JPat: Analyzing Nils Höglander’s surprisingly silent start to Canucks’ postseason

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
1 month ago
Let’s be clear. There are players higher on both the depth chart and the pay scale that need to step up for the Vancouver Canucks as their first round playoff series shifts to Nashville. But Nils Höglander has to announce his arrival in this battle, too. And he probably ought not to wait any longer than Friday night at Bridgestone Arena
On Tuesday, not only was Höglander the low ice-time man for the Canucks playing just 8:33 (and only 7:22 at even-strength), the 23-year-old Swede saw the ice twice in the third period and was benched by head coach Rick Tocchet for the final 14:29 of the game. This was on a night in which the Canucks were trailing and needed offence.
In a game that saw the Canucks throw 84 pucks toward the Predators net, somehow Höglander didn’t register a single shot attempt. In fact, his Game 2 stat line made it tough to prove that he was actually in the line-up. The only counting statistic for Höglander was a hit on Luke Schenn on a first period power play. That was it. No points. No shots. No shot attempts. No takeaways. No blocked shots. And, as a winger, he doesn’t take face-offs. 
And through two games of this series so far, the feisty forward has no shots on goal, just one measly shot attempt and three hits. 
Those are just the surface level statistics. Unfortunately, it’s not any better when you dig a little deeper. 
In Tuesday’s 4-1 loss, the Canucks held a whopping 64-22 edge in 5-on-5 shot attempts. Somehow, Höglander was the only Vancouver skater to come out on the wrong end of the shot share. In 6:16 of 5-on-5 ice time, the shot attempts were 7-6 for Nashville, the shots on goal were 3-0 and the Preds outscored the Canucks 1-0.
In the series so far, the 5-on-5 shots are 7-1 for the Predators and the goals are 2-0 Nashville with Höglander on the ice. It hasn’t been pretty.
Now, this isn’t all on Höglander — not by a long shot. He and linemates Elias Pettersson and either Ilya Mikheyev or Sam Lafferty have all struggled to gain traction in this series. But what made Höglander’s regular season so special was that it didn’t matter who he played with. Whether higher in the line-up or on the fourth line, he was a force scoring 24 goals to finish fourth on the team. And he scored all of his goals at even strength.
Perhaps it’s the nerves of stepping on to the biggest stage in the National Hockey League, but Höglander just hasn’t resembled his regular season self through his first two looks at Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. And it’s not even the point production or lack there of. It’s the fact that he’s basically been invisible which is shocking given the rambunctious nature of his game.
Where is the guy with the non-stop motor flying around the ice winning puck battles, stirring the pot and drawing the ire of opponents? Where is the pest crashing the crease or getting gloves into the face of defenders? Where is the speedster darting through the neutral zone forcing players on the other side to hook or hold? Surprisingly – and disappointingly – that Nils Höglander has been nowhere to be seen so far.
Like his linemate Pettersson, Höglander didn’t exactly arrive at the playoffs at the top of his game. He has just one goal in his last nine outings and has only three points in his last 13.
Conventional wisdom heading into this battle was that the Canucks held a wide edge on the Predators when it came to depth scoring. But so far in this series, both primary and secondary scoring have been hard to come by aside from a three-goal outburst in the third period of the series opener. And Pius Suter is the only player in the Canucks top six that has found the back of the net through the first two games.
Nils Höglander proved with a breakout season that he can be a catalyst for the Canucks. But like many others so far, he needs to bring a whole lot more to the mix. It’s apparent from his usage in Game 2 that Höglander finds himself in the coach’s doghouse. That’s going to make it tough to help the Canucks regain control of this series as it moves to Tennessee. Instead, the Canucks need Höglander to find that dawg within him and show some snarl when the match-up resumes on Friday night.

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