Having scored the game-winning goal in a 5-3 comeback win over the Calgary Flames Tuesday night, the 22-year-old centre did what all great leaders do.
“Tonight just shows the depth of our team,” said Horvat of a road game the Canuck had every reason to be proud of.
“Travis wanted four lines that could play against anyone in the league and I think we have that.”
Indeed, coach Travis Green parachuted into Vancouver this summer with a mandate to radically change up the mindset in a dressing room frustrated by failure for far too many years.
And the top priority seems to have revolved around taking away the pressure and ice time Daniel and Henrik Sedin have carried with them the bulk of their 17 years on the coast.
They’re still leaders in their room – heavily respected Vancouverites who are destined for the Hall of Fame regardless of what they do when their contracts end this spring.
However, they now see themselves getting third- and fourth-line minutes as they did Tuesday when only one forward got less than the 10:58 Henrik played. Daniel played just 11:29, which included second power-play unit assignments.
After close to two decades of Canucks visits that included steady diets of the Swedish twins, it had to be strange for Calgary fans to see them in such a reduced role.
What wasn’t foreign was how they executed a 2-on-1 early in the second period when a pass threaded by Daniel past Matt Bartkowski landed perfectly on Henrik’s tape for the type of goal they’ve converted so many times before.
In fact, it was the 659th time one of them had scored.
What made it different was the fact it was the insurance goal, not the winner, on a night they barely saw the ice for the final 15 minutes.
“I don’t think we’ve thought about it too much – we’re just going out and playing hard,” said Sam Gagner of the new world order, which barely includes the twins.
“With a new coaching staff and a lot of new players everyone is just going out, trying to figure out their new roles and trying to play as hard as they can. We’ve had a lot of different guys step up so far this year and it’s going to need to be that way going forward.”
On this night Horvat was the game’s best skater, potting his second game-winner this year with the help of 20-year-old leading scorer Brock Boeser.
The young, college stud is now a fixture on the top line with Horvat and Flames cast-off Sven Baertschi, pacing the team to a shocking 8-5-2 record this far.
Another newcomer, Gagner, opened the scoring in a seesaw battle that also included goals by free-agent signing Thomas Vanek and Derek Dorsett, whose seventh of the season is three more than the Sedins have combined for this year.
“Obviously it’s a different role for me so far,” said Vanek, echoing the sentiments of almost everyone in a room that sees four lines rolled nightly.
“I’m playing a little less than I’m used to this year. It’s tough, so you try to make the most out of it the time you do get out there.”
On this night he sure did, ripping a picture-perfect blast top shelf past Mike Smith to knot the game 2-2 late in a second period in which the Canucks were outshot 16-7.
If not for the heroics of game-star Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks would have had little hope of seeing Dorsett tie the game 3-3 in the final two minutes of the second period with a short-handed marker that changed the complexion of the game.
From there the Canucks opened the third with goals by Horvat and Sedin 38 seconds apart to end the Flames’ three-game winning string.
“Today was a game of critical moments and critical saves,” said Flames coach Glen Gulutzan, whose club dropped to 8-7.
“You’re up 3-2 with a few minutes left in the second period and we get a power play and we give up a shorty – that’s a tough one to give up.”
Asked if he was worried about his team defensively following the five-goal setback, Gulutzan shrugged.
“I don’t see a problem defensively – we need some penalty kills,” he scoffed, referring to the Flames’ struggling special teams unit, which gave up two power-play goals once again.
Despite Jaromir Jagr’s return to the lineup following a groin injury, the Flames were still unable to get any secondary scoring. Markstrom had plenty to do with that as the Mark Jankowski–Sam Bennett-Jagr line generated some great chances, prompting several of the netminder’s 29 saves.
Still, with eight Flames forwards yet to score, Gulutzan’s patience is wearing thin.
“They’ve got to score,” was all he’d say when asked if he was encouraged by their chances.
Conversely, everyone is contributing in Vancouver.
“Everyone is buying into their new roles,” said Horvat, whose club is now third in the Pacific Division.
“Nobody is complaining, everybody wants to win. We have a lot of heart and a lot of guys that won’t give up. That’s Travis’ main message.”
A message clearly getting through.