Ben Kuzma: Fourth-line presence could be first priority against pesky Predators
Canucks will need bump, grind, finish in a stiff test against Stanley Cup contender
It has come to this.
An optimist can opine that only eight points separate top-five producers when the struggling Vancouver Canucks are compared to the Stanley Cup contending Nashville Predators.
A pessimist can point to no NHL club surrendering more third-period goals than the Canucks and nobody surrendering fewer than the Predators. And in goals against at even strength, the confounding Canucks are a sobering 28th and the pesky Predators second overall.
A realist can sift through the rubble of one win in the last 13 games (1-10-2), and conclude the Canucks are competitive in dropping eight decisions by just one goal — even though the penalty kill has plummeted — and that this is simply a rite of youthful passage for a transitioning team.
What does this mean when the Preds pay a Rogers Arena visit Thursday?
It means the little details Travis Green keeps harping about have become a big deal. And maybe that’s where three guys on a fourth line with something to prove can make an early impact and produce a domino effect.
In the second period of a 3-2 setback to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, a momentum-changing sequence by the returning Jay Beagle, the underrated Tyler Motte and perplexing Tim Schaller was encouraging.
After Motte was stymied trying to go short side, the trio came right back and was so dominant in the offensive zone, it resulted in a gritty and timely rebound goal by Motte to snap a 1-1 deadlock. It came off Schaller’s strong move off a faceoff loss to bolt from behind the net to get a shot away.
It was impressive. Especially with the goalless Schaller showing a glimpse of why he was signed July 1.
“Was it ever,” Green said of the shift. “That’s the way he (Schaller) needs to play. He’s best suited playing an energy role and banging and crashing around for rebounds and they did a good job.”
Motte did everything to rightfully earn a roster spot because he was fast, aggressive and hit. You noticed him every pre-season night. His goal Tuesday was his second in the last five games and the winger also had five shot attempts and five hits.
“That’s the way our team can play and get more chances like that,” said Motte. “Beagle kind of led the way (Tuesday). He drags the line with him. Whether it’s getting a step on a guy or stopping a guy from getting a step on him, he creates space for his linemates.”
For his part, Beagle lamented losing an offensive-zone draw Tuesday that led to the Wild scoring on two-man advantage and then clicking again on the power play less than a minute later. But, after missing 24 games with a forearm fracture, he was still buoyed by what his line can become.
“We put it on ourselves to drive the team and it’s a matter of going out and changing momentum and getting energy,” said Beagle. “That’s what we do best. And when we’re doing that, you can see the affect it has. That’s been my role for my whole career to bring that trickle-down effect.”
Green felt good about his team’s play at even strength, but a first power play unit dominated by youth up front in Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Josh Leivo, combined with the second unit — that also had youth in Adam Gaudette and Jake Virtanen — for just five shots on three failed chances Tuesday.
The power play is now 0-for-12 in the last four games and has just one goal in the last 17 opportunities.
“We didn’t create much and just got stuck on the wall a little bit on Petey’s side,” said Green. “But he’s a young guy learning the power play in the NHL. We’ve got some very young players and Minnesota has a lot of veteran guys. It’s a position, much like the penalty kill, that is learned from being in the league a little bit.”
What Nikolay Goldobin can learn from his first healthy scratch Tuesday remains to be seen.
The club’s third-leading scorer has 16 points (4-12) and has teased of additional potential with spurts of five points in a three-game span and six points in five games. However, it’s the winger’s penchant for being lax on the forecheck to help turn over pucks, not pushing hard enough to win puck battles and being passive on the back check that gets to the coach.
“I think he’s going to be better off for this,” said Green. “He had some individual work (Tuesday) on what we want him to get better at and you’re going to see Goldy back. He’s going to be fine. I’m not worried about it.”
Nashville Predators vs. Vancouver Canucks
7 p.m., Rogers Arena, SNP, SN 650 AM
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Author: Ben Kuzma