Pettersson takes offense at criticism of his defensive play
Contrary to Cherry’s criticism, injured rookie plays with heart and makes all the Canucks better
Apparently, Elias Pettersson looks for trouble.
The trouble with that summation by Don Cherry during his Saturday shtick on Hockey Night in Canada is that it doesn’t tell the true story of what makes the injured Canucks centre tick.
It’s the fire in the belly of the Calder Trophy front-runnerthat often gets lost in the conversation because his remarkable playmaking and goal-scoring exploits dominate the highlight reels.
His desire to be as good without the pu ck as he is with it has revved up the Canucks’ rebuild, because the 20-yearold is making his teammates better by setting a sterling example of fine two-way play.
When Pettersson suffered a mild MCL (medial collateral ligament) knee sprain last week in Montreal after he got tangled up with fellow rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi — the slick Swede didn’t play Saturday in a 5-0 loss at Toronto in the finale of a 3-3 road trip and is sidelined one to two weeks — it prompted Cherry to take issue with Pettersson’s pursuitontheplay.
“He’s got to stop looking for trouble,” said Cherry. “He was looking for trouble there and it (the injury) wouldn’t have happened. The guy got him down and just held on to him. He’s got to stop looking for trouble because if you do that in the National Hockey League, you’ll find it.”
What Cherry didn’t say was Pettersson wasn’t looking for trouble, he was looking to retrieve a bouncing puck with an aggressive forecheck on Kotkaniemi along the end boards. It led to a hook from behind by the Canadiens centre in transition and Pettersson turning to make a right-shoulder response. As the pair spun and fell to ice, Pettersson’s right knee was bent backward.
“It was an accident,” said Pettersson, who has a 17-point lead in the rookie scoring race with 42 points (22-20) in 38 games, including seven game-winning goals and six on the power play. “We got tangled up. We both fell down. I got in an awkward position. It wasn’t a dirty play or anything.”
It was also a rite of passage. Hooks, holds, grabbing and jabbing of star players are commonplace, but an exceptional rookie who can embarrass defenders in transition with deft stick handling, a strong stride and an instinct to think one play ahead, will keep Pettersson in the crosshairs. And if push comes to shove when he returns, there has to be a push back by his teammates.
It can’t be open season on Pettersson because his multi-layered game and threezone awareness led to remarkable results on the sixgame
road trip. The opposition played him harder physically, but it only made him more determined.
In a 4-2 win in Edmonton on Dec. 27, Pettersson drew Darnell Nurse wide left off the rush, calmly corralled the puck and whipped a perfect blind cross-ice feed to Brock Boeser for a remarkable goal. After the Oilers closed the gap to 2-1, he took a pass at speed and from the left faceoff dot, a flick of the wrist found the tiny top-corner hole.
Two nights later in Calgary, the Canucks were down 2-1, being outplayed and outshot 20-8. Pettersson then let a wicked wrist shot fly to the far side that was in and out of the net in a flash. The 3-2 overtime win was cemented when Pettersson bolted back in the extra session to dive and break up a 2-1 rush before Alex Edler scored.
“That was Vancouver media’s biggest issue with me — that I wasn’t good in the defensive zone,” Pettersson said in a post-game delivery that again spoke to his drive to be a complete player.
“He works on that every day,” Edler said. “He’s a smart player and takes a lot of pride in playing good defensively.”
It culminated with Pettersson’s first career hat trick Wednesday in Ottawa that included the 4-3 overtime winner. It was a crowning achievement because while no one player makes a team, Pettersson makes the Ca nu ck sm ore competitive.
The sobering side of Saturday’s loss is that the Canucks have been blanked in three of their last four games and four of the last seven. They looked tired against the Maple Leafs because three games in four nights and six in 10 are going to take a toll on any club — especially the Canucks, who have managed an 11-12-3 road record and have played 26 of their 45 games away from Rogers Arena. But there are lingering concerns.
The offence has dried up, the power play is struggling, the defence was exposed Saturday and Jacob Markstrom had an off night by allowing two five-hole goals and one to the high short side.
Niko lay Gold ob in has gone 11 games without a goal and has one in his last 18. Bo Horvat has shouldered an incredible load but has been blanked in seven games. Same for Jake Virtanen. And the power play is 0-for-8 the past two games and missed Pettersson’s presence.
The adage of good defence leading to offence is preached by every coach. Travis Green can go one better — he just has to show video of Pettersson’s persistence.
The intangibles that led to Elias Pettersson’s knee injury are the same ones that have sped up the Canucks’ rebuild by setting an example for his teammates with his superlative two-way play
Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi shows his concern for Canucks’ rookie centre Elias Pettersson after the two got tangled up in a game last Thursday. The collision led to a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament for the dynamic Swede.
Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson lies injured on the ice after colliding with Montreal Canadiens’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi on Thursday in Montreal.