NEWARK, NJ – In the battle of brothers, Jack Hughes scored the winning goal Saturday on the New Jersey Devils’ first power play, equalling the entire output of the Vancouver Canucks’ power play over six of seven games this season.
The Canucks, who had Jack’s older brother, Quinn, on their power play, failed to score on six advantages and lost 1-0 to the Devils. It ended Vancouver’s winning streak at four games, and increased concern over a Canucks power play that went 3-for-5 in Tuesday’s blowout win against the Detroit Red Wings but is otherwise 1-for-26 this season.
That’s one goal in 44 minutes and 37 seconds of power-play time.
The Canucks have done many things well since the season began. Their penalty kill led the NHL until Jack Hughes’ unstoppable one-timer at 14:08 of the first period, goaltenders Thatcher Demko and Jacob Markstrom have been excellent, the six-man defence is as strong and cohesive as it has been in years, and there is more size, speed, talent and ambition up front than when the Canucks missed the playoffs the last four seasons.
But the power play threatens to undermine the Canucks, as it did Saturday. Were this Game 47 for Vancouver instead of Game 7, it would be a crisis. But even two-and-a-half weeks into the regular season, in which the Canucks are still a game over .500, it’s impossible to ignore its ineffectiveness.
“It’s not like we didn’t do anything good today,” power-play regular J.T. Miller said. “We had some looks, we had some good rush chances. We just need to find a way in a game like that – a playoff-style game that’s 1-0 – to contribute on six power plays. Even though we did good things, we need to get a puck in the net.
“This is definitely a game where we hold each other accountable. We need to score a goal in this game. I thought in the second period our power play was really good. We were shooting pucks, hunting them. We had some good plays that just didn’t go in. But we all know that that power play with 10 minutes to go in the third, we need to be better than that.”
With the Devils’ top defenceman, P.K. Subban, penalized for holding at 9:59 of the final period, Vancouver’s power play was outshot, 2-1, by New Jersey penalty killers.
Vancouver’s power-play shooting was epitomized by Elias Pettersson. Last season’s Calder winner and the Canucks’ best player launched 12 shots during the game. Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood was forced to make only two saves.
Pettersson had four shots blocked and missed the net six times, mostly on the power play. It looked like the 20-year-old was trying to be too fine, attempting to make a perfect shot instead of one that forces a save and a rebound.
“I haven’t been shooting that much lately,” Pettersson said. “I’ve got to hit the net, got to score goals. I got a lot of chances today.”
Is the power play a concern?
“It is,” Pettersson said. “We’ve got to work together, got to find a way to be successful. Because, say today, we have an alright game. We could have won the game on power play today. If we score one early on power play, it’s a different game. Something we need to work on, look on video, and try to score in the next one.”
The Canucks visit the New York Rangers for another matinee game on Sunday, when Markstrom is expected to start for the first time since taking a personal leave for family reasons one week ago.
It’s understandable why Pettersson may be trying to be too precise: he and sniper linemate Brock Boeser have combined for just three goals this season, none of which came on the power play.
For all the social media debate about coach Travis Green’s point preference for Alex Edler over Quinn Hughes, who was shifted to the top unit in the second period Saturday and used his skating to create new shooting and passing angles, it’s up to Pettersson and Boeser to score goals.
“It’s up to everyone,” Green countered. “It’s not up to one, two (players); it’s up to all five guys. Good power-play units, they run together, cohesive. I thought we were better. I thought we got a little kickstart when (Hughes) went on it. We got some good looks, especially there in the second period.
“Five-on-five, we didn’t give up a whole lot tonight. Pretty good road game (but) we’ve got to find a way to score a couple of goals.”
Getting a third-straight start in the Canucks’ net, Demko stopped 23 of 24 shots to lift his save percentage to .943, fifth among all NHL goalies who have played at least three games. But he couldn’t stop Jack Hughes’ one-timer from Taylor Hall’s excellent cross-ice pass, which came a few seconds after Vancouver penalty-killer Jay Beagle failed on a chance to clear the puck.
“It was on my tape,” Beagle said. “I made a bad read and it ended up costing us. I said that right away, I said: ