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Paterson’s Point: It’s getting late, but still time for Canucks’ Pettersson to find star power needed for playoffs

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Photo credit:© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
16 days ago
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It’s a lot to heap on any one player, but the Vancouver Canucks will go as far in the playoffs as Elias Pettersson can take them. If Pettersson rises up to the heights he’s shown at times this season and at stages throughout his six-year NHL career, then the Canucks certainly have the star-power to make some noise in their return to the post-season for the first time in four years.
But if Pettersson continues to plod along as he has the past week and for many of the weeks since the All Star break, it’s going to be a challenge for the Canucks. In many ways, it seems as simple as that. And yet, with Pettersson, things often feel so complicated.
That was the case again Sunday when the 25-year-old was unable to leave any kind of mark in the Canucks 3-2 win over an Anaheim team that has now lost five straight and 12 of its last 13 hockey games. Pettersson managed a single shot – his only attempt of the afternoon – on a first period power play. He generated nothing at even-strength. And this was against an anything but mighty bunch of Ducks who had no business hanging around in their second game in 24 hours and their fourth road game in less than six nights.
For long stretches this season, Pettersson, who will appear in his 400th NHL game in Vegas on Tuesday, has been asked to carry linemates that came nowhere close to matching his sizable skill set. But on Sunday – and throughout the team’s nine-game homestand – he has skated alongside the most productive wingers this team can offer him. For a handful of games, Pettersson centred Nils Höglander and Conor Garland. And for the past two games, he had Brock Boeser stepping into Garland’s spot. By absolutely any measure, those are the most talented and best finishers this team has to complement any of its centres. And yet Pettersson has gone three games now without a point and five games without a goal. 
Saturday, he was given a day off from practice and there was some legitimate question about whether he would play against Anaheim. So it’s quite possible Pettersson is playing through some sort of nagging ailment that is hampering his production. But at the end of the day Sunday, he led all Canucks forwards with 20:09 of ice time and saw action as a penalty killer so he didn’t appear to be labouring, nor did the coaches back off his usage in any way.
His underlying numbers suggest he’s not playing poorly. Over the past five games, Pettersson leads the team in Corsi (63.4%) and in more than 70 minutes at 5-on-5, the Canucks have outshot their opponents 28-16 and out-chanced them 42-24. Yet despite tilting the ice in that manner, the Canucks hold a mere 2-1 goal advantage over their past five opponents (with both of those goals coming against Calgary a week ago) with Pettersson on the ice.
Over the club’s nine-game homestand, Pettersson finished with a modest three goals and seven points. It’s not terrible point production, but it’s more about the feel of his game right now than the final counting stats. And other than his three point effort in a 3-2 victory over Buffalo, he lacked sizzle and the game-breaking ability he has demonstrated at many times throughout the season and over his career.
And that’s the Elias Pettersson the Vancouver Canucks want right now. And it’s most definitely the version Pettersson they’ll require when the playoffs roll around in three weeks’ time. 
The Canucks need the player that has shown he can command hockey games and leave no doubt at night’s end about who was the best skater on the ice. They need the guy with the lethal one-time blast who’s able to get the shot away – time and time again. They need the player that plays the game one step ahead of everyone else and draws the attention of opponents and then exploits that to set up those around him. And they’re certainly going to need Elias Pettersson, who can bring fans out of their seats as he puts his dizzying talents on display when the puck drops for Game 1 of the post-season.
Pettersson and the Canucks got away with one by sleepwalking through much of Sunday’s early start against an inferior opponent like Anaheim. With eight games left on their schedule and with playoff hockey on the horizon, that is no longer an option.
Elias Pettersson is well aware of what he means to the Canucks and their chances of playoff success. He’s a far better – more impactful – player than he has shown for most of the past two months. The hope now is that when the lights shine the brightest, the star in him will re-emerge. 
There is a franchise – and a fan base – counting on it.

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