Against the New York Rangers, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi were back with another one of those block rocking beats, opening the scoring with a play that showcased the chemistry they’ve developed over the course of the season.
The two start the play in the defensive zone, combining to create a turnover. Baertschi then flips the puck ahead of Horvat, knowing that his centre has the speed to rush on to the puck and create problems for Rangers defenceman Dan Boyle.
Baertschi then slips in behind Rick Nash as he heads to the front of the net and makes a small adjustment when Nash turns his head, opening himself up for Horvat’s centring pass. A quick release combined with Radim Vrbata at the side of the net to split Henrik Lundqvist’s attention, and the puck was in the back of the net.
Horvat and Baertschi have provided most of the offense for the Canucks of late and they’ll likely be asked to carry an even bigger load with Henrik Sedin out of the lineup.
Just 9 games ago, it would have seemed crazy to suggest that Horvat could help offensively in Henrik’s absence. At that point, Horvat had gone 27 games without a goal and had just 10 points in 37 games. While he was creating chances, the added responsibilities with Brandon Sutter out of the lineup seemed to be taking their toll.
His resurgence, however, started a little earlier than when he broke his goalscoring drought, back when Baertschi broke a 13-game drought himself back on December 18th. Horvat set him up for that goal with a pretty pass on a 2-on-1 created by Vrbata.
Baertschi scored again the next game, again set up by Horvat. And when Baertschi turned that into a three-game goal streak against the Lightning, it was Horvat starting the breakout that led to the goal.
Since December 18th, Baertschi has 6 goals and 9 points in 12 games. Meanwhile, in that same timeframe, Horvat has 6 goals and 12 points in 14 games.
For perspective, the Canucks have only scored 29 goals in that time. Toss in Radim Vrbata’s 2 goals and their line has contributed just short of half of all the Canucks’ goals in the last 14 games.
At this point Baertschi and Horvat look like they've played together for years. They seem to know each other's tendencies incredibly well. Perhaps it's because Horvat's tendencies aren't all that complicated: he likes to drive wide around defenders and get the puck to the front of the net. For an intelligent player like Baertschi, it's just a matter of putting the puck in the right areas for Horvat to use his power and speed, then getting to the front of the net, as he did for his goal against the Rangers. Perhaps chemistry isn't as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be.
At the very least, it's not imaginary. By the underlying numbers, they're better together than they are apart, though still, like most of the Canucks, under 50% in corsi. But Horvat sees a marked improvement in his defensive numbers with Baertschi, which might be partly due to usage, but may also have to do with Baertschi's ability to transition the puck out of the defensive zone.
In any case, we shouldn’t be too surprised at the chemistry of Baertschi and Horvat. They clicked in their one game together in the preseason, combining with Jake Virtanen for three goals against a then-undefeated Edmonton Oilers. Baertschi had 4 assists, while Horvat had 2 goals and an assist.
It was immediately apparent that Baertschi and Horvat worked well together and immediately frustrating when Willie Desjardins refused to put them back together to start the season. Aside from a couple short stints here and there, it’s only been the last month or so that the two have played together consistently and the results have spoken for themselves.
Their hot streak is unlikely to continue, of course, as all streaks must end and Baertschi and Horvat have benefited from some puck luck over the last while. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it and if the two of them can settle into a second line role and Vrbata can start putting in a few more goals himself, then the Canucks will have a very effective second line.