Paterson’s Point: J.T. Miller already finding ways to make a big impact away from the scoresheet
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
They were 52 of the most intense seconds JT Miller has played in his five seasons as a Vancouver Canucks. They were also 52 of the most impressive seconds of his tenure in blue and green.
Up a goal but down two skaters and with absolutely no margin for error with 12 minutes remaining in Saturday’s game in Edmonton, Miller along with Ian Cole and Tyler Myers gutted out a two-man penalty kill that helped burn precious time off the clock. It was time that ultimately ran out on the Edmonton Oilers as the Canucks surprisingly swept the two-game season-opening series between the Pacific Division rivals.
Miller’s night was not perfect. Far from it, in fact. He was on the ice for all three Oilers goals and was part of the first shift of the game where the home team completely overwhelmed its visitors and took just 42 seconds to put the puck in the net. That part was not ideal.
And so, questions persist about whether JT Miller can help the Vancouver Canucks if he’s not scoring and racking up points on the power play. Saturday was proof that he absolutely can.
With his team trailing early and looking like it was in danger of getting run out of Rogers Place, Miller absolutely obliterated Leon Draisaitl in the neutral zone in a massive collision in front of the team benches. It was a hit that knocked the Oilers big man flying which is no easy feat. It also seemed to serve the dual purpose of waking the Canucks up and also settling them down.
Moments later, Zach Hyman took a penalty, the Canucks scored on the ensuing power play and although they had been outplayed badly in the first half of the first period they were back on even footing when you checked up at the scoreboard.
It felt like they could exhale for the first time all night.
Miller’s hit was one of his team-leading eight on the night. He also led the hockey club in shorthanded ice time. With all the talk about the Canucks overhauling their penalty kill in the off-season, Miller logged a team-high 5:52 of penalty-killing duty and was the only Canuck to take a short-handed face-off on the night.
And no penalty-killing time was more precious than the five-on-three midway through the third period with Filip Hronek off for high-sticking and then Phil Di Giuseppe joining him in the box after inadvertently firing the puck over the glass and out of play.
Miller played a lot on Saturday – he finished the night with 22:44 of ice time. And they were hard minutes. Beyond his time on the penalty kill, he was matched up against Draisaitl for most of the first two periods with the Oilers trying to keep Connor McDavid away from Miller as much as they could after he had thrown a blanket over the best player on the planet in Wednesday’s season opener. In the third period, Miller saw plenty of both Draisaitl and McDavid, and the Oilers pulled out all the stops in an attempt to get the equalizer.
The underlying numbers were not kind to Miller on Saturday. He spent most of his night in his own zone, but aside from the first shift of the game was not scored on again at even strength.
When the Canucks ran into penalty problems in the middle frame, there were no signs of anger or frustration on Miller’s part. He understood the assignment and simply buckled down and prepared to do his part to try to kill those penalties. In a quiet and understated way – not really Miller’s usual style – there were moments of maturity and leadership on display throughout the hockey game. While he didn’t find the scoresheet, without a doubt, Miller certainly made his presence felt over 60 gruelling minutes as the Canucks passed their second big test in as many games to open the new season.
Let’s be honest.
The team isn’t likely to get goals from Nils Höglander, Jack Studnicka and Sam Lafferty on the same night very often. There will be plenty of games this season where the Canucks lean on JT Miller to do more offensively.
And that’s why this team needs both Teddy Blueger and Ilya Mikheyev to return to the line-up to shoulder some of the penalty-killing load that Miller took on Saturday night. Had Edmonton scored late to tie the game, it would have been interesting to see how much Miller had left in the tank for three-on-three overtime. The guess here is the answer would have been very little.
As it turned out, though, extra time wasn’t needed because Miller and the Canucks – aided greatly by a terrific performance from Casey DeSmith – held on for the 4-3 victory.
It would be easy to look at the box score and wonder where JT Miller was on Saturday. He had no points and just one shot on goal. And yet for as well as he played in Wednesday’s season opener when the going was good and everyone was feasting, it’s fair to suggest his performance on Saturday was far more valuable and all the more impressive.
And none more so than those 52 seconds of sheer will and determination midway through the third.
That was some of JT Miller’s best work in his time with the Vancouver Canucks.
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