Bo Horvat has been on an absolute tear for the Vancouver Canucks over the last month.
In the last 15 games, Horvat has 13 goals. In one of those 15 games, Horvat played less than five minutes before leaving the game because of a stomach bug, so it’s a lot more like 13 goals in 14 games.
His two-goal game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday was one of his finest performances of the season. He was in on all three of the Canucks’ first three goals, assisting on the first, then scoring the next two in a 38-second span in the second period.
Beyond the points, Horvat was dominant in the faceoff circle, going a perfect 17-for-17. That included eight faceoff wins in the defensive zone alone, taking more defensive zone faceoffs than the rest of the Canucks combined.
Surprisingly, another faceoff ace was his biggest victim. Horvat went head-to-head with Jay Beagle seven times and won every draw. Beagle has a better faceoff percentage than Horvat this season — 58.6% to Horvat’s 57.3% — but Horvat had his number on Thursday night. Perhaps it was all those days practicing faceoffs against each other with the Canucks. Maybe Beagle taught Horvat everything he knew but Horvat kept secret a few tricks of his own.
“Bruce sent me out there for the last draw at the end and I didn’t want to ruin it — I figured I was around there at the end, close to perfect,” said Horvat. “I’m happy I won that last one because Beags is a tough opponent out there and battling with him in practice in the past.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had 100% in the dot before, so it feels cool to get that.”
The two goals brought Horvat to the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career — a magical mark that will forever allow him to claim the label of “30-goal scorer,” which is elevated in importance because human beings have a mode of 10 phalanges that lend numbers divisible by 10 a symbolic weight entirely unrelated to their actual substance.
But what is hockey except for a bunch of numbers with symbolic weight beyond their actual importance? On Thursday night, the Canucks moved a rubber disc over a painted line five times, while only allowing the Coyotes to do the same once, and because of that, the Canucks were deemed better than the Coyotes for at least one night and granted two points according to a largely arbitrary system of assigning measurements for wins and losses.
Those numbers made a large number of people happy and a much, much smaller number of people sad when I watched this game.
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland were playing their first game back in Glendale since they were traded from the Coyotes and it was particularly emotional for Ekman-Larsson, who played 11 seasons with the Coyotes and was captain for three of them. He got a video tribute and a standing ovation from the somewhat less-than-capacity crowd.
- The reported attendance was 9,679. I’m not buying it.
- Not to take anything away from the 5-1 win — any win on the second half of back-to-backs is a good win — but the Coyotes are truly terrible. They’re last place in the NHL for good reason. On top of that, they were missing their leading scorer Clayton Keller, as well as number one defenceman Jakob Chychrun and fifth-leading scorer Lawson Crouse. I mean, the Canucks were also missing Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes, so maybe it evens out.
- A big storyline in this game was the suddenly-developing chemistry between Elias Pettersson and Alex Chiasson. Wednesday against the Vegas Golden Knights, Chiasson sent a lovely pass to Pettersson for a power play goal and Pettersson returned the favour for the opening goal against the Coyotes. With Chiasson standing on the doorstep, Pettersson delivered the puck like a UPS driver, except with more speed and precision and for better pay and benefits.
- The pass is a lot of fun to watch in slow motion because you can see how close it came to being blocked. The puck appears to go under Cam Dineen’s skate as he lifts it briefly to move it into a parallel position to block the pass. Then goaltender Harry Sateri — whose name doesn’t rhyme, which makes me irrationally angry — nearly gets the puck with his stick but because he reached to block the pass, he couldn’t get across to stop Chiasson.
- Vasily Podkolzin has been excellent in recent games and he found some chemistry with Conor Garland and Bo Horvat on the second line. Off one of Horvat’s many faceoff wins, Garland swung the puck down low to Podkolzin, who smartly kept it going to Horvat behind the net. It seemed like Beagle had the angle on Horvat, so Sateri was caught completely off-guard when Horvat hooked a wraparound shot under his pads.
- Here’s the issue for Sateri: as Horvat shot, his stick hit Sateri’s stick, so when the goaltender tried to drop into his butterfly, his left pad came down on top of his stick, leaving a gap. Maybe the puck still would have gone in if Sateri had been able to drop down cleanly but it certainly didn’t help.
- Less than a minute later, Horvat struck again from Garland and Podkolzin. It was a beautiful passing play in transition: Horvat flipped a backhand pass into space for Garland to gain the zone, then Garland sent a no-look pass to Podkolzin in the middle. The puck was a little behind Podkolzin, who was tightly-checked, so with no hesitation, he spun around and sent a lovely backhand feed to a wide-open Horvat and Bowie knifed it in.
- “I loved his game right from the start,” said Horvat of playing with Podkolzin. “He’s definitely coming into his own already at such a young age. You saw the pass that he made to me tonight and he’s making all those little plays, it’s just a matter of guys burying it for him. He gave me a breakaway last game. He’s just making a lot of stuff happen and he’s going to be a really good player in the years to come.”
- The Coyotes pushed back after Horvat’s goals and got their first goal after a Travis Dermott turnover in the neutral zone. Nick Schmaltz was coming off the bench, so snuck in behind Tyler Myers undetected for a quick breakaway, tucking the puck five-hole on Jaroslav Halak.
- Less than a minute later, it seemed like the Coyotes had repeated Horvat’s feat with another quick goal. Halak was slow to cover a puck in the crease and Nick Ritchie was quick to dart in to jam the puck home. Fortunately for the Canucks, Ritchie was also quick to dart in on the zone entry and a successful coach’s challenge for offside overturned the goal.
- That proved a turning point. Dermott made up for his earlier giveaway, sending a great stretch pass to take advantage of a bad Coyotes line change and give Pettersson and Chiasson a 2-on-0. As you might expect, a 2-on-0 for the dynamic duo of Pettersson and Chiasson was bad news for the Coyotes — Pettersson passed to Chiasson, forcing Sateri to sell out for the save, but Chiasson just passed it right back to Pettersson for the open net tap-in.
- Chiasson was playing with Pettersson because Tanner Pearson left the game after the first period with an upper-body injury after an awkward collision in the neutral zone. Chiasson was subsequently bumped up the lineup to play with Pettersson and J.T. Miller on the first line. Honestly, it worked really well.
- “Those guys like to have the puck,” said Chiasson, describing what he can bring to that line. “Creating space for them, trying to get retrievals on loose pucks, things like that. You give those guys second or third opportunities on an offensive shift, they’ll find a way to create good chances. I know my game. I know what I can do to help guys like that.”
- Chiasson added one more goal on the power play in the third period to finish off his excellent game. Pettersson picked up his third point on the night by sending a backhand saucer pass to Ekman-Larsson at the point, whose shot appeared to take a double deflection — off the shaft of Dineen’s stick, then off the blade of Chiasson’s.
- Back-to-back 5-1 wins would be a lot more meaningful, of course, if the playoffs weren’t a pipe dream at this point. It would take a monumental collapse by either the Los Angeles Kings or the Dallas Stars for the Canucks to sneak past them into the playoffs and they’d have to go on an incredible winning streak and contend with the Vegas Golden Knights and possibly the Winnipeg Jets to claim one of those spots. But 5-1 wins are a lot more fun to watch and write about. I approve.