Canucks fans have been waiting for this ever since they saw the first highlights of Elias Pettersson blasting one-timers from the right faceoff circle on the power play in Sweden. Imagine it: Brock Boeser on the left, Pettersson on the right, both blasting away. Penalty kills won’t be able to focus their efforts on defending one shooter, but will have to split their attention.
On Thursday night, fans got what they wanted. But the biggest benefactors of having two elite shooters on the power play weren’t the shooters themselves; instead, it was all about what it opened up in the middle of the ice.
Neither Boeser nor Pettersson scored, but the power play did come through with two goals, both scored from the slot. It was a nice little reminder that Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi are both pretty good on the power play themselves. In fact, Baertschi and Horvat scored goals at a higher rate than Boeser last season.
Baertschi led the Canucks with 3.81 goals per 60 minutes, then Horvat with 3.43 and Boeser with 3.28. With the retirement of the Sedins, adding Baertschi to the first power play unit, along with Pettersson, was a no-brainer. And having two big shooters on the outside seemed to open up a lot of space for Horvat and Baertschi in the middle.
I got a sneak preview of what should be an effective power play this season when I watched this game.
- Pettersson may not have scored, but he did have the prettiest pass of the preseason, setting up the Canucks’ first power play goal late in the first period. With 20 seconds left, Pettersson got the puck along the boards and neatly passed it back between his own legs to Baertschi, who made a nice move of his own to evade a check before setting up Horvat in front. It was the kind of pass that Canucks fans would be raving about for weeks if they hadn’t been spoiled by 18 years of the Sedins.
- Seriously, that pass was something else. Pettersson will have some growing pains this season, but it seems like he’s going to pull a ridiculous play like this out of nowhere every single game.
- Ben Hutton had just six points, all assists, last season. Travis Green harped on that number. But here’s the thing: Hutton was excellent in this game. He played over 30 minutes, he played the point on the power play, he killed penalties, he faced the top line for the Kings alongside Chris Tanev, and the Canucks out-chanced the Kings 11-to-1 when he was on the ice at 5-on-5. He finished with zero points.
- That’s two games of Hutton and Tanev paired together and, apart from one Hutton gaffe in the first game that led to a goal against, they’ve been superb. Keep them together. Tanning Hutt have a chance at being the Canucks’ best defence pairing this season. Sure, that might be damning with faint praise, but it's still praise.
- Green was critical of Hutton’s conditioning last season, but has praised him for coming into camp in great shape. It showed. Hutton played a game high 30:02, including six full minutes on the penalty kill, and looked fresh as daisy in overtime. Fresher, even. If they were playing Fresher in P.E., Hutton totally could have tagged a daisy and taken it to jail.
- Ben Hutton has manned the point on the top power play unit for two games now. The positives: Hutton skates well through the neutral zone for zone entries, holds the blue line effectively, and uses lateral movement to open up lanes. The downsides: Hutton doesn’t have a great shot and he’s had issues putting his passes in the wheelhouses of Pettersson and Boeser for one-timers. If he can’t work that last part out, Canucks fans will be screaming.
- The most ludicrous moment of the game wasn’t Pettersson’s pass. It was Guillaume Brisebois cleanly gaining the zone on a delayed penalty, then aimlessly dumping the puck in the corner when he had Pettersson and Baertschi wide open on his right. Every game I look for what the Canucks see in Brisebois and every game I come up empty.
Delayed penalty and Brisebois just... dumps it in... pic.twitter.com/8DXoC14mxs— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) September 21, 2018
- The Kings broke out in the second period, scoring three unanswered goals. Alex Biega and Michael Del Zotto were the pairing on the ice for all three: a turnover by Biega created a 2-on-0 down low for the first goal; a poorly-defended 4-on-3 rush gave Tanner Pearson room to pick a corner; and a wandering Michael Del Zotto left Emerson Etem alone in the slot to tip in goal three. By the numbers, Biega and Del Zotto were arguably the worst Canucks pairing defensively last season, so it’s good to know that some things never change. It’s comforting.
- Jonathan Dahlen looks like he needs some brining in the AHL before he’s ready to roast in the NHL oven, but he did show a talent for sneaking in behind the defence for a stretch pass. That seems easy — just skate along the blue line — but it takes the right timing and awareness to pull it off. Given a little time in Utica to soak in some spices and aromatics, Dahlen will be full of flavour in no time.
- The biggest surprise of the preseason might be Tyler Motte. He still has a really low ceiling, but he looks like a solid bottom-six forward. With injuries to Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel that may or may not last through the start of the regular season, a door has potentially opened up for someone like Motte. It’s open just a sliver, but that’s enough room for a mote, so it might be enough for a Motte.
- Motte assisted on the Canucks’ second goal with a nifty play in the neutral zone, somehow backhanding the puck up the boards to Bo Horvat while on his knees. Horvat went in 2-on-1 with Nikolay Goldobin, but with the pass taken away and a clear path to the net, Horvat kept, shot, and scored.
- Midway through the 3rd period, Pettersson was moved to right wing. It was just a couple shifts with Markus Granlund at centre and Jonathan Dahlen on left wing, but it seemed indicative of a couple things. One, Travis Green might not be entirely sold on Pettersson in the middle. And two, he wasn’t happy with Nikolay Goldobin, who he called out in the post-game press conference. Hopefully that’s a message sent and received, as Pettersson and Goldobin have looked aces together at times this preseason.
- The power play clicked again in the third period to tie the game. Hutton kept the puck in at the blue line and moved it to Pettersson. From there it was tic-tac-toe: Pettersson sent a hard pass down low to Bo, who one-touched it to Baertschi, who one-timer it off the post and in. It was like a game of tic-tac-toe with my oldest son, who has a tendency to cheat and draw all his symbols in a row before I can do anything. In this metaphor, I am the Kings’ penalty kill.
- The Kings had a chance on the power play in overtime, but the Canucks’ penalty kill impressively kept them to just one shot. Tanev, Hutton, and Jay Beagle played the entire two minutes, with Hutton and Beagle both blocking a shot. Like Harrison Ford being a quarter Jewish, it was not too shabby.
- Boeser and Pettersson didn’t score in the shootout, but Horvat and Goldobin did. Personally, I was just happy to see four young Canucks actually shooting in the shootout. It’s going to be confusing for the Canucks’ best players to actually have a chance of scoring in the shootout and not have a feeling of nervous dread pervade the arena when their names are announced. I can imagine Henrik and Daniel mentoring Pettersson now: “No, no, skate slowly in, then deke directly into the goaltender’s pads.”