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I Watched This Game: Canucks defang the Predators to end road trip on a high note

The new line of Elias Pettersson with Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin put on a dominant performance.
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Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks ended their road trip in style with a 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that was definitely the case for the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night in Nashville.

With Bo Horvat in COVID protocol after a positive test, Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau couldn’t rely on one of his most potent combinations on this road trip: Horvat with Elias Pettersson. That duo has been outstanding together, particularly with Conor Garland.

Needing a win to salvage the road trip and with both Horvat and Garland out of the lineup, Boudreau needed to put together a new line. He handed the reins at centre back to Pettersson and put him with the team’s two youngest forwards: Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander.

They were a revelation together.

That trio put on a clinic all night, spending long shifts in the offensive zone, something that has so rarely happened for the Canucks this season. They were all over the Nashville Predators, even as they were playing mostly against the Predators’ first line forwards and top defensive pairing. 

When all three were on the ice at 5-on-5, shot attempts were 12-to-4 for the Canucks, as they barely spent any time in their own zone. It wasn’t just shot attempts from distance either — according to Natural Stat Trick, scoring chances were 9-2 and high-danger chances were 4-1 when they were on the ice together.

That wouldn’t matter much if they couldn’t find the back of the net but, fortunately, they could. All three of them were involved in the Canucks’ first goal, which seemed to galvanize the trio, as they played their best hockey after scoring. 

“It’s amazing what a little confidence can do,” said Boudreau. “When Pettersson scored that goal and both Podz and Höggy got an assist, it seemed like their whole mindset jumped up and they played at a level they hadn’t played at in a few games.”

Most importantly, it was a fantastic follow-up performance from Pettersson after his two-goal game against the Washington Capitals. He was the prime driver for his line, making pristine passes and diligently working to regain the puck every time it was lost. 

I would say that he looked like vintage Elias Pettersson, but it seems insane to describe anything done by a 23 year old as “vintage.”

“I think everyone can see the confidence he has now with the puck, the plays he’s been making over the last few games. That’s the Petey we all know and love,” said Brock Boeser. “He could’ve had another two or three [goals] tonight.”

Hopefully this means that Pettersson, like John Wick, is back. I was thinking, “He’s back,” as I watched this game.

  • Pettersson was so good in this game that I feel the need to spend a little time highlighting a few of his best moments. It’s a new thing that I invented where I take cool things and highlight them. I call them “highlights.” I think it’ll really catch on.
     
  • You could tell how confident Pettersson was feeling right from the first period. When a Quinn Hughes pass on the power play was tipped away from him, he just calmly retrieved the puck and sent a spinning backhand pass through the penalty killer’s legs back to Hughes. No big deal.
  • Pettersson was making such smart plays off the puck too that opened up so many opportunities. During his best shift of the night, he snuck into the slot unnoticed for a great chance off a Höglander pass, ringing the crossbar with a hard drive.
  • The nifty passes and hard shots were nice but my favourite moment from Pettersson in this game was this keep-in at the blue line. During a dominant shift, Pettersson outbattled Matt Duchene to win the puck and prolong the possession. Instead of the puck exiting the zone, the Canucks kept it in deep, allowing his line to change while maintaining possession. The puck had already been in the offensive zone for 50 seconds at that point; the Canucks kept it in for another 45 seconds after that play.
  • I don’t want to downplay the contributions of Podkolzin and Höglander while praising Pettersson. All three had strong games. Podkolzin’s best moment came in the third period with this lovely dipsy-doodle around Jeremy Davies. I love that Podkolzin does a phantom stick-lift, like he didn’t believe how thoroughly he undressed the defenceman and thought he’d have to battle for the puck.
  • There was some animosity between the two teams, including two fights, but I preferred this lovely bit of unexpected camaraderie between Davies and Brock Boeser during a first period scrum. Davies and Boeser were briefly teammates with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL back in 2014 and this was their first time ever facing each other in an NHL game. They seemed to use the scrum as an opportunity to catch up on old times, grinning gleefully while a linesman rushed in to break up their lovely little chat.
  • The Predators were first on the board with a second-period goal on the power play. It was a well-placed shot by Philip Tomasino inside the far post but any time a shot goes in far side on the power play, alarm bells start sounding in my head. On the penalty kill, the defenceman is supposed to get in the shooting lane and take away the far side, leaving the goaltender to deal with the short side and Oliver Ekman-Larsson just wasn’t in the right lane. 
     
