It looked like they went to a spa.
The Vancouver Canucks were refreshed and prepared to resume their sensational season Tuesday at Rogers Arena. Rest, recovery and good practices quickly brought out the best, even though it wasn’t the stiffest test against the struggling Ottawa Senators.
They Canucks looked sharp. Strides were strong. Passes were crisp and goals came in every conceivable manner — including an elusive power play effort against the NHL’s worst penalty kill — but they did play a little too loose in the final period.
Five first-period goals laid the foundation to subdue the Senators in a 6-3 victory that proved a good prep for a tough seven-game road trip that opens Thursday in St. Louis.
Canucks at Blues
When and where: Thursday at 5 p.m. | Enterprise Center
TV: SN Pacific | Radio: Sportsnet 650
In a clip-and-save opening frame, the Canucks got goals from getting to the net, getting creative, getting in position for a deflection and even getting a little lucky.
It started early with Ian Cole’s first goal the season, a high point shot that somehow got through a maze of bodies and sticks positioned for a deflection. It ended with Elias Pettersson’s second goal of the period.
Here’s what we learned as Thatcher Demko made 35 saves, Pius Suter scored twice while J.T. Miller also scored for the Canucks, who improved to 24-10-3. Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and Claude Giroux had the other for the Senators:
Pettersson was really feeling it
Even before he scored twice in a two-minute span of the first period, you could see that the slick Swedish centre was having a noticeable and encouraging presence in his four-shot frame.
He had an early hot shot from the slot. He then tried to bank a sharp-angle shot off goalie Anton Forsberg and quickly circled the net to deposit the loose puck.
And then on the much-maligned power play that was 4-for-32 in the previous 10 games, Pettersson took a cross-ice feed from Miller in his sweet shooting spot. The shot went off the heel of his stick but had enough momentum to deflect off Jake Sanderson and change direction on Forsberg to finish the first-period onslaught.
And in the second period, Pettersson made the perfect penalty-kill read to sprint Ilya Mikheyev for a short-handed breakaway in which he was nullified on a backhand deke. Sam Lafferty then sprang from the penalty box to have his backhander off a breakaway stopped as well.
Miller got into the act between the Pettersson markers when he deflected a Nikita Zadorov point shot that struck a Senator before finding net. The first-period foray chased Forsberg from the net in favour of Joonas Korpisalo.
Fourth-liner Suter makes first impression
The credo isn’t complicated when you’re deployed as a fourth-liner.
Forecheck ferociously to frustrate, don’t take a penalty and don’t get scored on. Anything else is a bonus.
After two strong shifts where they bottled up the Senators, it was Suter’s second-consecutive strong effort that was rewarded. He went hard to the net, established position, got to a loose puck and banged it home. He then did the puck strip and flip in the third period to seal the deal and finished the night with three points, five shots and a plus-4 rating.
It was the type of effort that Nils Hoglander needs to embrace. He has had a cup of coffee on Miller’s line and has 10 goals. But he also has 31 penalty minutes and that irked Rick Tocchet. He was pondering a third scratch of the Swedish winger but sat Nils Aman instead.
“There are about three or four guys in that position who are looking for ice time — whether they’re 10-12-14 minute guys — and be the best they can be,” the Canucks bench boss said following the morning skate. “I find that Hogie has slipped a little bit, whether it’s coverages or penalties.
“Guys like that, they give you some good pop, but can they stay consistent? When they slip, you have to throw somebody else in there, and I like that about our team. Whoever goes in has to bring energy.”
Welcome to ‘Power Play Palooza’
Sometimes, you need a little levity.
With the Canucks trying to right the wrongs with a power play that should be a top-five fixture, a legendary sniper was spotted watching the morning skate. Perhaps Wayne Gretzky, a close confidant of Tocchet, could lend some assistance.
So, what about Gretz, Rick?
“He’s PP1 tonight — so we’ll see how he does,” deadpanned Tocchet.
Following a Saturday practice predicated on plenty of power play work, the optional game-skate Tuesday was also devoted to getting PP1 back on track. The situation isn’t dire, but the Canucks’ power play has slipped from third to ninth. It’s supposed to be the dagger — a difference-maker in close games — and must find its edge.
“I have to take responsibility and sometimes I assume things,” admitted Tocchet. “That’s why I wanted to go at it today (Tuesday) — even skill stuff like touches and shots from the slot and good passing — and we’re missing some of that. Maybe it’s a lack of practice.
“Some guys are misfiring and I have to kick Millsy (Miller) off the ice because he wants to work on it constantly. I liked the morning and feel it’s going to be a factor tonight.”
Whether it’s moving Pettersson to the middle from the half wall, or getting more from Miller manning the left flank instead of willing to set screens and deflect pucks, there needs to be finish.
“When people want to be in their spot, they don’t want to move their feet and we’ve got to get Petey to move his feet a little bit,” added Tocchet. “Teams are scouting and we have to come up with other options and we’ve got to get some net-front guys.”
OVERTIME — Winger Phil DiGiuseppe did not return for the second period and the Canucks announced that he was gone for the night.
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