The Vancouver Canucks were one of 18 teams that got to shake off the rust on the first day back from the league’s mandatory 3-day Christmas Break.
Ryan Miller is still injured, so the Canucks ran with a tandem of Jacob Markstrom and call-up Joe Cannata. Both Sedins were back… but why talk about them when the resident Danish speedster stole the show?
Earlier in the 2015-16 season, I pointed out that this is the first year that all of the NHL’s Danish-born players (other than goaltender Freddie Andersen) were poised to hit 20 goals.
That’s unique for a couple of reasons. It’s unique primarily because it’s very rare to see a nation’s full list of NHL talent serve as impact players, but it’s also unique because Denmark has only seen one NHL player hit 20 goals in a regular season – and he only did it once.
Since then, Nikolaj Ehlers has tapered off a bit; understandable, for a rookie, but a tad disappointing nonetheless. The other four active NHL Danes, though, are still on pace for those 20-goal years.
Lars Eller is the least likely to reach the milestone, with just seven tallies in 37 games. Mikkel Boedker and Frans Nielsen are on pace for 20+ goals apiece, with 11 goals in 34 contests (Boedker) and 12 goals in 35 appearances (Nielsen, who hit the 20 goal mark once before with 25 goals in 2013-14).
Then, there’s Jannik Hansen.
The 29 year old winger has twice hit 16 goals in a single season, but has never quite reached that level of play that 20 goal scorers manage to reach. This season, though, Hansen hit 10 goals ahead of the Christmas break – and his two goals on Saturday night put him on pace for somewhere around 25 or 26 tallies on the year.
Is that sustainable? Probably not. Nothing in Hansen’s past has suggested that he’ll continue to score at a fast enough clip to be in the top three or four in scoring for Vancouver at any point in his career.
With both of Vancouver’s goals in tonight’s win, though, it’s worth wondering – exactly how well will Hansen play this year?
Edmonton opened up scoring in the first period, with Mark Letestu (yeah, we were surprised too) finding the back of the net on a wrister that was the byproduct of poor puck possession in Vancouver’s zone.
The game could have gone downhill quickly from there, but the Canucks held on remarkably well. Jannik Hansen scored the equalizer in the second period, and both teams remained at a stalemate until Vancouver bested their divisional rivals in extra minutes.
Jacob Markstrom continued to play an impressive game in Ryan Miller’s absence (if we’re being honest, Markstrom continues to play a more impressive game than Miller, period) and while the Canucks weren’t the offensively dominant team, they kept things from going downhill in the third period despite some ill-timed penalties taken.
The Oilers have seen some magic from supplementary scorers like Lauri Korpikoski in the extra frame so far this year, but the Canucks turned their overtime luck around with a game winner from none other than Hansen himself. They picked up another marker for the ‘W’ column, and the Pacific Division continued its descent into a closely-fought race of mediocrity and pity points.
We harp on Sven Baertschi a lot, both here at Canucks Army and in the general Canucks Twittersphere. The winger is money in the neutral zone, though; through regulation, he stood out for both teams as a player who understands how to effectively carry the puck into the offensive zone. If his scoring can ultimately hit the point that it was expected to be, there’s a lot to like about his potential longevity as a Canuck.
It’s interesting to look at the shot chart for tonight’s game, though, at least through regulation. The Canucks have historically been a poor third period team, but they went into the final frame and spent the majority of it controlling things offensively. The problem? Those final ten minutes, where Vancouver recorded all of three shots on goal to close out the period.
Three on three is a different beast, so it’s ill-served to treat the overtime frame as an extension of the game’s possession using comparative stats. The Canucks found the back of the net, though, which they’ve struggled to do in extra minutes this year; that’s an improvement in itself, and that’s all we can ask for.
Canucks zone entry data at 5-on-5 tonight pic.twitter.com/EEwsU3zo2q
— J.D. Jolly (@JDylanBurke) December 27, 2015
Edmonton Oilers zone entry data at 5-on-5 tonight pic.twitter.com/hsecMRbaEB
— J.D. Jolly (@JDylanBurke) December 27, 2015
Player to Watch
Barely a trade on anyone’s radar at the time, the deal that brought Andrey Pedan to the Canucks in 2014 was a swap of reach prospects with the New York Islanders that didn’t look to be an impact trade at all.
Just over a year later, though, Pedan has finally found his way onto the blue line for Vancouver – and he looked good.
A handful of scrapper minutes as a right wing at the start of December saw Pedan make his NHL debut, but the left-shooting defenseman finally got a chance to play his natural position on Saturday night. He played a physical but effective game, using his smarts to his advantage to make up for a slower stride and exercising control when the puck found its way onto his stick.
Will Pedan ever be a game-changer? Probably not. We aren’t saying he’s the next Alex Edler, by any means. He isn’t even a Ben Hutton – but in a depth role, he’s effective and smart. With guys like Luca Sbisa on the roster and the loss of Frank Corrado still somewhat of a sting, that’s hard to pass up.
On to the Next Game
Vancouver has one day off before they take on the Los Angeles Kings, who bested the Arizona Coyotes in overtime tonight to pull further ahead in the Pacific Division standings.
That game is the start of a homestand for the Canucks, who sorely need to see more wins if they want to stay in contention for the post-season. Right now, they’re riding on overtime losses to sit second in the division, but only boast 14 wins overall; both the Coyotes and the Sharks have 16 and 17 wins apiece, respectively.
For now, though, that’s two in a row. Let’s celebrate.