Well, that was fun. The Vancouver Canucks played a full team game and escaped with a 3-2 road win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here’s what we learned from their third victory on the road trip.
Before the Vancouver Canucks embarked on this difficult six-game road trip, one had to believe that this team would be satisfied if they could take half of the available points.
Mission accomplished. The Canucks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday, moving to 4-2-0 on the season and picking up their third victory on the road trip. No matter what happens against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday now, the Canucks can return home happy with a minimum of six points.
Tuesday was by far Vancouver’s best game of the season. The defencemen didn’t give up many scoring chances, goalie Anders Nilsson tuned in another solid performance, and everybody at forward contributed. Oh, and blueliner Ben Hutton scored the team’s first goal. Keep in mind he didn’t hit the back of the net once last season.
There was a lot to feel good about in this one. The Canucks got it done without team scoring leader Elias Pettersson, who’s recovering from a head injury after receiving an ugly hit from Mike Matheson of the Florida Panthers.
Now, let’s take a look at three takeaways from Vancouver’s 3-2 victory in Pittsburgh.
1. Brock Boeser loves facing the Pens
Brock Boeser rifled the game-winner over the shoulder of Casey DeSmith, giving Vancouver its third consecutive win over the Penguins. As Sportsnet 650’s Rick Dhaliwal pointed out, Boeser simply loves playing Sidney Crosby‘s squad.
Nobody will forget Boeser’s hat trick against Pittsburgh in last season’s meeting at Rogers Arena; easily his best moment of an incredible rookie season. Boeser also scored twice in last year’s road contest against the Penguins, leading Vancouver to a 5-2 victory.
Boeser displayed full confidence on the game-winning goal. The Canucks had a 3-on-2 rush, but Boeser knew the whole time that he was going top corner. He put it over DeSmith, once again putting the dagger in the Penguins.
The Canucks won’t have to wait long for their next meeting with Pittsburgh. The two teams finish their season series at Rogers Arena on Oct. 27. It may be wise for Pens’ head coach Mike Sullivan to think about double-teaming Boeser in this one. Just a thought.
2. Defence is turning a corner
The Vancouver defence was great for the most part, keeping Pittsburgh’s top stars in check and giving them little room on the ice.
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The Canucks held Pittsburgh to 28 shots and didn’t give up many Grade-A scoring chances. The Penguins usually skate circles around teams with their excellent speed and puck-movement. Vancouver wouldn’t bite and needed little time to get past the Pens in the extra frame.
Vancouver’s blue line also did a phenomenal job against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Thursday’s 4-1 victory.
The Florida Panthers had just 26 shots against on Saturday, a 3-2 Canuck victory. It’s just been remarkable lockdown defence these last three games.
A healthy Alexander Edler is what the Canucks really need right now. He’s turned back the clock and looks like the 2010-11 version of himself. He played 22:55 against Pittsburgh and has six blocked shots. Chris Tanev had another big performance, playing 23:34 and blocking two shots while dishing out three hits.
Vancouver’s defence was its weak link heading into this season. But so far, it’s been a major strength. If the bulk of the group can stay healthy, perhaps the Canucks will morph into a better defensive unit.
3. Anders Nilsson is No. 1…for now
Yes, Nilsson got off to an amazing start last season then faltered once December rolled around. But right now, the 28-year-old is playing at an incredibly high level, and there’s no reason for him not to retain the starter’s job.
Nilsson turned aside 26 Pittsburgh shots and helped the Canucks escape with a big win. He’s now 3-0-0 on the season with a 1.67 goals against average and .943 save percentage. That’s not sustainable, but the early performances should be enough for head coach Travis Green to make Nilsson the starter.
Jacob Markstrom has lots of time to eventually re-claim the starting job in the crease, but his 4.03 GAA and .833 save percentage leave a lot to be desired. Of course he’ll fix those numbers as he plays more games.
But for now, Green simply has to roll with the hot goaltender. Nilsson couldn’t be playing much better right now. There’s no doubting that he’s deserving of the start on Thursday.
*Stats courtesy of NHL.com and Hockey Reference*