With back-to-back regulation losses to the St. Louis Blues last week and a comeback that fell short in overtime against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff hopes took a massive hit. According to MoneyPuck.com, they currently have a slim 1.3 percent chance of making the dance in May and every game lost from here on out just brings it closer and closer to zero. They now only have 12 games remaining in their season and a possible 24 points up for grabs. That means the most points they can finish with is 98 and that’s if they run the gauntlet and go a perfect 12-0 (which is highly unlikely). What’s more likely is the projected point total of 87.3, which will probably not be good enough to squeak in.
Though, stranger things have happened. If the Canucks are going to manage the improbable and make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, they will need several things to go right including teams losing around them. The only thing they can control, however, is how they play. All they have to worry about is winning games and picking up points and then letting the chips fall where they may.
J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat have all done yeomen’s work in pulling their team into the fight when it comes to the playoff race. Combined, they have recorded 38 goals and 95 points over the last 20 games. Unfortunately, they have been the only ones accumulating points lately.
For the Canucks to even have a chance at the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, it can’t be just Miller, Pettersson, Hughes and Horvat producing. So with all that said, let’s take a look at three key players that need to step up their production significantly before the 2021-22 season draws to a close on April 29.
Things have not gone particularly well for Conor Garland over the past month or so. Not only is he on a 17-game goalless drought, but he is also facing criticism in the media from his head coach Bruce Boudreau as well. While Boudreau isn’t as nasty in the media as John Tortorella or Alain Vigneault, he is still honest when assessing his players.
“He didn’t play very well and we need more out of him,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said of Monday’s (March 28) effort. “He’s pressing really hard to score, but the idea is you can’t do it all by yourself when you’re pressing. You’ve got to use your teammates” (from ‘Canucks’ Conor Garland ‘pressing really hard,’ must use teammates more: Boudreau, The Province, 3/29/22).
Garland has had his share of chances, but, yes, he’s doing a lot of it in a phone booth by himself without using his teammates. He also had a brutal turnover in Monday’s game against the Blues that led to Boudreau shifting him down to the fourth line and ultimately criticizing him during his postgame presser.
Fortunately for team morale, Garland didn’t take the public criticism personally, saying, “It doesn’t bother me at all…It’s Bruce’s job to win games, so when you do something as a player that hinders that, it’s very fair for him to come out and say that, so it doesn’t bother me one bit. That’s his job.”
Garland will need to get back to the scoring ways that saw him record 9 goals and 23 points before the calendar turned to 2022 if the Canucks hope to make a run at the playoffs. Since then, he only has five goals and 14 points, all while spending most of his ice time with Miller and Pearson. That’s not good enough for a top-six player that is getting paid $4.95 million in average annual value to score goals.
It may be unfair to single out a rookie in Vasily Podkolzin as a player that needs to step up his production, but as one of the few scoring threats in the bottom six, he is a key factor in the outcome of the playoff race for the Canucks. When he’s not adding offence, it puts more pressure on the top six to produce and makes the team as a whole that much easier to defend.
While Podkolzin’s 10 goals and 17 points are nothing to sneeze at, he, like Garland hasn’t been able to put the puck in the back of the net in a long time. Since potting goals in back-to-back games against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders back on Feb. 28 and March 3 respectively, he has gone 13 games without a goal. Before his assist against the Blues on March 28, he had also gone 11 without a point.
Now, to be fair, youngsters like Podkolzin have a tendency to struggle with consistency. As he grows into his game in the NHL, those dry spells should become less and less frequent. That’s not to say he isn’t working hard or getting his chances, he just has to start executing or the Canucks will be out on the links rather than playing playoff games in a few weeks.
It might help if Podkolzin gets better linemates, which he got briefly against the Golden Knights when Boudreau aligned him with Miller in the second and third periods. If he gets more time with the Canucks’ leading scorer and assist-man, that execution should come sooner rather than later.
Brock Boeser isn’t on crazy-long goalless droughts like Garland and Podkolzin, but he hasn’t been exactly lighting up the scoreboard like Miller, Pettersson and Horvat either. He hasn’t scored in five games and only has four goals in his last 20. Again, like Garland, he’s playing consistently in the top six and not producing nearly enough for the ice time he is getting on the season (18:35 average time-on-ice per game). While he’s one goal away from hitting 20 for the fourth time in his career, the Canucks need way more from him down the stretch.
What may help is shifting Boeser back to the left-wing hash marks on the first-unit power play and just letting him unload one-timers from there. Since his rookie season, both Travis Green and now Boudreau seem to be hesitant to use him in that position. From my perspective, the Canucks are wasting his talents by using him as a net-front presence rather than a shooting threat. Even Boudreau himself said at the beginning of his tenure that he wanted Boeser to shoot more because of his dangerous shot. So why not put him in the best position to succeed? I still don’t understand why they don’t just have Boeser (right-hand shot) and Pettersson (left-hand shot) on opposite sides of the ice with Horvat as the bumper, Miller as the net-front presence and Hughes up top feeding both of them one-timers. But I digress.
In the end, the Canucks need all the help they can get in the next month as they attempt to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. If all of Garland, Podkolzin and Boeser start scoring goals almost every other game and Miller, Pettersson, Horvat and Hughes keep up their insane production, they will have put their best foot forward. The probability of success remains low, but that doesn’t mean the impossible can’t happen anyway. It’s up to the players to band together and make it a reality.
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.