Few, if any, can matchup with the Vancouver Canucks’ 1-2-3 centre punch in the playoffs

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
3 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks have hit the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs running. It’s still quite a jog from here on out, but they say the first kilometre is what sets the pace, and the Canucks are already sprinting.
There’s no one reason why. But one of the primary reasons why is the way in which they’ve structured their top-nine forward corps around what might just be the strongest 1-2-3 centre punch in the entire NHL.
Elias Pettersson, at least as of Game 1, plays between Nils Höglander and Sam Lafferty (though that third spot will inevitably rotate.)
JT Miller is back between Brock Boeser and Pius Suter.
Elias Lindholm has been placed between the dynamic duo of Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland.
It was the latter trio that made all the difference in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators, combining for three of the Canucks’ four goals, including the game-winner. But when one looks at those forward lines, one can’t help but feel as though any of them and each of them is capable of having just as good a game. And, should the Canucks’ playoff run turn into a marathon, they’re going to need each to step up at different times.
Which should all be part of the Canucks’ plan. What’s more difficult to figure out is how any potential opposition plans to matchup with what the Canucks’ have on deck up the middle.
We wrote following Game 1 about the Canucks’ remarkably balanced performance from their rebuilt blueline. Carson Soucy played the fewest minutes at 17:27, and the rest all played at least 19:00.
What that balance gives the Canucks is a chance to roll out three very competent defensive pairings, each capable of taking one their own matchups against top-six opposition for an abundance of minutes.
But you know who doesn’t have that? Most of the other playoff teams.
As we mentioned in that previous article, most playoff teams have more of a top-four-heavy configuration on the backend, with at least of their pairings condemned to sub-15-minute games. Which is not to say that these teams don’t also have three good pairings. But three pairings capable of regularly skating shifts against a Pettersson, a Miller, or a Lindholm?
That’s a lot harder to come by, even when we’re only looking at those teams good enough to have made the playoffs in the first place.
It’s certainly not the Nashville Predators, who had Luke Schenn skating just 11:44 in Game 1.
As we look around the playoff rosters, we note the preposterously-deep Carolina Hurricanes and, closer to home, the Vegas Golden Knights as the only other teams with a full three D pairings that they could reasonably feel comfortable putting out there against a Pettersson, Miller, or Lindholm on a shift-by-shift basis.
Already, this places the Canucks at a major advantage against anyone else.
Of course, D pairings aren’t the only thing that can match up with centre depth. There’s also other centres. But then we’re left with a similar question of which other playoff teams can offer up a 1-2-3 centre punch to compete with that of the Canucks, and a similar answer of: “not many.”
The Dallas Stars could make a claim, with the trio of Roope Hintz, Wyatt Johnston, and Matt Duchene down the middle. Defending champs Vegas are always in the discussion, including this one with Jack Eichel, Tomas Hertl, and William Karlsson. The LA Kings and Carolina Hurricanes, while being unable to match the offensive potency of Vancouver’s centres, could at least offer compelling one-to-one matchups via trios of Anze Kopitar, Philip Danault, and P-L Dubois and Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Anyone else is going to have an excessively difficult time coming up with a game-plan to counter the Canucks’ top-nine.
It doesn’t take a genius strategist to game this one out. It’s a numbers game, and even a team with home-ice advantage needs to figure out which lines and which pairings to put out against which opposition.
If you’re playing the Canucks right now, who do you put out your best defensive pairing against? Is it the Miller line? Is it Pettersson? Then who gets your second-best defensive pairing?
Either way, you’ve potentially then condemned your third pairing to being eaten alive by the unstoppable trio of Joshua-Lindholm-Garland.
Switch the matchups around anyway you like, and the result is the same. One of those Canucks’ centres is going to get less defensive attention than they should, and that will result in greater offensive opportunities.
The same goes for centre matchups. It all boils down to the opposition’s third-best centres playing against one of Pettersson, Miller, and Lindholm, and that’s something that can’t help but to give the Canucks an advantage in this current series and most potential series to come.
It’s not new knowledge or anything. It’s long been accepted that centre depth is a requirement to win in the playoffs, and the 1-2-3 punch is something the Canucks have certainly tried before, but with Bo Horvat in the Lindholm slot.
Actually putting that 1-2-3 punch together, and building a competent and competitive team around that centre core is another challenge altogether, but one that GM Patrik Allvin and Co. have tackled with aplomb.
Which is, as we feel compelled to switch into anti-jinx mode, not to say that the Canucks are going to get any automatic or easy wins just on the strength of their centres alone. This is still the playoffs, and well-built teams go home each and every round.
It’s just to highlight an important competitive advantage that the Canucks have carved out for themselves, and in particular one that is not shared or really counterable around much of the rest of the league.
And isn’t that nice to hear about something so pivotal?
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