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The Canucks reuniting the Podkolzin/Pettersson duo is worth a playoff shot

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Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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The entire province of British Columbia breathed a sigh of relief on Friday night when Elias Pettersson accepted a JT Miller pass on the power play and made no mistake in sliding it past Stuart Skinner into the yawning Edmonton net.
The goal put the Vancouver Canucks up 1-0 in Game 2 of their Round Two series against the Oilers. But perhaps more importantly, it marked Pettersson’s first goal of the playoffs and first in 10 games, a stretch going back to the April 10 regular season matchup against Arizona.
And if we’re talking about Pettersson’s last goal against a non-defunct NHL franchise, we’ve got to go all the way back to a two-goal performance against Buffalo on March 19.
Which is why that provincial sigh of relief was probably only a small one. The goal marked Pettersson’s second in his last 20 games, and only his fourth point through eight postseason games.
Thankfully, it’s not just the goal itself. Pettersson has looked far more engaged and active against Edmonton than he ever did against Nashville, leaving even more room for optimism that he is on the cusp of turning it around right when the Canucks need him to most.
But optimism and blind faith are two different things, and the first one occasionally requires direct supportive action. The reality remains that Pettersson and his linemates have not been good enough, and it’s worth noting that the unit of Pettersson, Nils Höglander, and Ilya Mikheyev are still without an even-strength goal in the postseason.
And given that their lack of production could be seen as at least a major factor in the team’s ultimate overtime defeat in Game 2, it’s not all that surprising to hear that changes are being considered.
Really, there are a number of forwards that Rick Tocchet and Co. could feel justified in pulling out of the lineup for at least a game. Mikheyev, for sure. Sam Lafferty and Phil di Giuseppe, too. But it is Höglander that Tocchet seems to have zeroed in on, indicating in the leadup to Game 3 that he was strongly considering scratching him in favour of either Nils Åman or one of the numerous black aces recalled this week following Abbotsford’s elimination.
Now, Åman is always a fine option, and did put in some good hockey for Vancouver this season. But as far as individuals who could make a noticeable impact on the ice, he’s definitely the most vanilla of choices.
Most fans and members of the media alike would probably prefer to see Vasily Podkolzin get the tap instead.
And this author, in particular, would like to see Podkolzin slide directly into Höglander’s spot on Pettersson’s wing, in an effort to reignite some past chemistry between the two and see if they can’t keep Pettersson a-rolling now that he’s broken his slump.
After spending most of the last calendar year in Abbotsford, Podkolzin rejoined the Canucks later on in the 2023/24 regular season, and while he only managed a statline of two assists in 19 games, most would agree that he looked vastly improved, especially as it pertained to playing the power forward game he was drafted for.
Podkolzin’s forechecking and physicality in the corners drew attention from the opposition and observers alike, and he looked as much on the edge of a breakout performance as anyone. As we wrote about earlier in the postseason, Podkolzin does have a pretty clear-cut history of stepping his play up in the playoffs at the lower levels. So, what better time for Podkolzin to officially “arrive” than right now, with the Canucks in need of a spark?
Regardless of how Podkolzin looks out there, he’s still got a long way to go before he even approaches the offensive totals of his 2021/22 rookie campaign, in which Podkolzin put up 14 goals and 26 points through 79 games.
And where did Podkolzin play for a lot of that rookie season?
Alongside Elias Pettersson.
Rookie Podkolzin played about a quarter of his campaign on Pettersson’s wing, and notched about a third of his even-strength points there, too.
While together, Podkolzin and Pettersson posted 2021/22 fancy stats of a 53.73% xGF and controlled 51.38% of the high-danger chances, each better numbers than they posted with other players, or that the Canucks as a whole posted without them.
Even better, in just 293 5v5 minutes together, Pettersson and Podkolzin outscored the opposition to the tune of 10-5.
And this was 2021/22 Pettersson, too, aka the Pettersson who was still figuring it all out. In other words, it wasn’t just Pettersson elevating Podkolzin’s game, but a bit of the other way around.
Could the same be true now, were Podkolzin to be put in Höglander’s spot on Pettersson’s wing for Game 3?
To be fair, that chemistry hasn’t been seen much outside of Podkolzin’s rookie year. Last season, the two played 93 minutes together and were outscored 1-5, although their advanced statline remained largely positive.
This year, Podkolzin and Pettersson were linemates for just 14:28, a time during which no goals were scored.
There’s no real guarantee the two can recapture any of that 2021/22 magic. But, really, what other good options do the coaching staff have?
The units of Suter-Miller-Boeser and Joshua-Lindholm-Garland are playing too well to break up right now. No other internal options stand out as anyone who might make a difference playing on Pettersson’s wing. Not Lafferty or di Giuseppe, not Åman or Linus Karlsson.
Really, from where we’re sitting, it’s either give Podkolzin a try there or keep trying to force through the Höglander-Pettersson-Mikheyev unit.
And that unit is simply not working.
In some ways, the stakes are low. What’s the risk in breaking up a line that’s yet to produce an even-strength goal? What’s the risk in scratching one goalless forward for another?
The reward, however, is the key to focus on here. The lineup option that might yield the highest reward, based on past chemistry and general upward potential, is clearly Podkolzin.
Then there’s the intangible factors to consider, like that Pettersson has often looked like he needs more time and space out there, and how Podkolzin particularly excels in creating time and space for his linemates.
There are enough positive reasons here to say that Podkolzin with Pettersson is definitely worth a try in Game 3 – and to hope for a positive outcome thereof.
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