The Vancouver Canucks left the Saddledome after a sloppy effort on Saturday. Elias Pettersson continues to wow, but there are concerning issues for the rest of the team.
What a game for all Vancouver Canucks fans. Myself and other members of Team Tank were very worried that games this season would be unwatchable if Travis Green was going to grind the game down to a halt. Fortunately, we have Elias Pettersson, who is going to force the Canucks bench boss to plan around the young star instead of his defensive strategy.
The team may have lost 7-4, but two of those goals were via empty net. If Vancouver can lose in high scoring games, led by Pettersson, you will hear few complaints from us. However, there are a few concerning things to discuss. Special teams was interesting to say the least. Brandon Sutter beat a goalie shorthanded and the Canucks scored twice with the man advantage, but their penalty kill let them down. More on that later.
In terms of shot shares, the Canucks were a mess. Outshot 37-20, the Canucks were struggling to generate chances and looked rather disorganized. Calgary was swarming and after opening the scoring on the first shot, 12 seconds in, it was an all-too-familiar feeling from last season. Elias Pettersson really is a game changer, because he could have won that game on his own. Here are our three takeaways from the game.
1. Elias Pettersson: The new Brock Boeser
Brock Boeser was easily Vancouver’s most exciting player in his rookie season, but it looks like his time as the face of the Canucks’ franchise may only wind up lasting one year. That’s because rookie Elias Pettersson absolutely shredding the NHL competition next year, and he’s only the early favorite to win the Calder Trophy right now.
Calgary’s stout group of defencemen had little answer for the star rookie, who potted two goals and an assist on Saturday. That’s now five points for Pettersson in his first two games, and he almost set up a couple of other goals in the contest.
The Canucks don’t have a point from Boeser yet this season. That’s totally fine, because fans are currently focused solely on Pettersson. This is the player who will be the face of the franchise, while Boeser will fit in nicely as his sidekick.
Not a whole lot more can be said about Pettersson that hasn’t already been said. He’s come every bit as advertised so far, and his hot start really isn’t a surprise. If this keeps up, he’ll take over as the most exciting and dominant player in Vancouver.
2. Travis Green is not happy with his top line and expects more
Are some of us being to hard on the Canucks’ supposed top line? No, I don’t. Pettersson made it clear how much better he was than the rest of the team. However, the top line of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi coasted through the preseason. For Boeser, I can see why his play has been less than desirable.
I really do think he should rest if he is hurt. People want to point to the muscle he gained as a reason for slowing down, but I don’t think it’s that. Maybe Pettersson has changed the dynamic, but he’s not the same shoot-first winger we saw last year. There is likely a mix of a physical and mental block in his way, but if his back is really bothering him, then he should get the chance to get back to 100%. Nothing is on the line at this point of the season.
But there is no excuse for the rest of his line. They are getting caved in at even strength and without Elias Pettersson to feed them pucks on the power play, they would have nothing to show for. And that’s not just yesterday’s game. That line was just as bad in the home opener, but was overshadowed by Pettersson’s debut.
Green using the word average to describe them is kind, but it might be worth it to break up the line. I know the Canucks want Pettersson to carry Loui Eriksson, but maybe everyone will benefit if Boeser and Eriksson trade places in the lineup. Horvat doesn’t look bad with Eriksson and it might help them tighten up defensively since they will attempt to log hard matchups as the visitors. The road trip does not get any easier from here, so I wouldn’t trot out an identical lineup in Carolina.
3. The Canucks really need to stop taking penalties
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Well, the Canucks played with fire in the home opener with multiple trips to the penalty box. Calgary did not take advantage, but that changed yesterday. For Vancouver, the Canucks’ strength is their power play, which did well, going 2 for 6.
However, the Flames going 3 for 6 was what sunk them in the game. And who happened to be on the ice for all three of those goals? Jay Beagle and Markus Granlund. Beagle was brought in to do one job and suddenly forgot what that was after being successful on Wednesday.
Did a lot change between then and now? I think the only difference is that Calgary quickly adjusted and picked apart a predictable and ineffective penalty kill. That side of special teams buried the Canucks last year and it’s hard to say which penalty kill will show up on a nightly basis. And yes, the inconsistent goaltending from Jacob Markstrom does not help anybody.
What I will say is that the Flames played sloppy as well and a high-end team would eviscerate the Canucks. I’m not going to expect the whole team to become Lady Byng Trophy candidates. But I think a good place to start is to stop taking penalties in the offensive zone!
Special teams are going to be a double-edged sword for Vancouver. The power play is a good way to get on the scoreboard, but it takes away from the goals when the opposition responds shortly after. They have a truly special talent in Elias Pettersson and that is going to be squandered because of his teammates. But hey, goals are fun to watch. And as long as the Pettersson can keep producing every game, people will tune in to Canucks games.
So far, his ice time is increasing. And for now, you can brag that Pettersson is on pace for over 200 points. By the way, he is currently tied for the NHL points lead. The game looks so easy to him and even if he turns the puck over, Pettersson finds a clever way to get the puck back in unexpected ways. Canucks fans certainly need this. But I would like to see the rest of the young group get going. It seems like they are still working out the kinks, but for now we can always just wait for Pettersson to do his dekes.