Canucks: Can Elias Pettersson spark offence from young linemates?

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Canucks: Can Elias Pettersson spark offence from young linemates?
© Provided by The Province Vancouver Canucks’ Luke Schenn, from left to right, Elias Pettersson, Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander and Tyler Myers celebrate Pettersson’s goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.

Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander hadn’t scored since Jan. 1 in Seattle.

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The wingers even took turns as healthy scratches on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, respectively, to see the game from another perspective and hopefully find an offensive spark.

They may have found one in being reunited with the rejuvenated Elias Pettersson for a Monday meeting with the Kraken at Rogers Arena.

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Pettersson has played many roles to critical acclaim for the Vancouver Canucks .

The slick Swedish centre has been a boy wonder and difference-maker when on top of his multi-dimensional game. Eight points (3-5) in five games and 15 points (8-7) in his previous 14 outings speak to skill and the will to finally find his game.

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It’s a stark change from being plagued by a lack of engagement, execution and even self-doubt.

Pettersson couldn’t buy a goal earlier this season while enduring two nine-game goal funks and one seven-game goal funk. His body language and tone were signs of a significant struggle before breaking out with two goals Jan. 16 at Washington.

And now, Pettersson is playing a new role.

He’s the magician and mentor to young and impressionable linemates, who must take advantage of the alignment and not drag down Pettersson’s game. It’s a big ask. The Canucks aren’t going anywhere without added scoring to prop up the league’s 27th-ranked offence.  

The sophomore Hoglander had eight goals through 50 games and was sixth among forwards in shots (111) and his shooting percentage was fourth lowest (7.2 per cent). The rookie Podkolzin had seven goals through 48 games and a 10.9 shooting percentage.

Podkolzin and Hoglander know they have to be helpers, they can’t be line anchors.

“I’m hoping that isn’t going to happen,” said Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau . “It’s not hard to see it through the course of a game to move lines up, but I’m hoping it’s the excitement of playing with Petey. Those two guys played hard last game and if they can play at the same level, that line will be fine.

“Petey feels comfortable with them and they get along off the ice, which is really important. And it balances out the other lines, too.”

Power play, prep problems

There has always been ample potential when the Canucks deploy their best talent on the first power-play unit. And there has been just as much disappointment when it doesn’t click on a regular basis.

The Canucks were blanked with the man advantage in seven of their last 11 games and were 6-for-33 in that span — including a pair of two-goal games — for a 17.8 per cent efficiency. It doesn’t match their current overall 17th ranking at 19.4 per cent, so there’s clearly work to do.

“We were together last game, but you couldn’t really tell because we couldn’t get the puck set up,” said J.T. Miller , who was back at centre Monday between Tanner Pearson and Conor Garland at even strength.

“We’re having a hard time getting in right now against any team. Once we do, have pretty good success, but we’re losing too many battles on the power play.

“They’re sending it 200 feet and it’s hard to waste that much time and energy to get back for pucks. We’ve just got to be sharper getting in.”

As for being back in the middle, it’s no big deal to Miller. For the club’s leading scorer, it’s always been about the game result, not about whether he’s at wing or centre.

“It doesn’t really matter where I’m playing to be honest,” he said. “It’s getting pucks low and using the back of the net and your skill when there’s time and space. It’s the same message not matter what line.

“I haven’t played much with Gary (Garland). He likes to have the puck down low, so I’m going to go to the net. It’s pretty simple.”

It can be as long as the Canucks are prepared to start smart and not chase another game.

Game preparation is as vital as performance because they are intertwined.  

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“Everybody does a warm-up and everybody is ready to roll for the game physically,” added Miller. “It’s a mental battle to be ready to go. It’s a lot of hockey with 82 games in a season and not every game you’re going to feel 100 per cent.  

“But you have to mentally convinced yourself and think in a mature manner to try to be focused. You have to make up your mind that you might not be going with your hands, but you’ve got to be going with your legs and find a way to contribute.  

“We haven’t and I haven’t done enough (last week) in the first periods of games. San Jose was great but we have to set the tone at home. We get the ice tilted in a certain way and it’s going to be hard for them to come out and push through that.”

OVERTIME — Oliver Ekman-Larsson escaped injury Saturday when he appeared to hurt his left leg in a neutral zone sideboards hit late in the game. Kyle Burroughs is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury (shoulder or ribs) after being hammered against the end boards on his second shift Saturday.

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