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The Stanchies: The Höglander breakout game, the three stride rule, and Tocchet’s structure

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Photo credit:© Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchion
25 days ago
The march towards the playoffs continues.
On a night in which the Edmonton Oilers lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canucks continued to out-pace Connor McDavid and his band of ragamuffins and ne’er-do-wells with a ruthlessly efficient 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames.
The main highlight of the night? Nils Höglander playing the game with the swagger of a young Ravishing Rick Rude, showing the Calgary Flames what a real man looks like.
It wasn’t just the two goals from Höglander, one of which will surely make the top 10 goals of the year for Vancouver. It was Nils telling all the sweathogs in the audience to sit back and watch as he played with a combination of skill and physicality that tends to be at a premium in the post-season.
At one point, Nils elbowed Dryden Hunt to shove him off the puck, enraging the Flames player enough to try and hunt him down. One problem: Nils spun out of the way, causing Hunt to stumble and crash into the glass, consumed with anger over how Jean Valjean had once again escaped his grasp. I lost count of how many Flames players were trying to cross-check Nils during the game, as clear a sign as any that he had set up shop rent-free in their heads.
What happens when you focus too much on one guy? You start making mistakes, chasing, and leaving guys open. At one point, two Flames players attempted to beat up Nils in the crease, giving Höglander’s linemates more time and space to play with.
It’s effectively the Todd Bertuzzi principle, except in a much smaller package. Terrorize your opponent with drives to the net and enough skill to make them pay, and then sprinkle in some violence amongst all of that.
And according to his newest linemate, Corolla Garland, Nils has always been an upper echelon player; it’s just the team finally has enough structure in place to let him shine and evolve into what we’re seeing now.
“My first day here I couldn’t believe how good he was…It’s hard when you’re younger and there’s not really much structure in place…but now you know, we’re a very structured team to play…so he’s gonna continue to get better through each year, so he’s gonna be a good player in this league for a long time.”
That might be shade at the Travis Green “this is a tough league to win in” and the Bruce Boudreau Chaos Reigns Supreme eras, or it might just be a loving shout out to the world Rick Tocchet has built for this current Canucks squad. It’s probably a nice mixture of both, if we’re being honest.
But the end point remains that the Canucks seemingly have a structure in place that is allowing young players to enter the league and excel under, a point that shouldn’t be lost in the amazing season Vancouver has had. Rick Tocchet and his coaching staff have steered the Canucks out of the Sea of Granlunds right into the Rivers of Höglander, a route that seems far better suited for a team trying to pursue Lord Stanley’s favourite coffee mug.
Best let’s get physical
We saw last game where TJ Miller JT Miller simply shoved another player to clear the zone instead of playing the puck. These are the kinds of battles that are ramping up as teams try to lock in good habits heading into the postseason. It’s akin to when you eat healthy during the week in the hopes of it becoming habitual, and that it doesn’t devolve into 2am Wendy’s spicy chicken runs in which you convince yourself that there’s nothing wrong with eating two sandwiches because you skipped the fries.
And during this homestand, the Canucks have upped their physical game, throwing more hits than normal and not backing down from any battle. Hell, tonight Fil Hronek, who isn’t known for his thundering body checks, led the team in hits with four, one of which was indeed a bomb along the boards. At one point I was genuinely concerned Andrei Kuzmenko owed him money as Fil threw two big hits on the former Canuck, one of which wasn’t counted by the NHL. But I saw it. We all saw it.
The point is Tyler Myers is no stranger to leaning into this style of play, which is why I enjoy it when he sees two choices in front of him and goes with physicality:
Why try and win a race for the puck when instead you can simply impose your chaotic giraffe willpower onto the opposition and then simply tap the puck over to the world’s safest puck carrier on the team in Carson Soucy?
Quinn Hughes would be my first choice to get the puck too, of course. If I was in a burning building and I had to pass any babies out of harm’s way, clearly you’re tossing them over to Quinn. Why is Quinn in this burning building with me? I haven’t figured that out yet, but I know I’m not wrong in my conclusion.
But if Hughes wasn’t available, I would feel just as safe giving the babies over to Carson. He’s a lot like Tanev in that you know he’ll get the job done no matter what the situation. He is so consistent in his own zone to the point that it is very noticeable when he’s not in the lineup because other defencemen make mistakes, something Carson just doesn’t seem to do that often.
