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Breakdowning Elias Pettersson’s gamewinning goal against the Montreal Canadiens

Elias Pettersson’s early-season struggles are long behind him.
Breakdowning: Breaking down Canucks plays with pictures.

Elias Pettersson’s early-season struggles are long behind him. In the new year, he’s been a new man, with 12 goals and 24 points in 25 games since January 1, trailing only J.T. Miller on the Vancouver Canucks in that time frame.

That’s a far cry from how he started the season, when he had just 6 goals and 17 points in 33 games. But it’s not just the goals and the assists that signal a change from Pettersson. He just looks far more confident.

It’s the little things: the reverse hits to protect the puck, the smart reads to pick off passes in the neutral zone, and the lack of hesitation in his decision-making.

But it’s also the big things, like his fantastic goal against the Montreal Canadiens that stood up as the gamewinner. It was quintessential Pettersson — deftly deking around opponents, then beating the goaltender with an unstoppable shot.

There’s a little bit more going on here, however, and that little bit more needs to be broken down in a Pass it to Bulis feature we like to call Breakdowning.

Let’s back things way, way up. Pettersson’s goal, which made it 4-2 Canucks in the third period, was scored on the power play. How did they get that power play? It started with a good read by Brad Hunt in the neutral zone.

Brendan Gallagher banks the puck off the boards to get around Brock Boeser but Hunt immediately jumps up to pick off the puck and send it back into the Canadiens’ zone.

From there, J.T. Miller pressures Ben Chiarot, who unloads the puck up the boards, where Boeser knocks it down. That leads to some offensive zone pressure and, eventually, Tanner Pearson draws a high stick in front while battling for a Travis Hamonic rebound with Chiarot.

It’s notable that every player on the ice leads to that drawn penalty, from Hunt making the neutral zone read, to Miller pressuring, to Boeser intercepting and carrying the puck, to Hamonic getting the shot through to the net, to Pearson battling in front. Everyone contributes.

Let’s jump ahead and set the stage.


The Canucks have their usual first power play unit on the ice: Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes. Pettersson has just gained the offensive zone, but his drop pass to Boeser on the wing is in his skates and Boeser misses it. This is where we pick things up.

Rem Pitlick has won the puck off Boeser and is about to get a good clear down the ice for the Montreal penalty kill, which has mostly kept the Canucks power play out of the offensive zone apart for one good chance on a deflection. 

Ryan Poehling is about to chase down that clearance.

Jeff Petry and Alexander Romanov have been on the ice for the entirety of the penalty kill, around one minute already. This clearance would be an ideal time for both of them to change to get some fresh legs on the ice.

But they don’t.  

It’s not a great decision on their part but there are a couple of reasons why. One is that neither of the two defencemen who typically lead the Canadiens in ice time on the penalty kill are on the ice. David Savard is out with a serious ankle injury while Chiarot is in the box. The other defencemen in the Canadiens lineup don’t appear to have much trust on the penalty kill.

The other reason is that Petry and Romanov have had a pretty easy-going minute on the penalty kill. The forwards have done most of the skating and have changed once, there have been two stoppages for faceoffs that allowed them to catch their breath, and most of the last 40 seconds or so have been spent outside of the Canadiens’ zone.

Still, fatigue can set in pretty quickly during a shift, even if it’s spent calmly skating instead of churning up the ice. Did it play a role on this goal? I have no idea — I just found it interesting that they stayed on the ice.

Also, there’s linesman Ryan Galloway, who jumped up onto the boards for no apparent reason. There's literally no one near him and the puck's going in a completely different direction. Maybe he just did it for fun. Sometimes you need to mix things up when you’re an NHL official.


It’s a really great clearance by Pitlick, sending the puck into the far corner to lick the armpit of the rink. It’s also a hard enough clearance that Thatcher Demko decides his best course of action is to just stay in his net.

If it weren’t for the trapezoid, Demko might have tried to skate out to play this puck, gotten tangled up with Poehling, and given up a goal on a wide open net! Thank you, trapezoid! Definitely totally sincere, no sarcasm here.

Anyways, Poehling is pretty excited to be in the offensive zone with the puck on the penalty kill with all kinds of time and space. This definitely won’t go wrong, said the writer, still with complete sincerity and no sarcasm whatsoever. 


