Why the Vancouver Canucks need to go back to the Joshua-Blueger-Garland line as soon as possible

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
Call it a slide, call it a slump, call it a bump in the road.
Whatever the terminology of choice, it’s clear enough that the Vancouver Canucks’ troubles in 2023/24 started, at least in part, with an injury to Dakota Joshua in mid-February that kept the forward out of the lineup until late-March, a period of 18 games.
Prior to the injury, Joshua was in the midst of a breakout campaign, and that’s continued since his return with three goals in five games. But as much as Joshua has contributed as an individual, he’s contributed more as a member of a particular unit that is greater than the sum of its parts: the so-called third line of Joshua, Teddy Blueger, and Conor Garland.
Which is why the Canucks need to get back to that line as soon as possible in order to help right the ship.
It’s no real mystery why the Canucks went away from something that was working so well. Right at the end of January, they acquired Elias Lindholm, an extra top-six forward who required fitting into the lineup.
Then Joshua got injured, and that led to Garland receiving a fairly successful cameo in the top-six himself. When Joshua returned, he got his shot in the top-six, too, where he hasn’t looked out of place at all.
But there’s not looking out of place, and then there’s thriving, which is something that Joshua and Garland have only really done together – and only, truly, with Blueger completing their unit at centre.
The line has played together for roughly 45 of the 77 regular season games played as of this writing, and it’s no secret that the Canucks’ greatest run of success coincides pretty neatly with those 45 games.
Through those 45 games, Joshua-Blueger-Garland has skated a total of 359:19 in 5v5 ice-time, with some absolutely sparkling results to show off. A total of 21 goals for and just ten against for a goal-share of 67.74%. A 54.68% collective Corsi. An Expected Goals rate of 61.17%. A control of 57.61% of the scoring chances and 63.70% of the high-danger chances.
Raw stats, fancy stats; you name them, the Joshua-Blueger-Garland line has probably demonstrably dominated at them.
That’s while starting just 43.31% of their shifts in the offensive zone, and while posting an on-ice shooting percentage of 12.35%, barely ahead of the team’s average without them.
The production speaks for itself. Garland has 37 even-strength points this year, with 20 of them coming alongside Joshua and 19 alongside Blueger (with ample overlap, naturally.)
Joshua has 28 even-strength points, with 23 of them coming alongside Garland and 20 alongside Blueger.
And Blueger has the highest ratio here of all, with 25 even-strength points, 20 of which came alongside Joshua and 18 with Garland.
Which is something that probably bears some highlighting here. As good as Joshua and Garland have looked in the top-six paired with the likes of JT Miller and Elias Pettersson, Blueger has struggled to find a place in the lineup without his two previous linemates.
Blueger’s goal on April 6 against Los Angeles was his first since December 28, breaking a streak of 40 goalless games.
To make matters worse, Blueger has just four assists to go with that one goal since Joshua exited the lineup and the unit was broken up.
A return to what was working before might be necessary to get Blueger going again. Not that the team would want to sacrifice the play of Joshua and Garland in order to resuscitate Blueger, but with those two also having played their best hockey as a part of this line, it just makes sense.
There’s another reason for putting this line back together that’s worthy of considering as the team approaches its final few games of the regular season.
The aforementioned Lindholm was injured himself shortly after arriving in Vancouver, apparently as early as March 5 against the Kings, with what has recently been described as a “brutal” wrist injury.
When he was first acquired, there was a question as to whether Lindholm would best fit as a centre or on the wing in Vancouver. We’d hazard a guess that, at least in the immediate wake of his return from a brutal wrist injury, the answer is probably on the wing. There’s no need to have Lindholm taking an excess of faceoffs right away when he’s back, not with so many other centres already on the roster.
It also seems like, with the timing on the wrist injury, we never really got to see the full potential of a Lindholm-Pettersson combination, and that seems well worth revisiting.
One has to wonder, then, if the best combination to use upon Lindholm’s return is something like this:
The top-six combinations are largely untested or at least unsure of success. But if one things for certain, it’s that if that third unit can get anywhere near as rolling again as it once was, it will open up a lot of time and space for the top-two lines to figure out whatever they need to figure out.
And here’s the great thing: the Canucks don’t actually need to wait for Lindholm to be back in order to put this idea into practice. The Joshua-Blueger-Garland line can be reunited right now, and probably should be for the final five games of the regular season. That at least gives them enough time to try to get back what they had before, and to try to affect some more of that season-shifting momentum heading into the postseason.
Someone like Podkolzin can easily fill in in the top-six for the time being. Right now, Joshua and/or Garland probably deserve that spot more. But deserves got nothing to do with at. At this late point in the campaign, the success of the team is far more important than the success of any individual.
And the Vancouver Canucks have enjoyed the most success when Joshua, Blueger, and Garland play together, so let’s get back to that.
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