It took 12 games, but the Vancouver Canucks finally showed the type of skill they’re made of on Sunday night against the Dallas Stars.
Sure, they gave up the opening goal for the tenth time this season — the most by any NHL team so far — but in the second period, the big names broke through in the form of a J.T. Miller power play goal, and suddenly the floodgates opened up.
Practically every point of contention from the first 11 games went away through a mixture of luck and key adjustments, with the most obvious case being that of the power play. Brock Boeser taking over Alex Chiasson’s spot on the top unit seemed to open up a much more fluid style of play, and the Canucks went 3 for 6 on the man advantage as a result.
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Elias Pettersson hasn’t looked like himself for a large part of the season, but on Sunday, we saw flashes of the star player fans recognize. A couple classic dekes, smart passes that led right into scoring chances and, most important of all, a vintage Pettersson wrist shot that belongs on replay in The Louvre.
As if Pettersson’s two point night wasn’t enough, nearly every key Canucks scorer had their best game of the season. Bo Horvat potted a goal and two assists on the night, Quinn Hughes had a trio of primary helpers, and J.T. Miller scored twice to tie Horvat for the team lead in goals with five.
And it wasn’t just the established core stepping up. Arguably the biggest goal of the evening came courtesy of Conor Garland’s no-look pass to Vasily Podkolzin, who roofed the puck with so much force it knocked him clean off his feet.
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According to Garland, that 2-on-1 play was no accident. “You just use your peripherals, you can see him over there. He’s a big boy,” Garland said with a chuckle post game. 
But even as dominant a win as this game was, there’s reason for skepticism with such a small sample size. The Canucks’ penalty kill still requires a whole lot of work, the depth players aren’t yet pulling their weight on the offensive side of the puck, and the defence is still loaded with question marks.
And of course, there’s the matter of consistency; what the Canucks showed last night is undeniable proof that the scoring nucleus of the 2019-20 team still exists, albeit with a few new cast members. The question now is whether or not they can keep it up across 70 more games.
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J.T. Miller was cautiously optimistic post game that with the steps they’ve taken to improve the power play, success like Sunday’s can be built on. “We weren’t really having fun on the power play anymore. We didn’t wanna be stagnant and robotic, we had to start throwing something in there,” Miller said.
“We’ll enjoy this, we wanna do it again. Tonight we looked like an elite power play, but we can’t just do it one time and feel good. We gotta come out with the same urgency next game.”
And the word “urgency” is going to come up a lot in the coming weeks. The win over Dallas puts the Canucks at 11 points on the year, good enough for a fifth place tie in the Pacific Division with the Los Angeles Kings and only two ahead of the last place Seattle Kraken.
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While there are certainly a few division rivals punching above their weight class right now (Anaheim and San Jose come to mind), there are also a couple teams like Vegas and Seattle who are underperforming, either due to injury issues or expansions growing pains. As the season goes on those clubs are either going to regress or, in one team’s case, get healthy versions of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Jack Eichel inserted into their lineup.
That gives the Canucks a small window to rack up points before their Pacific rivals figure out their true potential; one that could make the difference between a playoff berth and another disappointing summer at home.
The Canucks we saw against the Stars were far more in line with the team we expected entering the 2021-22 season. If they can build off those lessons on Tuesday, with a perfect litmus test game against a streaking Anaheim Ducks squad, they still have a chance to completely turn this ship around.
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