Something has gone wrong!

Hughes has gotten back to pressure Poehling, who tries to spin off the Canucks defenceman to centre for Pitlick on the backhand. It’s a decent pass, except Bo Horvat is there to pick it off.

Poehling is now below the Canucks goal line and Pitlick’s skates are facing the wrong direction. There’s a chance here for the Canucks to attack in transition.


To the surprise of no one, the Canucks proceed to attack in transition.

The dismayed Canadiens, who I have inexplicably imagined speaking in Shakespearean English, try to chase down Miller and Horvat as they break up ice. 

Horvat unleashes his terrible, terrible catchphrase as they skate past the really neat graphic projected onto the ice by TNT to show how much time is left in the power play. I really like it — it’s subtle, matching the colour of the faceoff circles, but also very useful. Take note, Canadian broadcasters.

Meanwhile, Pettersson swoops behind the net and starts picking up speed. 

Things aren’t actually all that bad for the Canadiens penalty killers. I may have been exaggerating their dismay for comedic purposes. Poehling gets back well and suddenly it’s just a 3-on-3 in the neutral zone, with Petry and Romanov — still on the ice — positioned centrally to prevent an easy entry up the middle.

This is when the Canucks might typically make a drop pass and you can tell that Pitlick is looking for it, just waiting for the telltale sign that Miller is going to try to drop the puck to Pettersson or Hughes so he can dart in and steal it.

Miller has a few options. He could try to make the drop pass anyway, risking the turnover. He could try to challenge Romanov and gain the zone 1-on-1, again risking the turnover. He could also make the safe play and dump the puck in now that he’s gained centre, with Boeser skating up the left side in a good position to forecheck.


Miller chooses “None of the above.”

Instead, he swoops to the right, eliminating the possibility of Pitlick picking off the pass. The other three penalty killers are suddenly all on the Canadiens blue line, leaving the neutral zone delightfully wide open for someone who has been, perhaps, picking up speed behind the play this whole time.

I am not proud of it, but when I wrote “oh no he swoop” I laughed for a solid two minutes.

Meanwhile, Ryan Galloway reminisces about all the fun he had earlier jumping onto the boards. Those were good times.


Pettersson takes the pass from Miller and just look at what he has in front of him.

Poehling and Pitlick are now all the way back at the blue line. Pitlick is now standing still, while Poehling is in motion, having taken a wide loop inside his own zone. They’re both just begging for a deking.

Romanov has followed Miller as he’s swooped out wide and is now nowhere near the middle of the ice. That opens up a lot of space.

Petry has dropped all the way back into the defensive zone, nearly in line with the top of the faceoff circles. If he was a little fresher and hadn’t been on the ice for over a minute, perhaps he has the energy to get his feet moving and prepare to keep a tighter gap.

All of these things combine to create all kinds of opportunities for Pettersson, who has momentum from building up speed and is ready to blow past some pylons.

Normally, Pettersson wouldn’t accept gifts from The Gap — have you seen his fashion sense? — but he’s willing to make an exception, just this once. 


With a little toe-drag, Pettersson blows right past Poehling, who was dead meat as soon as he angled his skates to the outside. Pettersson then has acres of space between himself and Petry. The possibilities are endless.

A subtly great element of this play is how Horvat and Miller split to one side and Boeser and Hughes split to the other, which pulls apart the penalty kill just a little bit to create some more space on the inside for Pettersson to do his dekes.


Pettersson fakes a shot from distance but I’m not sure he really fools anyone. But even just a momentary hesitation from a defender or goaltender can make a difference. 

Petry stiffens up and stops moving his feet for just an instant, causing him to drift back even further, giving Pettersson a little bit more space so he can cut to the outside.

And then…

Pettersson changes the angle twice over on goaltender Sam Montembeault.

Pettersson first pushes the puck to the outside after loading up for the fake shot, forcing Montembeault to move to his right. Pettersson then pulls the puck into his body as he fires the shot under Petry’s outstretched stick, which changes the angle again.

Because Montembeault reacted to the first change of the angle, the second change opens up just enough extra space on his left for Pettersson to shoot against the grain and beat Montembeault past his glove, off the post and in.

You know what that means: a happy Canucks bench and, apparently, fist bumps between all the defencemen. "Good job, us," they probably said.