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

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - BEN KUZMA [email protected]­media.com @benkuzma

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

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

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.

— GRA­HAM HUGHES/CP

Van­cou­ver Canucks’ Elias Pet­ters­son lies in­jured on the ice af­ter col­lid­ing with Mon­treal Cana­di­ens’ Jes­peri Kotkaniemi on Thurs­day in Mon­treal.

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