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Three Canucks Questions Heading Into First Round Series

It is an exciting time to be a Vancouver Canucks fan. After over a decade of darkness, the light has shone. People are walking the streets of Vancouver wearing Canucks gear proudly, car flags are flying again, and the city is buzzing. After a regular season that defied expectations, the Pacific Division champions will make the 2024 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs mark their first playoff game in front of their fans in nine years. Standing in the Canucks way is the Nashville Predators. No opponent should be taken lightly and while the Canucks should win this series, hockey is not played on paper. Here are three Canucks questions heading into their first-round series against Nashville.

Three Canucks Questions #1: Will the Real Elias Pettersson Please Stand Up?

Out of all the three Canucks questions, it feels like this is the biggest one. First of all, this needs to be addressed: Elias Pettersson did not have a bad season. Yes, he did not reach the 100-point plateau and yes, there have been games where he looked completely invisible. That is especially true for the second half of the season. Since the All-Star break, Pettersson has been held pointless in 16 out of the 33 games as TSN’s Farhan Lalji stated on Friday’s Donnie & Dhali: The Team. In his last 10 games, he has four assists but just one goal.

But Pettersson finished the regular season with 34 goals and 55 assists for 89 points. That was third on the Canucks and 19th overall in the NHL. That isn’t bad at all. Even the underlying numbers show Pettersson has been one of the best all-around players in the NHL this past season.

It is safe to say Pettersson hasn’t looked like himself over the past few months. He has been hesitant to shoot the puck, especially on the power play. There are times when he bobbles and loses the puck too. However, Pettersson has maintained a solid defensive game and even showed off his physical side.

But the playoffs are when teams need their star players to shine. Pettersson is one of the faces of the franchise and the Canucks need him to start taking over games just as he has done many times in the past.

The last time the Canucks were in the playoffs, Pettersson was 21. In 17 playoff games in 2020, Pettersson had 18 points. Yes, those were different circumstances. It was in the Edmonton, Alberta bubble with no fans and there was a qualifying round, which expanded the playoffs to 24 teams. (One could argue that the qualifying round didn’t count as playoffs.) But those playoffs were proof that Pettersson could rise to the big occasion and he has become a better player since then.

It is also worth mentioning that Pettersson has 10 game-winning goals this season and that put him in a three-way tie for fifth most in the NHL. The players tied with him were Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets and Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes.

The playoffs are a perfect time for Pettersson to wake from his slumber.

Three Canucks Questions #2: Will the Depth Scoring From the Regular Season Continue?

One of the best things about the regular season for the Canucks was their depth or secondary scoring.

Brock Boeser led the way with 40 goals, followed by J.T. Miller‘s 37, and Pettersson’s 34. Even Quinn Hughes got on the scoring action as he lit the lamp 17 times.

But the player with the fourth highest goals is Nils Höglander and he has 24. The 23-year-old has found a home in the top-six and that is impressive considering he spent most of last season in the AHL.

Conor Garland hit the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career and first as a Canuck. At Christmas, he had three goals and since then, only Miller and Pettersson have had more goals according to Thomas Drance of The Athletic. Garland has also scored the second most goals on the Canucks since the All-Star Break with 12. Only Miller has more with 16. He has found chemistry with Dakota Joshua and Teddy Blueger and more recently, Joshua and Elias Lindholm.

Speaking of Joshua, he set a career-high with 18 goals and is due for a big raise in the summer. He is the type of player built for the playoffs. Joshua is physical, brings tenacity and grit, can get under an opponent’s skin, and can score.

Garland, Joshua, and Höglander need to take their scoring from the regular season and into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how they handle the playoffs.

Lindholm has been massively underwhelming since he was brought in from the Calgary Flames in the big trade on January 31. While he has been great in the faceoff circle, on the penalty kill, and in the defensive zone, Lindholm has been lacking offensively, as he managed six goals and six assists in 26 games since coming to Vancouver.

The Canucks don’t need Lindholm to be the 40-goal scorer he was two years ago, but they need him to chip in offensively and continue his solid defensive game. He is a player that can be relied upon heavily in the playoffs. It also seems that he has started to come alive offensively, as he has four points in his last five games. (Note: He missed time between March 23 and April 10 due to injury. The March 23 game against Calgary was his last before returning for the final four games of the regular season.) Perhaps this could be the start of better things offensively for him.

Ilya Mikheyev, Sam Lafferty and Pius Suter have hit double digits in the regular season, 11, 13, and 14, respectively. However, earlier in the season, each of them saw themselevs on a line with an in-form Pettersson and that helped. Mikheyev only has one goal since Christmas while Lafferty has four. But Suter has scored eight since then which is over half his goals. These three players are also known for their defensive work and having them score would also be a huge help for the playoffs.

Three Canucks Questions #3: Will the Special Teams Be Special?

 The Canucks power play finished 11th in the NHL at 22.7% while their penalty kill finished 17th at 79.1%. 

The man advantage was clicking before the All-Star break and it was at 25% and eighth in the league. Since the All-Star break, the power play was at 18.8% and was at 24th in the NHL.

Even with the acquisition of Lindholm, the power play looked lacklustre. There was a lot of passing and not enough shooting and it looked quite predictable and static.

The penalty kill fell from 13th in the NHL before the All-Star break at 79.7% to 16th at 77.5%. It is not a big drop off and the PK had an up-and-down season. In some games it looked formidable, other times it looked fragile, especially against playoff teams.

The special teams have been inconsistent all season and the playoffs are a good time for improvement. The Predators power play finished the regular season 16th and their penalty kill finished 22nd. Regular season numbers don’t mean much when it comes to the playoffs but there is an opportunity for the Canucks to light a spark in their special teams.

For the power play, movement and shooting are key. On the penalty kill, getting possession and clearing it as soon as possible is a recipe for success. Also, having Thatcher Demko back between the pipes and healthy helps.

Bring on the playoffs!

Canucks fans are excited for the playoffs, but there is also anxiety. That is because the fact the team has never won the Stanley Cup, despite be close. Nonetheless, it is great to have playoff hockey in Vancouver.

Main photo: Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports


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