cannot happen if you hope to be walking away with a victory at the end of the night.
If I was Travis Green, I would be swapping Toffoli for Brock Boeser on the top line and in turn, reunite the Lotto Line which was so good for the Canucks before he became a part of the team. Not to discount what he did during the regular season with Pettersson and Miller, but Boeser just fits better with the skill sets of those two.
As I have said in previous articles, Toffoli should be playing with Tanner Pearson on the second line. They have familiarity with each other from their time with the Los Angeles Kings and could form another version of the “That 70s Line” with Bo Horvat who plays a similar style to their former centerman, Jeff Carter. They all play the same north-south game and could be the threat the Canucks need to counter the defensive structure of the Wild. Bottom line is, Toffoli needs to have a better game on Tuesday no matter who he plays with.
Of all the games Tanner Pearson has played with the Canucks since he came over in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, this was by far his worst. He took two minor penalties, had no shots on goal, and even had two giveaways credited to him. That is simply not good enough for a veteran winger who was supposed to bring leadership and experience to the team. Just like his former Kings linemate, he never threatened the scoresheet in a positive way and was a liability to the team as well.
As a member of the line that was supposed to be playing a sound defensive game and limiting the chances against, that just cannot happen. Like most of his top-six compatriots, he needs to figure out a way to break the structure of the Wild and generate way more shots on Stalock. Of the 28 shots the Canucks took in the game, only five were from the top two lines and only one was from the supposed second wave of attack. That’s anemic, to say the least. For a 21-goal scorer in the regular season, he simply needs to be better in Game 2.
I am going to give Adam Gaudette the benefit of the doubt in Game 1, only because he was playing with two agitators in Antoine Roussel and Micheal Ferland. As we saw in the game on Sunday, he is severely miss-matched playing with those two. If Green had aspirations of becoming a matchmaker in the next life, he should stop now and start thinking of something else.
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In his entire professional career, Gaudette has never been known as a gritty, agitating player. In fact, he only eclipsed the 40-minute mark in penalties once in his tenure as a hockey player. He just doesn’t play that style of game. His game is more offensive and cerebral, which does not fit well with the agitating qualities of Ferland and Roussel. If he is going to be effective as the third-line center and subsequent third wave, he needs two wingers that compliment his style more.
Enter Zack MacEwen and the much-maligned Jake Virtanen. Along with Gaudette, the trio has the size, speed and forechecking abilities to push the Wild back into their own zone. More importantly, they should be able to draw the penalties that the Canucks couldn’t seem to draw in Game 1. With all the power play success they had in the regular season, that has to start becoming a factor in this series. The only way that will happen is if they ultimately draw more penalties and in turn get more time with the man advantage.
Canucks Need More Players Pulling on the Rope in Game 2
No matter who is ultimately in the lineup for Game 2, the Canucks need better efforts from their entire forward group. If Game 1 was a game of tug-a-war, the Wild pulled everyone into the mud very quickly. If they hope to win Game 2 and tie the series, they have to have more players pulling on the rope; 11 shots from your forward group are just not good enough to win a game in any league, NHL or not.
I mentioned three players in this article, but the load should not fall solely on them to have better performances in Game 2. The offensive leaders of Horvat, Boeser, and Miller also have to step up and have better games. At the very least they need to be more prominent in the offensive zone generating chances on Stalock and pressuring the Wild defence. It can’t all be on Pettersson to make a difference out there.
Additionally, whoever Green puts into the bottom-six has to follow suit and make the Wild think twice about putting their entire focus on Pettersson. Physicality is great, but offensive pressure and chances make a bigger difference in the long run. They need to make Evason adjust his defensive-minded system and shake the confidence he has in it. If the Canucks can do that, they will ultimately win Game 2 and hopefully change the momentum in this series.
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.