Best setting the tone early
Remember how we always talk about Corolla Garland being elite at dishing out high danger passing chances? And how we theorized that hey maybe he’d be pretty good playing with Elias Pettersson? I know some thought maybe there wouldn’t be enough puck to handle between them, as both like to be a puck carrier, but in a city in which the Sedins carved out Hall of Fame careers, we know that two players can indeed thrive in that role on the same line:
I know Rick Tocchet’s internal screaming ramps up whenever a player cuts back and dares to skate east to west in the offensive zone, but Garland pulling up and then delaying until he finds the passing lane to Elias Pettersson is just A plus stuff right there.
Garland would never admit this, of course. His current gimmick is to pretend he’s a fourth line scrub who’s just happy to be here, and he’s merely an ant walking in the shadow of giants in the form of Hughes, Pettersson, Miller and Boeser. You ask him a question about his play after a game and he immediately goes into “aw shucks” mode and downplays anything he did. You can almost see him putting his hands in his pocket, acting out the Kevin James meme. But I have to believe when he goes home, away from the rink, away from the media, that he knows he’s a killer on that ice. That he has moves you haven’t even seen yet, and that he chuckles to himself at the thought that somebody thinks they can win a board battle against him.
And that’s an amazing pass with incredible timing. That delay from Conor allows him to cut back and drift into an open passing lane. If he tries to pass that puck right away, Mikael Backlund has a stick in that passing lane. But because Corolla is a reliable ride, he knows it’s not how fast you get there, it’s just important that you get there.
So he pulls up, finds Elias, and because Pettersson has a high enough hockey IQ to be made into a movie starring Cillian Murphy, he finds Nils streaking to the net, a role Alex Burrows refined into perfection many years ago.
Watch the clip again, watch how the Flames panic after Garland holds up. All three Flames end up collapsing down low as a result of that play from Corolla, and then they end up panicking and chasing the puck over to Elias side of the ice, Markstrom included. So when EP40 sends the pass back against the grain, the Flames are screwed. They’re done. It’s over.
And then it’s just a matter of tapping it in like Chubbs Peterson taught you.
Nils game wasn’t just setting up shop in the crease, though. You could tell he was feeling it when he started generating power moves to the net, shrugging off Oliver Kylington like a hoodie that you keep around in your closet because maybe one day it will fit again:
Part of me demanded answers as to why he didn’t simply go to his backhand and try and put the puck in down low, but Höglander has scored goals like this before. Pulling the puck back and going top shelf tight like that is something he can do. Who are we to question Nils? This kid’s ability to score 5 on 5 goals is on another level this season, so I will no longer question his dangles.
His dingles, maybe. But never his dangles.
Best pizza time
At one point, it felt like Calgary was trying to lose the game for draft positioning, because I can’t quite explain why this pass was made to Boeser in the slot by AJ Greer:
I’ve watched this play on loop around a hundred times and I still have no idea what the end game here was.
But I’ve always watched Luca Sbisa toss hand grenades right into his crease and casually stroll away, so this is something that happens in hockey at the highest level. They’re just like us sometimes. Except they get paid more, and their locker rooms have working toilets.
Best no one is gonna break Ted’s stride
 
Sam Lafferty tapped Jacob Markstrom along the boards in the first, and if Vancouver fans know one thing about their former goalie, it’s that Jacob simply cannot resist falling to the ice to try and draw a call.
No call was made, and the Flames turned the play into an odd-man rush that was thwarted by one Teddy Blueger:
Teddy’s stick work has been one of the best on the team as of late. It doesn’t make the highlight reels but for my money, not many have been better in terms of having an active stick that is constantly getting into shooting and passing lanes.
So I wasn’t too surprised to see Teddy huff and puff his way back down the ice to make the superman dive to break up the play. It was the kind of effort that Rick Tocchet and Daniel Wagner have talked about often this season, where just by moving your feet you’re increasing your odds of making a good play exponentially.
“The extra two or three strides is something that I’ve talked to you guys about…there’s three more strides in you…that’s the difference of getting a goal or not. If he doesn’t dive it’s a tap in, or you know, an empty net. So that’s a huge play.”
Best perception is reality
This is the play where Nils nestled into the brain of Dryden Hunt.
To summarize, Hog throws an elbow, dodges a hit on Hunt, then takes a cross check, then slashes the legs of Hunt, ie playoff hockey to a tee:
You can’t see the crosscheck and slash as it happens off screen, but it happened, and it was glorious.
Best holding the fort
The Flames pushed back in the second period (to a degree) but for the most part they were kept to the outside of the ice, away from the guts of the ice, as Rick calls it.
