MAKING A GO WITHOUT BO
Canucks without Horvat for six weeks
The easy part of this story is Bo Horvat is out for six weeks with a fractured foot.
The hard part of this story is figuring out how the Canucks can tape together their hopes while he’s out.
“It’s a big hole. I’m not going to dwell on it,” Travis Green said matter-of-factly Thursday, after confirming the tough news.
“Next in line,” he said. “Teams deal with injuries and we’ll have to deal with it. It’s going to be a challenge.”
No kidding: Since the beginning of the season, Horvat’s been the team’s minutes leader at forward and it hasn’t even been close.
He has been a key member of a power play that has found its groove.
“He’s got a lot of speed on the breakout, he’s done a good job in front, he wins pucks after rebounds and those kinds of things; that’s when it’s key to get the puck back. Otherwise you are going to spend another 40 seconds trying to get back in their zone,” Henrik Sedin said in trying to sum up what Horvat does on the power play.
He’s been a leader on a penalty kill that’s been doing a good job of limiting opponents’ shots.
“It’s definitely tough,” said Loui Eriksson, who often kills penalties alongside Horvat. “It’s all about reading plays and being in the right lane.”
Horvat takes a huge portion of the team’s big faceoffs and, of course, there’s also his work with the puck on offence.
“He eats up a lot of big minutes on our team, like Sutter, and we’ll deal with it,” Green said.
One of the centremen the Canucks may turn to is Sam Gagner.
“What Bo brings to the game, it’s kind of unfillable,” Gagner said. “We’re going to need a lot of different guys to step up.”
But Gagner pointed to the predicament of one of his old teams, the Anaheim Ducks, as a bit of a lesson.
“Anaheim has been playing without their top two centres it seems like all year,” he said.
Good point: The Ducks have been missing Ryan Kesler all season, and lost Ryan Getzlaf last month. They’re still treading water at 12-11-6.
Horvat has made great strides defensively this year. His line is still giving away more shots than you would like, but like the rest of the team, they’ve improved to a tremendous degree in keeping those shots to the outside.
There were worries in the past that Horvat’s defensive game would never come around, but under Green for 27 games, he showed legitimate improvement.
At even strength, it looks as if Gagner will pick up some of the slack — but while his offensive game is good, his defensive work has always been spotty.
That makes for matchup worries for the coach, especially in the continued absence of Brandon Sutter, who Green likes as a shutdown centre, even if the numbers have never really backed that belief up very well.
On the power play, Horvat has become a net-front beast, as noted by his captain. Might Thomas Vanek be the man for the job? He did score on a lovely tip against Carolina on Tuesday.
The penalty kill may prove to be the hardest part of this hole to patch: The Canucks were already down two key guys in Sutter, who Green said is still at least a week away from returning, and Derek Dorsett, who was forced to retire.
Eriksson and Markus Granlund remain key players on the PK. Brendan Gaunce has stepped forward of late to fill the gap. Alex Burmistrov has spent some time killing penalties already this season. But after that, it’s a wideopen application process.
Gagner has done a bit of it in the past. Nikolay Goldobin was learning how to do it in Utica. Jake Virtanen’s play at even strength suggests he might have untapped potential.
At the end of all this, we’re going to get a clear read on the rest of this Canucks team, which has defied expectations already and put itself in the playoff discussion. We assume that’s going to be a much harder position to sustain for the next six weeks. The Canucks, of course, are out to prove that thinking wrong.
Bo Horvat has been the Vancouver Canucks’ leader in minutes this season, but is now out with a fractured foot.