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Home Road Trip Return to identity leads to impressive road trip sweep

Return to identity leads to impressive road trip sweep

by Staff

Few teams have had a better week than the Vancouver Canucks, who haven’t even made a trade. Maybe they don’t know they’re supposed to be falling behind their Pacific Division rivals.

The Canucks beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 on Thursday to sweep a three-game road trip that included 2-1 wins against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Vancouver has woken from its February hibernation, which hit a low point one week ago with a 5-1 loss at home to Los Angeles.

The trip demonstrated that even without further lineup additions – and we know Canuck general manager Patrik Allvin is still trying – this is a formidable team when it plays with speed, discipline and commitment to coach Rick Tocchet’s system.

They have not been at the top of the National Hockey League, and been one of its most consistent teams, by accident.

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On Thursday, the Canucks won wire to wire, building an early 2-0 on goals 55 seconds apart by Quinn Hughes and Phil DiGiuseppe, and never looked uncomfortable defending their two-goal lead in the third period as the struggling Stanley Cup champion Knights tried to push.

Vancouver outshot Vegas 31-17 through 40 minutes, got another excellent game from goalie Thatcher Demko and a big goal late in the second from Conor Garland, who used his quick hands to tuck a rebound around Adin Hill after Elias Lindholm kept the puck in at the Knights’ blueline from a turnover by Mason Morelli.

Vegas looked like the second-best team even after their blockbuster trade Wednesday for Calgary defenceman Noah Hanifin and the acquisition of 20-goal scorer Anthony Mantha from Washington.

The Edmonton Oilers, another team chasing the Canucks in the Pacific Division, unveiled in Columbus shiny, new acquisitions Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick and lost 4-2 to the Blue Jackets. The Calgary Flames have traded several of their best players this season but refuse to withdraw from the wild-card playoff race and on Thursday won 6-3 in Tampa.

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We get it, the evaluations on expensive rental trades happen not after one game or 10 games but when the acquiring teams are eliminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Later this season, Vegas and Edmonton should be better off for the small fortunes they paid this week on rentals. Talent is important.

But it is not as important as a team’s cohesiveness, application and resolve. When you have both talent and commitment, that’s when you win.

The Canucks have plenty of talent, and maybe Allvin and his staff add another piece or two before Friday’s noon (Pacific) deadline — beyond the major winter trades for Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov. But on their three-game road sweep, the Canucks reminded everyone that when on their game, they will be a difficult out for anybody.

JAKE NOT WORTH THE JACK

According to CHEK-TV’s Rick Dhaliwal, the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted the Canucks’ No. 1 prospect, Jonathan Lekkerimaki, and 23-year-old, soon-to-be-20-goal-scorer Nils Hoglander in exchange for Pittsburgh Penguins winger-rental Jake Guentzel. 

Thankfully, Allvin and Canucks president Jim Rutherford, Penguins alumni, did not let their hearts overwhelm their brains in saying no. So Pittsburgh ransomed Guentzel, a point-per-game player currently hurt, to the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in a position to re-sign him beyond this season. 

The Canucks have done an admirable job developing players in the minors and adding free agents to the prospect pool. But they are in no position at the top of their prospects pyramid to sacrifice Lekkerimaki or defenceman Tom Willander on a hope-bet for the playoffs.

THE ORIGINAL EP

The best individual developments on the road trip for the Canucks are the return of Carson Soucy and Elias Pettersson. Soucy was injured for seven weeks with a broken hand. Pettersson was merely missing for about three weeks when the team struggled and his contract status was becoming an inferno.

Since signing his $92.8-million extension on Saturday, Pettersson was better in Anaheim, outstanding in Los Angeles and excellent again in Las Vegas. Again, in the context of potential adding players in trade, no one the Canucks could realistically acquire would be as remotely important as Pettersson to influencing the team’s success or failure. 

Pettersson is moving his feet again, attacking the net, getting to and protecting pucks. He is driving his line again after letting Hoglander do it for him the previous couple of weeks. He’s playing like Elias Pettersson.

His assist on Quinn Hughes’ power-play goal gave Pettersson 400 points in 390 games for the Canucks — the second fastest in franchise history to that threshold. Pavel Bure reached 400 points in 360 games.

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HOPE FOR MIKHEYEV

Look, if Phil DiGiuseppe can score his first goal since Nov. 12, fooling Hill by hooking a low slider through the pads to make it 2-0 at 6:56 of the first period on Thursday, then surely there is hope that teammate Ilya Mikheyev will score again this season.

Mikheyev had his best game in a while against the Golden Knights. His two shots on net weren’t reflective of the number of quality scoring chances the luck-less winger had while building an expected-goals percentage 67.9 on a line with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser.

Mikheyev had 10 goals in his first 28 games after returning from last winter’s ACL knee surgery. But he has gone an unfathomable 33 games without scoring since then.

Three factors that have elevated the Canucks’ need for a winger: Lindholm’s deployment as the third-line centre, Dakota Joshua’s injury, and Mikheyev.

TOC TALK

Rick Tocchet, to reporters in Las Vegas: “It’s Canucks hockey. I think we got back to our identity the last couple of games, three games here. All the areas that we wanted to shore up — I’ve got to give the guys credit — they shored it up.

“When we did make a mistake, I saw us hold the fort. I saw some guys really buckle down. This time of the year, playoff hockey or whatever, you’ve got to really hang tough in those situations and I think we did.”

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