JPat: Tocchet’s line blender didn’t exactly help Canucks in their quest to break down stifling Kings

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
23 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks didn’t play poorly on Monday night against Los Angeles. They just didn’t play particularly well. Their best players didn’t have the kind of night needed to help the hockey club. And for one of the very rare occasions in this dream season, Rick Tocchet didn’t necessarily help the cause, either. The presumptive front-runner for the Coach of the Year had a tough night along with his players, as the Canucks couldn’t break through the Kings’ defensive wall and, in the end, wound up on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline.
Tocchet, searching for something – anything – to get his hockey club going, did not possess the Midas Touch he has on so many nights. And yet it felt like he complicated matters by throwing his forward lines into a blender in the third period when the possible solution was staring him in the face.
With his team trailing 3-1 heading to the final period, Tocchet put his line blender into overdrive, trying all sorts of combinations that yielded exactly one shot on goal in the first 16 minutes of the final frame.
Tocchet loaded up his top two scorers by playing JT Miller and Elias Pettersson with Conor Garland on one shift and then with Nils Höglander on another. Some of that was due to the fact that leading goal-scorer Brock Boeser was having a tough night, and the coach was in desperation mode, looking for something that might spark his hockey club.
But right from the start, minus Elias Lindholm who is officially listed as day to day with an undisclosed – and thought to be – upper body injury, Tocchet’s first curious move was opting to play Phil Di Giuseppe with Miller and Boeser while moving the versatile Pius Suter back to the middle on his own line between Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Aman.
Di Giuseppe took a regular shift in the top six through the first 40 minutes, but like so many other Canucks on Monday, was unable to make any kind of impact. Then, with the team trailing, understandably, the five-goal scorer barely played in the third period – seeing just three shifts and only one over the final 10 minutes of the hockey game. But that move should have been made earlier in the night.
It didn’t seem to make sense to split the trio of Höglander-Pettersson-Garland even if they weren’t as productive as they’d been in recent games. That trio has forged some undeniable chemistry and it felt like the kind of game they should have been allowed to stick together. Then the simple move seemed to be to move Suter back to the wing with Miller and Boeser. Suter doesn’t dominate hockey games, but the numbers show that he makes that Miller and Boeser line better. And for some reason Tocchet was reluctant to make that switch.
Nils Aman is a centre. For one night, he could easily have held down the fourth line role in the middle with Podkolzin and Di Giuseppe. And as the night went on and it was apparent that both Vasily Podkolzin and Sam Lafferty had some jump, they could have formed a third line with Teddy Blueger in the middle.
By the end, Tocchet was reaching for answers, so he had Nikita Zadorov as the net-front presence with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker on a late power play. While there is no issue with using all 6’6” of the big Russian’s frame to screen the goalie, it felt like a desperation ploy for a coach who had run out of answers on the night.
It’s clear through three head-to-head meetings in the past month that the LA Kings have found ways to frustrate the Canucks. And so it wasn’t a surprise to see Rick Tocchet seek solutions with in-game line switches. But as the Kings showed great composure all night sticking to their stifling system, it just felt the Canucks were out of sorts – and ultimately out of answers.
The end result is on the players who couldn’t solve the Kings. But it felt like the coach had his struggles, too — something we haven’t seen or heard at many points this season.

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