Canucks fine-tuning lethal power play, a potential playoff game changer

Dan Murphy and Satiar Shah discuss Jacob Markstrom having an extra lay off and how good Brock Boeser has looked during camp.

VANCOUVER — It may be late July, but you can tell the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff clock is ticking. On Friday, they ended their final evening scrimmage of training camp with a full period of power-play work.

They also test drove a new unit that pumped three quick goals past Jacob Markstrom, drawing an F-bomb from the goalie that could have been heard even if Rogers Arena was filled with fans instead of empty.

“I think we can definitely feel the ramp up,” Canucks coach Travis Green said during Friday’s Zoom call with reporters, which was before the scrimmage. “From a coach’s standpoint… I even feel it. Getting a little more demanding now, a little more game pace. You can just feel it in the room.

“I can feel it brewing naturally with our team right now that they’re ready to get to Edmonton and they understand that it’s getting serious. We’ve tried to let them have fun here the last couple of weeks, but yet still work hard and get their bodies going. I can feel our team is dialling in a little bit more as we get going here.”

The Canucks will close their summer camp with a practice on Saturday before travelling Sunday to Edmonton for their one exhibition game — Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets — and Stanley Cup qualifying series against the Minnesota Wild.

Vancouver’s power play, which soared at the end of the long-ago regular season to No. 4 in the National Hockey League, has the potential to be a difference-maker against the Wild, whose penalty killing was 25th.

The Canucks’ top unit, which features forwards Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat and Tyler Toffoli with blue-line quarterback Quinn Hughes, hasn’t changed since the league shut down in March. But on Friday, Green also rolled out an alternative unit with Brock Boeser on his off-wing instead of Miller, and Antoine Roussel in the bumper spot in place of Horvat.

Interestingly, the second unit featured Micheal Ferland, whose last NHL game in a season devastated by a concussion was in December. The winger has been one of the surprises of camp.

Boeser, who lost his spot in the first power play when Toffoli was acquired in February from the Los Angeles Kings, looked especially sharp on Friday, blasting a one-timer past Markstrom and setting up a tap-in for Toffoli.

But nobody has been better at camp than Hughes, the rookie-of-the-year finalist who spent the four-month shutdown training and getting stronger and looks this summer like he’s ready for his sophomore season.

Hughes spectacularly set up Adam Gaudette for the best goal of the two-period scrimmage, and was creating space and shooting lanes with his puck distribution on the power play.

“I think we feel really good, we feel confident,” Hughes told reporters Friday morning on a video call. “I think towards the end of the year, our power play was better than ever. We had Millsy on the half-wall there, Petey on his one-timer side and we were really figuring each other out. I think that’s so important. As the years go on, I think we’re just going to get better and better because we’ll know each other’s thoughts and what they’re going to do.

“Towards the end of the year, we were clicking more and more. So coming into camp, we didn’t even talk about it. We just went out there and it was like everyone knew what they were doing. Obviously, special teams is so important in the playoffs. We’ll be ready for that.”

The Canuck power play finished on a 13-for-42 tear over the last 15 games.

Ferland missed the final 38 games with concussion and balance issues. It was a bonus that the 28-year-old even felt well enough to drive west for summer camp from his home in Manitoba. But he has seemed to get better almost daily the last two weeks, and on Friday scrimmaged on a line with Roussel and Gaudette.

Ferland opened the scoring in the scrimmage before taking regular turns on the power play. He sure didn’t look like an extra forward.

“He was among my considerations a long time ago,” Green said when asked if Ferland was a genuine candidate to play in the playoffs after so much time off. “I’ve seen enough to keep him there, that’s for sure.

“I’m happy for him from a personal point. I talked to him today and he’s feeling good. He’s got a bounce in him that I haven’t seen for a while, and that’s always nice to see because you want players to feel good and you want players to do well. They love playing, and when you see that in your players, you’re happy for them. I’m also happy for us. If he gets himself ready and he’s ready, he’s a handful. And he’s got that glimmer in his eye right now.”

He’s not the only one.

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