I Watched This Game: Elias Pettersson back up to goal-per-game pace against the Wild

Canucks 5 - 2 Wild

Pass it to Bulis

The red-hot Minnesota Wild — it feels strange to even say that phrase — entered Monday night on a five-game winning streak. They’re pretty much completely healthy, with only fourth-liner Matt Hendricks out of the lineup with an injury. They were in the top-ten in goals against and boasted one of the stingiest penalty kills in the league.

Meanwhile, the Canucks’ injuries keep piling up. They had lost two-straight games by a combined score of 9-1 and hadn’t won a game in regulation since October 13th, a span of seven games. On top of all that, the Canucks have been badly out-chanced this season: they’re 30th in the NHL in scoring chance differential, while the Wild are 8th.

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It was inevitable, then, that the Canucks had one of their most resounding wins of the season.

There were signs that this might be coming, of course. The Wild had allowed the first goal in seven of their last eight games and did so again against the Canucks. They’ve yet to lose a game in regulation at home, but haven’t been as good on the road.

As much as the Wild have been in the black in scoring chance differential, their corsi suggests they’ve struggled in puck possession overall. Their score and venue-adjusted corsi, according to Natural Stat Trick, is 45.94%, which places them 26th in the NHL, just a little ahead of the 28th-ranked Canucks.

On top of all that, the Canucks had Elias Pettersson with a game of rust-shaking-off under his belt after recovering from his concussion. The Wild witnessed the firepower of a fully armed-and-operational Pettersson, as did I when I watched this game.

  • When the lineup was announced and Tim Schaller and Markus Granlund were on the “top line” with Bo Horvat, everyone, including yours truly, poked a little fun at the combination. So, of course that line had the Canucks’ best corsi, shot, and scoring chance differential. Of course Granlund scored the game’s opening goal. Of course Granlund played over 21 minutes and led the Canucks with six shots on goal, while Schaller was a beast on the forecheck. Of course.
  • Right from puck drop, the Canucks were aggressive in all three zones, taking away time and space like a black hole. Jake Virtanen used that manipulated spacetime to pick off a puck in the neutral zone and turn it into a chance, while Granlund did the same in the offensive zone.
  • All three members of the very grind-friendly first line got involved on the opening goal. Schaller out-battled Matt Dumba down low to move the puck behind the net to Horvat, who sent the puck through Ryan Suter’s legs to Granlund out front. Like Bob Munden, Granlund got the shot off quick, sending it off the iron and in.

 

 

  • The Wild quickly responded, with Jacob Markstrom embracing a classic Vancouver trope: allowing a player’s first career NHL goal. Jared Spurgeon’s shot from the boards handcuffed him like he was in Twilight fan fiction and rookie Jordan Greenway popped the rebound home on his second attempt.
  • Erik Gudbranson talked today about something he learned from Willie Mitchell: “It’s never the first mistake that ends up in your net, it’s always the second.” At the end of the first period, Gudbranson made the first mistake, following Jason Zucker across the neutral zone and allowing Eric Staal to sneak in behind him. He recovered magnificently, however, and didn’t make a second mistake: he caught up to Staal and lifted his stick to prevent a scoring chance without taking a penalty.
  • This was a marvelous game for the pairing of Ben Hutton and Gudbranson. Hutton was a workhorse, playing a game-high 27:55, while Gudbranson was a little behind at 24:01 because he doesn’t play on the power play. Most importantly, they prevented scoring chances and kept the puck moving in the right direction while primarily facing the Wild’s top two lines. It was one of the best games we’ve seen out of that pairing.
  • It seems like the Canucks can’t go three days without another injury. This time it was Brandon Sutter, who slammed into the boards awkwardly as he cleared the puck on the penalty kill. He reportedly has a separated shoulder and is likely to miss at least 4-6 weeks.

 

 

  • Contrary to popular belief, Elias Pettersson is not the smallest man in Vancouver. It seems worth noting that Adam Gaudette is actually listed as six pounds lighter than Pettersson and is an inch shorter, but you don’t hear the same calls for Gaudette to bulk up and gain strength as you do for Pettersson. The Canucks may have to lean a little more on Gaudette with Sutter out, so hopefully he has the strength to bear the weight.
  • The Canucks went 1-for-4 on the power play, with, as we all expected, Jake Virtanen scoring from an assist by Alex Biega. The dreaded Biega-Virtanen connection. A Wild breakout pass at the end of a Canucks’ power play went awry and Biega smartly sent it right back the other way. Virtanen took the pass, stepped over the blue line, and took advantage of a bad gap by Suter to use the defenceman as a screen, beating Dubnyk clean like a dusty rug.

 

 

  • Like an onion, Pettersson’s 3-1 goal had layers. It started with Pettersson taking an excellent lane on the forecheck that forced a weak outlet pass. Then Michael Del Zotto pinched hard down the boards forcing a turnover. Then Nikolay Goldobin made a nifty drop pass back to Del Zotto, who swung the puck across to Pettersson, who had gotten into the perfect position for a one-timer. It was wonderful to watch it swirl into shape and leave Dubnyk with no defence.

 

 

  • Travis Green loved Jacob Markstrom’s game tonight: “He was great tonight, not just good...He was a rock back there.” While he could have done better on the Wild’s first goal, he was completely screened on the second, and there’s no complaining when a goaltender makes 37 saves on 39 shots. Like Simon and Garfunkel, he was a rock. An island, even. A fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate.
  • Some may not like it, but Pettersson is going to block shots in the NHL. He’s simply too good at getting in lanes. He had two blocks on one shift early in the game, then turned another block into a ridiculous goal in the third period. He’s blockier than a Minecraft mob.
  • Off a faceoff, Pettersson came flying out at Dumba, accurately anticipating a slap shot. The puck ricocheted to Brock Boeser, while Pettersson never stopped skating, giving him a clear-cut breakaway. He went in full speed on Dubnyk, then zipped the puck off the crossbar and in with one of the subtlest stick movements I’ve ever seen in a shot. There was no backswing, no loading up, no lean onto his stick to generate flex: he just launched it. How is a goaltender supposed to stop that?

 

 

  • Up by two and with the Minnesota net empty, Pettersson was on the ice with the chance for the hat trick. He’s just too darn responsible defensively: when Hutton jumped up in the play and was sent in alone by Antoine Roussel, Pettersson responsibly held back, just in case there was a rush the other way. Hutton deserved the goal given how well he played, though, and even in his 27th minute on the ice, he still looked like he had energy to spare.
  • Unlike some people in Vancouver, 19-year-old Elias Pettersson doesn’t need to grow up. Certain segments of the fanbase didn’t want Pettersson in the NHL this season, reasoning that he was still too slight for the rigors of the NHL. I almost don’t want Pettersson to get any older or bigger. I want him to pull a Peter Pan and stay the same age, just so he can keep dominating the NHL just the way he is and shove it back in the faces of those who said he wasn’t ready.
  • Pettersson will grow up, of course, and the rest of the NHL better watch out. If this is how he performs while still a skinny teenager, I can’t imagine what he’ll do in his prime.

 


 

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