Canucks Observations: Four Games In

There have only been four games, but there is a major difference this season for the Vancouver Canucks. They’re fun to watch!

The team is fast, skilled, and an offensive threat. They are accumulating skilled forwards and building a roster that, until this season, was living in the shadow of a failed Stanley Cup run seven years ago. With that being said, here are some observations:

On this week’s podcast, we’re asked to compare Elias Pettersson to a Thanksgiving dinner item. By the end of the segment, we made a pretty great realization!

Elias Pettersson

You’ve read the analysis. You’ve heard media members gush over him and you’ve heard the comparisons to every hockey legend under the sun. Elias Pettersson has had a fantastic start to his NHL career.

Everything about his offensive game makes even the most apathetic Canucks fans salivate. A legitimate goal scoring and play making threat, Pettersson left Tampa Bay on Thursday night with his fourth goal and seventh point in four games to start the season. I like every aspect of his game, but have you watched him back check yet? It’s incredible. He’s a workhorse. He doesn’t give up on a defensive play and he doesn’t coast into the defensive zone watching his teammates defend on his behalf.

I am enjoying watching both aspects of his game and I’m very excited for the rest of the season, but like most Canucks fans, I’m not falling head over heels just yet.  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, well…  we aren’t allowed to have nice things in Vancouver.

Young As Hell

The kids are producing. Not only that, they are being given a chance.

Nikolay Goldobin found instant chemistry with Pettersson this season and this has given him a new lease on life in Vancouver. Unable to find a role over the last year and a half, Goldobin has been a delight to watch with Pettersson. The two are fast, skilled, and are being given big minutes in important situations. The 23 year-old has a goal and two assists playing with Pettersson and Loui Eriksson.

Jake Virtanen is still looking for that permanent role on the team. He’s producing early (2G 1A), but can’t seem to find his way out of the bottom six.  Brock and Bo’s line mate position seems to be a revolving door at the moment, though. Could the pride of Abbotsford find his niche with them? He can certainly keep up!

Terrible Back End 

Jacob Markstrom is not the best goalie. We know this, we have accepted this. The best way to get to the bottom of the standings and finish dead last with the best possible chance in the NHL Draft Lottery is to give up A LOT of goals. The Canucks have given up 15 goals against (23rd in the league).

In the first three games on the season, Markstrom and the defence looked very similar: sloppy, out of position, and not structurally sound, which was very reminiscent of last season. Going into Thursday night in Tampa Bay, Travis Green went with Anders Nilsson, who responded with 16 saves in the first period and, unlike his Swedish goaltending counterpart, did not let in the first shot on goal, or a soft muffin before the first TV time out.

Nilsson looked fantastic against Tampa Bay. He was confident and consistent, making 33 saves and shutting the door against the ‘Bolts for the final 40 minutes. Sure, one measly game in October is a tiny sample size, but it was a breath of fresh air and a bit of promise after the start of the season.

Canucks04

Brock Boeser was goalless through the first three games of the regular season. Photo credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Plus/Minus

Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are each -7 to start this season. I know we ranted about the validity of that stat onthe podcast this week, but it is significant especially when you consider that guys like Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle are here to protect Horvat from defensive zone draws. They are supposed to be giving him opportunities to flourish in the offensive zone.

Is it a cause for concern? No, not yet.  It has drawn my attention to the Boeser and Horvat line going forward, though. I might even have to break out the fancy stats!

Dirty Work

Jim Benning and July 1st are not a good combination. We can scoff and argue and debate about his bad signings over the past few seasons, but let’s not dwell on the past.

Sam Gagner was put on waivers prior to the start of the regular season and it sent a clear and concise message; nobody has a guaranteed roster spot. Waiving Gagner clearly was a tough decision for Jim Benning. One year ago he signed the aging centre to a three year deal after a successful stint in Columbus where he was the definition of a power play specialist (8 of his 18 goals were scored on the power play). His first season in Vancouver was nothing to write home about and neither were his preseason efforts this year. Gagner was outplayed, he lost his roster spot, and while things may have been different in years prior, Jim Benning did the dirty work and dealt with the problem.

Michael Del Zotto was also signed on that fateful July 1st last year. His contact was a little more palatable than Gagner’s, as the Canucks’ defense was and still is razor thin. As a veteran player on a young roster, you’d think he’d have a guaranteed spot on the roster every night.  However, after some glaring mistakes and lack of focus the first two games of the season vs. Calgary, head coach Travis Green sent another message and scratched Del Zotto in favour of the new guy, the lean and mean Ben Hutton. That scratch carried over into Thursday’s game vs. Tampa Bay.

I can’t predict how many more times Del Zotto will be a healthy scratch, but I will say I like that Travis Green isn’t afraid to shake up his lines. Green is rewarding players with ice time and roster spots. Could we see Gudbranson a healthy scratch? Based on the way things are going, it’s not the craziest idea!

Again, it’s only been four games…

 

Header photo credit: Mike Carlson AP Photo

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