The chances they did generate were often of the “hope and pray” variety, the “sliding into your crush’s DMs and hoping they like your joke” style:
Tyler Myers blocks the initial shot, but because he’s so tall, it takes several moments for him to finally fall to the ice. During those moments, the Flames crash the crease, but Casey DeSmith, as he has done often as of late, is there to clean up the mess.
Best goal of the night
You want to see a goal that the West Coast Express would give kudos to? Here you go:
Normally, when a Corolla stalls, there is a cause for concern, but when it’s Garland, you know it’s because he has devious passing play in mind.
Once again Corolla stalls along the boards, drawing the attention of three Flames players, allowing Elias and Nils to boot up the ice. Garland then sauces over the pass to Elias, who sees Höglander is ahead of him with speed, so he just taps it up to Nils.
Then with what I assume were the words of Mortal Kombat screaming through his head, Nils executes his goal with flawless precision, leaving Jacob Markstrom without a jockstrap.
After the game Nils talked about how he wanted Markstrom to drop to his knees, and that leg kick sure did the trick because Jacob bites on the deke, and bites on it hard, as he can do nothing but watch as Nils skates right around him and snaps the puck into the net.
This was the kind of goal people should talk about more than your friend who bought a new air fryer does, but because it’s hockey, nobody is allowed to. Garland shrugged off his pass as just trying to make a play, Nils said he just wanted to try and score, and Elias said he gave the puck to Nils because he had speed.
I know “act like you’ve been there before” is a big thing in sports, but If I score that goal in beer league I get t-shirts printed off of my contribution to that play and I give to everyone I know for Christmas and find a way to work it into conversation every day.
“Hey Jim I couldn’t help but notice you put that coffee cup away with speed and accuracy, not unlike that time I stalled the puck along the boards and drew in three Flames players before I found Elias Pettersson with pinpoint accuracy on a pass that led to a goal.”
There is also clearly a reason I will never play in the NHL. Mostly the talent thing.
Best stick on stick violence
The Flames got a powerplay after Vasili Podkolzin had the temerity to touch Johnny Huberdeau’s stick:
After the play Huberdeau was seen arguing to the official, and I don’t know if he was appealing for a penalty shot, but that feels very clearly like a play that does not require a penalty shot.
I don’t even like it being called a penalty, to be honest, because it looks very clearly like a stick-on-stick crime. The NHL, however, has taken to cracking down on any stick contact near the hands, so it’s kind of par for the course for them to call a penalty on a play like this, even if it feels like it shouldn’t be one.
Best Corolla investments
Elias Pettersson was effectively given two puck hounds that can shoot and make passes, and I feel like it’s starting to come together for them now:
This was the best line from either team, and it felt like they were coming after Calgary in waves, making life miserable for the Flames, something you think they’d be used to by now, having to live in Alberta.
All game this line was creating chances, working the boards hard, and pursuing the puck tirelessly. You could almost hear an audible groan from any Flames player that had to get on the ice with these bunch of try hards. If this was Warzone, every single player on Calgary’s bench would have reported that line for hacks and cheating, even though deep down, they all knew it was a skill issue.
Best TJ Miller
Remember those three extra strides Rick Toccet talked about? JT Miller didn’t have them on the Flames’ first goal:
JT had been on the ice for a while, and I think he simply ran out of gas on this play. He makes a giant wide turn in the neutral zone and as a result the Canucks end up losing the numbers game in their own zone. Those three strides, they can make a difference between a goal or not.
Soucy might have tipped Rasmus Andersson’s shot slightly, and maybe DeSmith should have had it, but it was also just one of those plays where one breakdown leads to a goal against.
You could probably break it down further, but the Canucks have been playing so well as of late that this goal really doesn’t feel indicative of much. It’s not like in years past where the team is giving up 10 odd man rushes a game to the point where clearly there is a structural issue at play, so you start breaking down every goal against to see why.
This goal can simply be filed under the fact the Canucks aren’t going to shut out their opponent every game.
Best Kirk McLean tribute
One thing that has stood out this season is that the entire team seems to have bought into the Tocchet system, so it’s not too shocking to see Elias stacking the pads to make a play on the penalty kill:
To be clear, I think Elias would have given this effort any season, but I feel like it’s been the most consistent this year under Rick, not just from EP40, but from everyone. Blocking shots to make the play, finding a way to get those three extra strides, those are lessons the team seems to have taken to heart.
Also notice how this rush started. It happened because Chaos Giraffe takes a slapper while shorthanded. I audibly sighed when I saw him wind up because there is nothing I hate more than a shorthanded rush from a d-man where he winds up to take a shot with a wildly inaccurate release of a clap bomb. The odds of that shot being blocked (due to the slow release) or missing wide (because slappers aren’t as accurate) is just so much higher than just getting a wrist shot on net.
