On Monday, four days after his knee bent like a cartoon figure when he was wrestled to the ice in Montreal, Pettersson jogged down some stairs on his way to a workout as the Canucks practised without him at the University of B.C.
It looked like Pettersson, the NHL’s top rookie, would be out for weeks when he was trapped in Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s leg hold as the Canadien pulled him down last Thursday. Instead, the 20-year-old may miss only two or three games. The power of youth and flexibility.
“If you’re going to sprain your knee, that’s probably the best-case scenario,” Canucks coach Travis Green told reporters. “He’s not going to be as long as we’ve seen other knee injuries in the past.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad things over the years. I don’t really get too worried about it until I actually know. The fact that he skated off, I thought was a good sign. I was pressing for him to come back in the game. That’s how I think.”
But Pettersson did not return for the final 34 minutes of the game, nor for the one two nights later in Toronto. Beaten 2-0 by the Canadiens and rolled 5-0 by the Maple Leafs, the Canucks have yet to generate a goal without Pettersson.
Even missing six games in October with a concussion, the Swede still leads the Canucks in scoring with 22 goals and 42 points in 38 games. His seven game-winning goals are tied for the lead in the NHL. In Vancouver’s last 10 wins, Pettersson has scored the deciding goal in six of them.
But unless the Canucks can find a way to win 0-0, someone else will need to score Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. Pettersson is expected to miss that game. Any mortal would.
“We’re not going to rush him back,” Green said. “He’ll be back when he’s good and ready.
“When you lose your most offensive guy, it’s going to take away a whole lot of your offence. (But) we’re not going to ask guys to do stuff that they’re not capable of. There’s no magic (formula) for scoring in this league. Off your breakouts, off your neutral-zone play, if you can score on the rush, it’s a good thing. And in the offensive zone, you’ve got to be hard, you’ve got to win puck battles, you’ve got to play quick.”
After leading the NHL in games-played and road games, the Canucks finally have time to practise as they play only six games – all at Rogers Arena – in the next four weeks. So, on Monday, Green ran the team through a physical practice that featured a pile of battle drills. How else is a team supposed to score?
“The last two games we’ve been shut out,” veteran centre Jay Beagle said. “We’re talking about it. Today, the emphasis was going to the net and just battling. Battling to get in greasy areas, that’s where you score those goals. Battling to get into those areas is not easy. It was a high-paced practice with a lot of battle drills. It’s a simple message.”
There is a psychological element to losing your best offensive player. The Canucks went 3-3 without Pettersson in October but scored just 11 goals in regulation in those six games.
They’ve fired 61 shots the last two games without scoring. Vancouver was also shut out in two of the last five games Pettersson played, so the offence was starting to struggle even before he was injured. The Canucks failed to score only twice in their first 38 games.
“If the top scorer goes out on any team, it takes a toll and other guys would be pressing maybe too hard,” centre Bo Horvat said. “It does affect guys mentally. For us, we’ve just got to simplify our game and capitalize on our opportunities. If we weren’t getting opportunities, we’d be a little more worried.”
Winger Brock Boeser said: “When you’re not scoring goals like we have the last couple of games, that’s when you really need to get gritty and put pucks to the net and get bodies there. Once you bang home a couple, others will start coming.”
That’s the hope, which is what this season is really about for the Canucks.
“We’re not battling harder right now than we were in November, than we were the first game when we played Calgary (opening night),” Green said. “The culture that we want is that will to win is high every night. It’s not all of sudden, ‘Hey, we’re going to try harder because we’re closer to .500 now.’ If you’re going to only play hard at certain times of the year, you’re not going to be very a successful team and you’re not going to have a very successful culture. We’ve kept the pedal down from Day 1 and that’s the mindset that we want and the culture we want to build for years to come.”