THE COACH HAS HIS EAR
Virtanen appreciates Green’s honesty
CANUCKS 3, KINGS 2
You’re often supposed to be careful what you wish for.
Travis Green knew what awaited his club Tuesday and he sounded part hopeful and part prophet.
“It’s a good challenge, a big challenge and I like it when you face some hard games,” the Vancouver Canucks head coach said before his club met the Los Angeles Kings. “You learn a lot about your team, and there might not be a bigger challenge in our division than coming into L.A.”
Well, he nailed that one. The Canucks dug a two-goal hole before four minutes elapsed against the National Hockey League’s second-stingiest team and top-ranked penalty kill. They were overmatched and even overwhelmed at the outset and looked like they were going to go quietly into the SoCal night.
Then Derek Dorsett got mad. Then the Canucks got resilient. Then they found new powerplay combinations that actually worked.
It turned the improbable into an impressive 3-2 victory, and it capped a revealing four-game road trip in which the Canucks rode a roller-coaster of indifferent play yet finished 2-2 because they finally found some power-play mojo.
Here’s what we learned:
BOESER AND THE DOT
Brock Boeser was feeling it. He not only got to the faceoff dot on a new-look power play to let that heavy wrist shot go, it struck goalie Jonathan Quick on the shoulder and Bo Horvat was there to jam
home the rebound. The goal was encouraging on several fronts. For starters, there was movement. There was the symmetry of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and the smart cross-ice pass by the captain to find Boeser in his favourite shooting spot.
It was also Henrik’s first powerplay point of the season and the centre started the comeback. His shot off the wall went off the butt of Nick Short and found the short side.
Because you can’t really quibble with the Canucks’ play at even strength, the power play adjustment ended a zero-for-11 funk after being blanked with the man advantage in San Jose and Anaheim.
Green had three different power-play alignments in practice Monday and said he had options. His gut told him to find the right shooter and net-presence guy to complement the Sedins. It not only worked, it’s a bona fide first unit because there’s a passer, shooter and finisher.
If that wasn’t enough man-advantage hope, the game winner started with a sweet cross-ice feed by Thomas Vanek to Sven Baertschi on the second power-play unit. He got Quick moving the wrong way and went far side.
DORSETT BEING DORSETT
Green didn’t expect Derek Dorsett to back down against the Kings, even though the pesky winger and leading goal scorer is skating on thin suspension ice. He has two instigator penalties and a third warrants a two-game ban.
That didn’t stop Dorsett when he attempted to shift momentum after the Kings needed just 23 seconds to open scoring on Anders Nilsson, who got better as the game progressed. Dorsett took on Andy Andreoff but made sure he didn’t start the bout or throw the first punch.
The Canucks attempted to get Dorsett’s instigator penalty against Josh Manson from Thursday’s game in Anaheim rescinded, but the league cited distance travelled and fight initiation in its ruling. So, what do you say to a guy who needs to play on the edge, but not go over it?
“There’s not much to say,” Green said. “He’s an aggressive player and sticks up for his teammates. You never want to take that away from a player.”
GAUNCE VERSUS VIRTANEN
Green said his rationale for playing Brendan Gaunce with Brandon Sutter and Dorsett was based on moving Markus Granlund between Vanek and Sam Gagner. Gaunce is a big body, but so is Jake Virtanen, and there’s the debate.
Both have played 80 NHL games, but Virtanen is a better skater, has more scoring potential and Tuesday was tailor-made to bring physicality back to his game. You could argue giving Virtanen more minutes on a shutdown line might be too big an ask, but why not find out? Then again, it was Gaunce’s backhand saucer pass that sprung Sutter and resulted in his failed penalty shot.
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick makes a save as Vancouver Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin looks on during the first period on Tuesday in Los Angeles.