Look, if Daniel Wagner is the move your feet guy, I am going to be the guy screaming about not taking slapshots on shorthanded rushes.
Best hidden feud
Again, I don’t know what Kuzmenko did, but Hronek was over him all game long. It was both bizarre and beautiful at the same time.
Best give it time
The Canucks power play went 1/3 on the night, which is good! But overall the powerplay has been pretty shit, so people don’t have a ton of time for it.
Their first power play generated one good look on net and it was Pew Pew Suter trying out his hand at the Bumpin’ Bo Horvat role:
I mean, that’s a shot on net, so that’s good. Is it a shot that’s going to beat Markstrom? Not really, especially with no layers in front of him to take away his eyes.
But it’s a shot that would have beaten Kevin Woodley, so there’s that at least.
Best Colorado PTSD
The Canucks were fantastic at holding leads in the third period at the start of the season, but a couple of high-profile collapses have injured the confidence of the fan base. Which is why when the Flames pushed forward late in the third, fans were visibly nervous:
I’ve noticed Casey DeSmith utilizes the “oh shit what is happening, I better start spinning” method of goaltending that I myself prefer to use in life.
Something bad happening in front of you? Just start spinning. Surely spinning will take care of it.
Demko would have stood straight up, rigid and unyielding, boring in his efficiency at stopping the puck.
But Casey and myself? Just spin, baby. It lets Calgary think they almost scored, which is almost more mentally taxing then if they felt they never had a chance to begin with. The anguish of “what if…” running through their heads while they come to terms with Jan Arden being a better performer than them.
Or they get inspired by how close they came to scoring, so it spurs them onwards.
It’s a thin line, to be honest.
Best acceptance
I honestly had high hopes that Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov would be the Bash Brothers of the team, but it’s become clear to us all that Zadorov and Juulsen are the true bash bros. Chaos Giraffe is too inconsistent in handing out huge hits, he seemingly saves them all up for villains like Duncan Keith, which hey, fair enough.
But it feels like a game doesn’t go by with at least one mammoth hit from either Nikita or Noah, and Saturday night, it was the Russian’s turn:
The second Nikita sees Marty Pospisil’s head down, he moves in for the kill. I have referenced raptors many times in my article, but never has there been a hit more worthy of the “clever girl” tagline than this one.
Best making it up as we go along
I’m not quite sure why that wasn’t a penalty shot, as JT Miller was denied the chance to even get a shot off, but in a league in which they can’t make up their minds about how icing works, I should just be relieved they didn’t suspend JT Miller for sliding on the ice with a sparkle in his eye.
Best finishing touches
You want a clap bomb that doesn’t miss the net? JT Miller has you covered:
One thing I noticed about Calgary on the night is that they reminded me of the Jim Benning era Canucks in that the players all seemed to move together in unison on the ice. One guy moves to the left, all guys move to the left. It felt like the defensive zone structure shifted together, utilizing the Borg approach, which while beautiful to watch, can lead to a lot of open ice for a team that can pass around it.
Which is where JT Miller found himself when the Flames were too slow to shift back towards him, leaving him the glorious job of scoring on a former teammate.
Best they don’t ask how
Elias Lindholm scored a goal, so for posterity sake, here it is:
It’s the Loui Eriksson special.
Man, remember the Insurance Line? Remember when the best line the Canucks had was one that excelled at scoring on empty nets?
And people wonder how bleak things were under Jim Benning.
Best doesn’t even matter
The Flames scored, and you know what? It’s been a long night, and a long season, so we’re not even going to break it down:
Much like life in Calgary, nothing you do there matters.
This goal? Doesn’t matter.
This the kind of goal you score where you don’t even want hand taps from your teammates, you’re mostly just mad at yourself for making the game last longer.
All that does matter is the Canucks got another win on a night in which the Oilers lost. The NHL playoffs loom just a little bit closer than they did yesterday.
Up next? The LA Kings, who play such a boring style of hockey that it should probably be illegal to have to watch it? But I have to because it’s my job?
So I’ll see you then?
Best SNL throwback
Best mystery
Nobody knows who did it but people say to this day a ghost puck can be seen flying through the air to this day if you look up at just the right moment at midnight.
Best jersey Botch
Nedved appearances are rare and always a worth inclusion.
Whereas this monstrosity needs to be burned at the stake. There is almost too much going on this picture to comprehend, to be honest.

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