KELOWNA — Points to ponder amid the optics of trying to put the right spin on a 1-6 preseason record, because the Canucks had but five even-strength goals and 10 overall, and fell 4-1 to the Coyotes on Saturday in their final rehearsal:
Pettersson provides the exclamation mark
Of all the question marks dogging the club, there was one preseason answer.
Elias Pettersson proved he can play centre in the NHL. He logged just eight games in the middle last season in dominating the Swedish Hockey League as its regular-season and playoff MVP. His transition to the North American ice has been buoyed by slick stick handling, crisp passes (has he made a bad one?) and being a step ahead of the play in the manner in which he processes the game and finds time and space for those sharp releases.
Pettersson is also far from one-dimensional and his dedication to defence has been a bonus.
“I work as much on defence as offence,” he said.
If that isn’t enough, every time it looks like the prized rookie might be in the crosshairs of a heavy hit, he spins off or simply dekes the opposition.
On Saturday, he had Jason Demers grasping at air, and later the rookie was frank about his offensive outing.
“I’ve had better games than today,” he said. “I lost too many face-offs and my timing wasn’t right and I missed an open net in the first period when the score was 1-0 for them. We can do better but we also know that preseason games are about learning. We have a lot of stuff to get better at, and I’m feeling confident because there are things I know I can get better at.”
On a first-period 5-on-3 advantage, the Canucks did everything but score, and Pettersson took ownership of a botched play.
“I made a bad pass to (Brock) Boeser and we had to turn around and miss 15 seconds,” he said. “I need to be more precise with my passes and score when I get my chances. Some shifts I feel like I come away from my game, and I feel like I want to be successful every shift.”
Bo Horvat found out the hard way how difficult it can be to transition from junior to the NHL. The manner in which Pettersson has already found his way on new ice and in a new country blows him away.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Horvat. “It’s not easy as a new kid coming in at centre, and he does it with ease. And he’s playing well on both sides of the puck. He’s back-checking and doing little things in the defensive zone. The way he gets people moving and breaks ankles out there is pretty impressive to watch. I’ve been in the league for five years and he pushes you to be better.”
Added Travis Green: “He has been one of our better players in the preseason. His commitment to playing in his own zone and to not take a chance just to make a play is impressive.”
No preseason goals from the back end
Maybe it was Troy Stecher skating the puck into that mosh-pit that created a turnover. It led to a bad going-after-the-puck decision by Alex Edler instead of retreating in his own zone on the opening goal.
Maybe it was everybody just trying to do too much, because it’s been a trying preseason for a returning blue-line. They haven’t been bailed out by either Jacob Markstrom or Anders Nilsson, and surrendering 30 goals for a preseason average of more than four per outing is overshadowing the fact the returnees combined for just 21 goals last season.
The plan for defencemen to jump up into the play hasn’t worked because not one blue-liner found the preseason net. There have been bigger problems defending and transitioning.
“If you do everything else right, the goals will come,” predicted Edler. “You can’t just think you’re going to score — you’ve got to do all the little things right. It’s battling and breakouts and getting through the neutral zone and then battling in their end and getting pucks to the net.
“We’ve been working on jumping up when we can and take the middle ice that opens up. If we defend well, those things will actually open up and gets us up in the rush.”
That Brock Clock, The Goldy standard
It has come to this.
Everybody has a theory on why Brock Boeser didn’t score in five preseason games.
It’s having his season end March 5 with a back injury and not really being up to speed until July. It’s those extra eight pounds that have affected the Calder Trophy finalist, who seems to have lost some explosiveness in his stride plus velocity and accuracy in his release.
“This is why you have the preseason — to get the kinks out,” said Boeser in his familiar preseason refrain. “I’m not worried about not scoring in the preseason. I’m coming off an injury and trying to get the rhythm back, and I felt better tonight and took a step in the right direction.
“I thought we had a lot more chances tonight, but we took too many penalties in the second period and it took away our momentum.”
Green came at the goal drought from another angle.
“I’ve talked to him about it and last year, he didn’t score until our team got back from China, and he had a pretty good season,” reasoned Green. “He just needs to worry about his game and worry about playing quick and good things will happen.”
As for setting his roster Sunday, Green offered up this much about mercurial winger Nikolay Goldobin, who netted the loan Canucks goal and started on a line with Horvat and Boeser:
“He showed some things he can do offensively, but he’s still a young player who’s learning the NHL game. He runs into problems when he loses a puck battle in his own zone or doesn’t get a puck out. But he also brings something else to the table that we lack.”
Said Goldobin of his wrist-shot goal Saturday: “It means a lot for me, but I still want to get a win, so we can feel good about ourselves. The preseason was good, but I could have done a much better job. I’ve done everything I could. Coach is still deciding who is going to stay and I want to stay, but this (goal) is good for my confidence.”