Two years ago, Brock Boeser stepped into the lineup as a rookie and immediately became the Canucks’ best weapon on the power play.
He used his fantastic shot — and some savvy setups from the Sedins — to rack up 10 power play goals in his rookie season.
Last season, it was Elias Pettersson’s turn, lighting up the NHL with his devastating one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle. He scored 10 power play goals to lead the Canucks in his rookie year.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Canucks fans were excited to see what Boeser and Pettersson could do with the addition of rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes passing them the puck from the point. Add in an experienced playmaker with the man advantage in J.T. Miller and it was easy to anticipate what would happen: the two fantastic finishers at the faceoff circles would drive home goal after goal.
Instead, the player leading the Canucks in power play goals is a little more surprising: Bo Horvat.
The Canucks’ captain has 11 power play goals through 65 games, breaking his career high of 10 from two seasons ago. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising at all: Horvat’s 10 power play goals two seasons ago tied Boeser for the team lead.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said head coach Travis Green. “He's playing that bumper spot, there's a lot of loose pucks, he's a big strong guy, he's got good hands.”
Horvat’s role on the power play is either in the bumper in the high slot or down low in front of the net, screening the goaltender. It frequently involves a lot of battles with defencemen and other penalty killers for position.
“It's funny, it's not the most popular position, but it's where you score,” said J.T. Miller. “He's always around the net, rebounds, he's got a hell of a wrist shot, good release.”
The Canucks have scored 11 goals on 31 power play opportunities in their last 11 games, an impressive 35.5 per cent success rate. Four of those 11 goals have come off the stick of Horvat. A change in formation has helped the Canucks move the puck a little more crisply and it’s given Horvat more opportunities.
“We changed positions a little bit,” said Miller. “I'm on the wall instead of the goal line now. I think it changes the dynamic of the power play a little bit, we have a bunch of lefties ready to shoot with a righty at the goal line and we've been having success with that.”
As a lefty in the middle of the ice, Horvat is ready and available for quick one-timers from passes from Miller, who has been very effective on the left side of the ice.
“It's easier for a setup guy when he always does the little loop and always comes down with speed,” said Pettersson. “We've been talking to the [penalty killers] and they say that's hard to defend.”
Horvat has also had success finishing plays from the left side. As penalty kills cheat towards Pettersson to take away his one-timer, that has opened up space in the middle.
“We're just trying to take advantage of that, if they put the guy on me, that means another guy is gonna be open,” said Pettersson. “They're gonna flex out to me, which means a hole in the middle is going to open up or somewhere else.”
Those holes opening up don’t mean anything if you don’t have a player that can take advantage of them and that’s where Horvat has excelled.
“I have really good players feeding me the puck,” said Horvat. “It's just trying to hit those holes, trying to hit those seams to get open.”
While Horvat was humble in his assessment of the power play, crediting his teammates more than anyone else, Miller made it clear that Horvat has been key to their success.
“Look at some of the best power players in the league and you know, some of their most important guys are playing in the middle,” said Miller. “He's got a nose for the net, strong on his stick: you need a guy like that in the middle.”
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
- Tap of the stick to Vasili Podkolzin, who scored his first KHL playoff goal this week. After a strong finish to the regular season, Podkolzin has two points in two playoff games so far.
- I’m dropping the gloves with Colin Campbell, the Director of Hockey Operations for the NHL. He joked, “I called Don Waddell in the second intermission and said, ‘Can’t one of those two guys please come back?’” regarding the Carolina Hurricanes’ recent emergency goaltender situation. Given how the NHL has been so blasé about concussions, joking about forcing a concussed goaltender back into action is in poor taste, if nothing else.
- 73 Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Canucks’ chances of making the playoffs were 73 per cent according to HockeyViz.com. That may sound underwhelming, but it’s the sixth-highest odds in the Western Conference.
- 21 Horvat may lead the Canucks in power play goals, but rookie Quinn Hughes leads the way in power play assists with 21, good for sixth in the NHL.