Postgame Recap: Powerplay woes, “main character syndrome”, and other notes from a tough loss to the Stars

So, my last take aged like a certain dairy product sold in jugs or cartons.

The Canucks – unfortunately – weren’t able to clinch their first playoff berth in nine years on Thursday night. Don’t worry, it’s coming; we just have to wait another two days for it to happen.

I’ve been so exhausted over the last few days that this game – which had stakes – didn’t matter to me at all when it was being played, if I’m being blunt. It was essentially the same Canucks game I’ve repeatedly seen over the last handful of weeks: Good team defence, the offence not generating enough scoring chances, and Casey DeSmith doing his job well enough to help the team win.

But that’s not what actually happened on Thursday night. No, what happened was two teams had a chance to be the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot and one team (Dallas) wanted it more. Scratch what I said about good team defence, stay on the fact that the Canucks weren’t able to generate enough good looks at 5v5, and come after me for saying Casey DeSmith “played well enough”: The Canucks weren’t good enough last night.

Does it really matter all that much? Of course not, and I sure as hell am not worried about this team right now; but I still have some thoughts about what I saw last night.

Podkolzin continues to show flashes + Dakota Joshua’s return to the lineup

Vasily Podkolzin’s trajectory to the NHL has been a weird one. His development path has been extraordinarily wonky ever since his D+1 year and it seemed to keep snowballing as the years went on.

The 2019 10th overall pick has not lived up to his draft pedigree, but there’s still some glimpses that he could be an effective winger for this team for years to come. There were a few instances that saw Podkolzin in Dakota Joshua’s spot with Teddy Blueger and Conor Garland: One in the 1st period and one at the start of the 2nd.

And, what do you know, they dominated possession in both instances.

This makes me wonder if the organization will let Joshua walk in the off-season to see what they still might have in Podkolzin, but I’m still not confident enough to call him an every day NHLer just yet.

Joshua – on the other hand – is an everyday NHLer (and a good one). His return to the Canucks lineup was needed, as I think a huge part of the bottom six’s identity revolves around Joshua. His size, penalty killing, and ability to make plays in tight were all sorely missed; and he was one of just 6 Canucks skaters who had a positive xGF% last night.

In case you were wondering, the other 5 were: Garland, Boeser, Blueger, Hughes, and Pettersson. 

#81 did what he always does: Lay the body, generate scoring chances, and draw penalties that don’t end up getting called- okay, maybe not that last one. I’m just happy to see him back in the fold and his presence should prove to be a boon come playoff time.

Oh, and he provides some more of that Zadorov-type aura that I’ve previously alluded to.

The elephant in the room

You know what I don’t like? Hockey games that are barely played at 5v5.

Sorry, let me rephrase that: You know what I don’t like? The Canucks vs Stars game from March 28, 2024.

Dan O’Rourke and Eric Furlatt needed to make this game all about themselves; calling eight penalties in this one (seven of which came in the first two periods). I am an advocate for officials calling the game how they see it and am very, very against game management, but some of the calls – on both sides – were… questionable.

I know everyone was freaking out over the blown call on Dakota Joshua – which absolutely should’ve been called – but what got me was the game’s opening goal. Now, before I actually talk about why this bugged me so much, I want to get this out of the way: This was a good goal…

It just shouldn’t have taken them 5+ minutes to come to that conclusion.

While this tweet from Trent Leith isn’t a perfect indicator, it’s tough to see how either call would be conclusive enough to warrant it going the Canucks’ way. If it’s not conclusive enough to overturn, the call should stand.

So, why do we need a 5-minute video review for the call to remain the exact same? Like, I’m not about the call but am perplexed at why the officials needed, you know, FIVE MINUTES. That’s like if I handed in an assignment, then asked for an extension because I forgot to add something, reviewed it, and then decided to keep it as it was. It just doesn’t make any sense to me and it’s a total waste of everyone’s time.

The way in which the NHL goes about handling the very apparent officiating problem will never cease to amaze me. But, you know, this is a league ran by a guy who thought George Parros was the best candidate to be the head of the Department of Player Safety. They are – and forever will be – their own worst enemy.

The Powerplay needs to get going

And now we get to the reason why I think blaming the refs outright is stupid.

Yes, them missing the Heiskanen trip on Joshua – to then have the game decided on a Dallas powerplay – raises more questions than answers… or maybe it’s the other way around (NHL officials are consistently incompetent); but we can’t ignore just how awful the Canucks’ powerplay looked, last night.

Going 0/3 is one thing; generating less than one expected goal on those three attempts is just, simply put, brutal. On the other hand, the Stars generated 1.612 xG on the powerplay and a staggering 6.55 xG in all situations.

The Canucks couldn’t generate anything whenever they got a 5v4 chance and there are some key reasons as to why.

1. Pius Suter at the bumper is a tired experiment

Okay, okay, I love Pius Suter as a player but I don’t think I ever need to see him manning the bumper/net-front positions on the top powerplay unit ever again.

This team has more intriguing left-handed options, too. The likes of Nils Höglander and Dakota Joshua seem like no-brainers to take that spot if Tocchet wants to keep both a righty and a lefty in the middle. Heck, I’d even try Podkolzin there, he has a quicker release and could be a nightmare in front of the net.

Even with that said, Elias Lindholm should man the bumper when he comes back, leaving Brock Boeser at the net-front (those two can also rotate). For now, though, Höglander should be the guy; I think he profiles as a good fit in Suter’s current role.

2. Pettersson needs to be more of a threat

I know that I sound like a 50 year-old Canucks fan that you may or may not have met at your local pub or bar, but Pettersson needs to unleash the ungodly beast that is his one-timer. Unless it’s a set play right off the faceoff, I feel like I haven’t seen his signature one-tee in play for much of this season, which is confusing since it is one of the most terrifying assets in his toolkit.

An old habit that seems to be creeping back up is that he’s also parking himself way too high in the offensive zone. You can’t execute the Boeser bumper play if you’re at the top of the circle all the time!

3. Give the Sedins free reign

The preferred option is to just throw them out there on PP1, but I’d be fine with the Sedins manning the powerplay behind the bench, instead. Those two were some of the smartest 5v4 players the league has ever seen, so, this should be a no-brainer.

Maybe next year, I don’t know.

As I previously mentioned, the Canucks don’t play until Sunday. They’ll – yet again – have a shot at clinching their first playoff berth in nine years and it’ll be against one of the NHL’s most pathetic teams: The Anaheim Ducks. In the meantime, I’m going to look for Canucks playoff tickets for under $800, but it’s not going well at the moment.

The next time we speak, the Canucks should hopefully have clinched a playoff spot and I will hopefully have a playoff ticket in my inbox. I may have to avoid checking the bank statement when it’s all said and done.

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