  • The Canucks responded a few minutes later with a great goal. With the Predators changing, Thatcher Demko played a quick pass up the ice that Pettersson tipped to Höglander, who sent Podkolzin in alone on David Rittich. Podkolzin’s backhand attempt may have been stopped but Pettersson took a page from connor4real and never stopped never stopping. He followed up on the rebound and fired it in with authority.
     
  • That led to this delightfully adorable moment between Höglander and Pettersson on the bench, as the two Swedes were all smiles.
  • There was a little bit more to that goal, which means it probably deserves to be fully broken down at some point…
     
  • When I’m hard on a player, I like to make sure that I highlight when that player does well. I’ve definitely been hard on Tucker Poolman at times but he had a strong game alongside Hughes on Tuesday, including this great recovery to neatly knock the puck off Yakov Trenin’s stick on a breakaway without taking a penalty. 
  • Here’s an underrated moment from the game: this excellent battle by Boeser against Roman Josi to force the puck out of the defensive zone. Boeser doesn’t get enough credit for how effective he can be defensively but his battles along the boards deserve more attention.
  • This moment from J.T. Miller, on the other hand, is utterly baffling. Instead of safely getting the puck out of the zone as he picks up the puck near his own blue line, Miller tries to pass it back to — I guess Boeser? — and it goes right to Filip Forsberg in front of the Canucks net. Forsberg has 19 goals in 28 games this season, so it’s probably good for the Canucks that Forsberg tried to pass the puck instead of shooting it. 
  • Apologies for all of the GIFs. I was on a backup laptop for a few days and just got my regular computer back, granting me GIF-making ability once more. I might’ve gone overboard.
     
  • Miller may give me grey hairs with his puck decisions in the defensive zone but he more than makes up for it in the offensive zone. He had a brilliant assist on a third period power play, giving every indication that he was going to shoot before firing a perfect pass to Boeser at the top of the crease for the redirect. The deflection was equally perfect, putting the puck just inside the post.
     
  • The Canucks’ fourth line, which is apparently their third line now, struggled mightily in this game, spending a long time hemmed into their own end. But with a little hard work, they made up for it with a greasy goal. Tyler Motte got the puck in deep, then chased after it and chipped it in front of the net. Juho Lammikko hacked at the puck at the same time as Rititich and Duchene and the puck jumped into the net under Rittich’s arm. 
     
  • “They’ve given me, for the most part, a shutdown line,” said Boudreau about Motte, Lammikko, and Highmore. “I thought that was really important. You could load up the first two lines when everybody was healthy and then you could have a third line that was a shutdown line and they were relishing the role.”
     
  • Does that quote worry me a little bit? Yes, it does. I just don’t see those three as ready to play in a matchup, shutdown role against top competition. But maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see.
     
  • There was an odd play to end the game. The Predators pulled Rittich for the extra attacker and Pettersson sent Motte on a breakaway with the net empty. He was pretty viciously hacked by Forsberg from behind, tripping him and taking away the scoring chance.
     
  • Here’s the relevant rule, 57.4 from the NHL rulebook: “If, when the opposing goalkeeper has been removed from the ice, a player in control of the puck (or who could have obtained possession and control of the puck) in the neutral or attacking zone is tripped or otherwise fouled with no opposition between him and the opposing goal, thus preventing a reasonable scoring opportunity, the Referee shall immediately stop play and award a goal to the attacking team.”
     
  • So, it should have been an automatic goal for Motte but the referees instead just gave the Canucks a power play. That’s the wrong call but they might have done the Canucks a favour, because Motte knocked down Pettersson’s pass with a high stick. If they had awarded Motte a goal, his high stick would have been reviewable, which would have overturned the goal. 
     
  • In that case, would the Canucks have still gotten a power play? I haven’t the foggiest idea and maybe that’s why the referees just decided to forego the deliberation, call it a power play, and be done with it.
     
  • With the win, the Canucks road trip went from disastrous to decent. “Just gotta get our wins here one at a time and take the momentum back home,” said Demko before ruefully adding, “If we’re allowed to play.”
     
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