Canucks vs. Ducks: Two teams struggling to find their form down the stretch
Anaheim Ducks vs. Vancouver Canucks
7 p.m., Rogers Arena, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 650
THE BIG MATCHUP
The Playoffs versus The Reality
There’s always hope to support a scenario where the Vancouver Canucks can make it to The Promised Land. Despite a sobering 2-6-2 slide that proved they’re good enough to compete, not good enough often enough to win and simply too beat up, they could erase a five-point deficit (six if you count tiebreakers) before Sunday’s games and leapfrog four Western Conference clubs to claim the final wild-card playoff position.
However, the Canucks would have to amass a 13-7-0 or 14-6-0 run in their final 20 games to hit 86 or 88 points respectively and squeeze into the post-season. They haven’t strung together two-consecutive wins in nearly five weeks and a trio of three-game win streaks were before Christmas.
Still, six losses in the 10-game slide were by one goal and that offers hope. The power play has to eventually score, the penalty kill is solid and Jacob Markstrom keeps them in games while they keep hitting posts.
There are game-breakers in rookie scoring leader Elias Pettersson (26 goals), Brock Boeser (21) and Bo Horvat (21), but they’re commanding extra attention. Without secondary scoring support, being blanked 4-0 by the New York Islanders on Saturday to lead the NHL with eight goalless games, zeros on the scoreboard could become the norm.
FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Power play progress must mean goals
A 27th-ranked offence and 28th-rated power play are recipes for sidelines seats to watch the playoffs. For all the trouble the Canucks are having generating even-strength effectiveness in their previous 10 games with just 16 goals, only two additional goals came via the man advantage. The power play was supposed to be the difference this season, not the anchor. The talent is there, but stagnant formations, lack of puck movement and point problems in the absence of the injured Alex Edler have the Canucks in a 2-for-23 funk in the last 10 games and 4-for-56 the last 19.
On Saturday, there were five shots in an 0-for-3 outing and some new looks. Boeser was spotted on the other dot and in the slot bumper position to get to pucks and change shooting angles. There were bodies at the net. There was Ben Hutton back on the PP1 point and better flow, but it needs to get to another level with thoughtful rotations and backdoor considerations.
Then again, anything to generate offence at even strength or on the power play is going to make a difference in all those one-goal games.
“We have to simplify it more and getting a greasy goal instead of the pretty backdoor tap-in,” said Bo Horvat. “One off a skate or jam one will help get things started.”
2. Will we see the real Goldobin, not a mirage?
Nikolay Goldobin got another chance Saturday to show Travis Green that the mercurial yet talented Russian winger can be a guy he can win with. Translation: A complete player.
That has seldom been the case in 2019. With eight healthy scratches, he became more of an afterthought as opposed to a restricted free agent who could quell trade talk by making the right offensive play at the right time, not cough up pucks at either blueline.
Goldobin was more noticeable against the Islanders. He still had a turnover at the offensive blueline and lost a board battle in his own zone, but he had also had three shots, four attempts and made better decisions. Still, he hasn’t scored in eight games.
“There were positive things last game and it was good for me to come in make the right impression,” Goldobin, a restricted free agent, said following the morning skate Monday. “I know there are not a lot of games left, but I need to have patience in my game to create chances, that’s what I’m best at. But who knows what’s going to happen with everyone? I want to stay here. I got traded once before, but who knows about the future?“
3. Keeping those wavering emotions in check
You can hear it in their voices and see it in the body language. Frustration has set in. That mantra about playing meaningful games in March was a talking point all season to give a transitioning roster the critical exposure to games that are a lot harder now than December. Pushing for a playoff position was going to be a carrot at the end of the motivation stick to avoid a slow slog to another early off-season.
It’s been quite the education for Horvat. The captain-in-waiting has said all the right things about staying focused and how all this will be good for the kids in the long run. He has done his part. More need to tug on the rope.
“It’s about knowing what you have in a player and leaving it all out there,” said Antoine Roussel. “You’re either playing for the playoffs, or you’re playing for your next contract. You have to show up. It’s harder this time of year. Everybody is more determined and dedicated to their systems and it’s hard to come in and score four or five goals.”
4. Playmaker Pettersson needs to be selfish
Spotting Elias Pettersson stripping pucks off opponents in the neutral zone or circling to make a defensive difference is admirable and remarkable. First-year players are supposed to be one-dimensional, yet it wouldn’t hurt the Calder Trophy front-runner to be a little selfish. Instead of just transporting pucks to gain the offensive zone and find a passing option, he should be thinking shots.
He’s one shifty move from freezing defenders and letting that laser go. He has one goal in his last seven games. Time to shoot with that 23 per cent accuracy rating.
“Sometimes, I think I could have shot it if I had a good chance, but I see myself more of a passer than a shooter,” said Pettersson. “But maybe sometimes I should have been more selfish. The game is quick out there and I’m always looking to pass. Maybe sometimes I should shoot more.
“Right now, a lot of teams are looking to move up some spots so, of course, the games getting tougher. And when they’re harder, you want to win even more. Guys are trying to get me out of my (comfort) place and get me away from my focus, but it’s good to learn. And if they put too much pressure on me, other guys will be open.
“I like the challenges. Big games bring out the best in me and those are the games I like to play.”
5. Dictate the tempo, take it to the Ducks
Anaheim is banged up, has lost three of its last 10 games and is the league’ lowest-scoring team with just 2.19 goals per game. The Ducks don’t have a 20-goal scorer, but in Jakob Silfverberg (16 goals), Adam Henrique (12) and Pontus Aberg (11) they pieces that can hurt you and they can also shut you down. Don’t let it happen.
Nikolay Goldobin — Bo Horvat — Josh Leivo
Ryan Spooner — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser
Antoine Roussel — Adam Gaudette — Markus Granlund
Loui Eriksson — Jay Beagle — Tyler Motte
Ben Hutton — Troy Stecher
Ashton Sautner — Erik Gudbranson
Derrick Pouliot — Alex Biega
Jacob Markstrom — Thatcher Demko
Rickard Rakell — Derek Grant — Corey Perry
Max Jones — Adam Henrique — Troy Terry
Devin Shore — Sam Steel — Jakob Silfverberg
Nick Ritche — Ryan Kesler — Carter Rowney
Hampus Lindholm — Josh Manson
Cam Fowler — Michael Del Zotto **
Jaycob Megna — Brendan Guhle*
( * Guhle acquired in trade Sunday for Brandon Montour)
(** Del Zotto dealt at trade deadline Monday to St. Louis)
Ryan Miller — Kevin Boyle
Canucks: Alex Edler (concussion, dat-to-day, IR), Sven Baertschi (undisclosed, IR), Thatcher Demko (knee, IR), Chris Tanev, (ankle, IR), Brandon Sutter (lower body, IR), Jake Virtanen (rib fracture, IR).
Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf (upper body, day-to-day), John Gibson (upper-body, IR), Chad Johnson (head, IR), Ondrej Kase (shoulder, IR).
Canucks: 28th (15.2%)
Ducks: 27th (15.1%)
Canucks: 19th (80/1%)
Ducks: 13th (80.8%)