JPat’s playoff notebook: Zadorov outshining Hronek, Pettersson’s struggles, Canucks wingers MIA, and home ice no advantage

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
1 month ago
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So the Vancouver Canucks are headed back to Nashville. The question now is, will the Predators be making a return trip to the West Coast for a one-game winner-take-all showdown on Sunday? The Canucks should feel comfortable enough venturing back to Music City. All they’ve done is win there this season – both visits in the regular season and twice last weekend in Games 3 and 4 of this series.
On one hand, the Canucks have to feel confident about returning to a place they’ve had plenty of success. On the other, the Predators must feel they’re due for a home ice win at some point and they’re hoping it’s Friday night. Quite frankly, it has to be Friday night. Home ice has been anything but an advantage for either team in this series so far with the visitors winning the past four games.
And the Canucks, who were a dominant home ice team in the regular season posting a 27-9-5 record at Rogers Arena, somehow find themselves with just a Game 1 victory to show for three contests on home ice in this series so far. To push that thought further, if the Preds come all the way back and win the series in seven games, they will have prevailed three times in Vancouver. To underscore the offensive issues for the Canucks through five games in this battle, Nikita Zadorov is the only Vancouver player to score in either of the last two games on home ice.
Speaking of Zadorov, the big Russian has easily been among the best Canucks players in this series. In addition to his two goals, he has an assist, is fourth on the team in shots on goal, is second among team defenders in ice time, leads the club in hits and has been a big part of a penalty kill that has been sharp throughout the series. In other words, Zadorov is giving it his all and has found multiple ways to contribute. Contrast that with Filip Hronek who has not made any kind of impression on this series whatsoever.
Hronek has no points and just three shots on goal. The Canucks have been outscored 3-2 at 5-on-5 and 6-3 in all situations with Hronek on the ice in this series. And if you back things up to the All Star break, Zadorov has now outscored Hronek in both goals and points in the battle of blueliners looking for new contracts this off-season. That’s pretty remarkable given one has played almost exclusively with Quinn Hughes while the other has been partnered with Ian Cole and Noah Juulsen. Hronek had 2+27=29 in his first 35 games of the season. He has 2+10=12 in his past 37 games (regular season and now playoffs).
When it became apparent that Andrei Kuzmenko didn’t fit with the style Rick Tocchet demanded, questions arose about the scoring depth among the Canucks winger ranks. And while three wingers – Brock Boeser, Nils Höglander and Conor Garland – all reached the 20 goal mark, winger contributions are quickly becoming an issue for the Canucks in this series. On opening night, Dakota Joshua scored twice and Pius Suter chipped in with another.
Since then, however, Boeser is the only one of the Canucks eight wingers to put a puck in the net and he’s been exceptional scoring the Game 3 winner and then backing that up with a hattrick in Game 4. Meanwhile Höglander, a 24-goal scorer in the regular season, has 0 points and just two shots on goal in the series. Garland has set up a pair of game-winning goals, but has not been a dangerous scoring threat.
Joshua had a strong third period in Game 1, but otherwise has disappointed. Suter’s goal in Game 1 is his only point of the series so far and one of just two goals in his last 20 games. And Ilya Mikheyev has morphed into Loui Eriksson with no points and four shots through five games and one goal in the last 55 games he’s played. In the past four games, the Canucks have scored eight goals as a team (Boeser the only winger to score has 4 of them, centres JT Miller and Elias Lindholm have each scored once and defenceman Nikita Zadorov has a pair).
It’s so obvious Elias Pettersson continues to struggle to find his game and leave any kind of mark on this series. The Canucks centre has a pair of secondary assists – one on a Game 3 power play and the other on buzzer beating tying goal in Game 4. Through five games, though, Pettersson doesn’t have a 5-on-5 point. And, as a result, the Canucks have been outshot 25-16 and outscored 3-0 in the series so far with the 25-year-old Swede on the ice.
On Tuesday night, Pettersson held his own and the Canucks won the shot share 7-4 in the 12:36 while he was on the ice at 5-on-5. But shouldn’t that be expected? He isn’t being used in a shutdown role and in Game 5 he saw a steady diet of the likes of Jason Zucker, Anthony Beauvillier and Mark Jankowski on the other side. Elias Pettersson should win those minutes. Handily. And yet that hasn’t happened enough in this series.
Sure, he had one promising rush chance in the third period when his shot from the right side rang off the mask of Preds netminder Juuse Saros. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to Pettersson’s night. He has just seven shots in the series. An 89-point producer during an up and down regular season, Pettersson has one goal in his last 18 games now and has 27 points in the last 38 games he’s played including these five in the playoffs. That’s a 58-point pace over what amounts to nearly a half-season of hockey.
And Pettersson’s lack of overall production dovetails with the team’s power play struggles. Last night, it wasn’t even so much that the Canucks failed to convert on either of their power play opportunities, it was far more about the fact they couldn’t gain the zone, set up or muster a single shot on goal with the man-advantage. The Canucks are now two for 13 in this series (15.4%). The Predators have also struggled scoring twice in 19 opportunities (10.5%), although an ugly goal scored on the game’s only recorded power play shot last night drew Nashville even at 1-1 and set the stage for the Preds to extend the series.
With two goals apiece in the series, the power plays have been a push. But in reality, that’s advantage Nashville because the Preds 22nd ranked penalty kill in the regular season seemed like an area the Canucks could exploit. But aside from a pair of goals in last Friday’s 2-1 Game 3 victory, Vancouver has been held at bay on the power play. And that’s a continuation of what we saw down the stretch with this group. Forced passes. Perimeter play. Poor decisions. And a lack of shots.
In the team’s last 25 games, Quinn Hughes leads the Canucks with four power play goals followed by Elias Pettersson with three while Brock Boeser and JT Miller have two each and Elias Lindholm,  Conor Garland and Dakota Joshua have one apiece. Those are the Canucks top guns. It’s on them to get this thing sorted out. The power play has sputtered in this series as it did over the final weeks of the regular season. It’s been going on for far too long. And if it continues on Friday, prepare for Game 7 back in Vancouver on Sunday night.
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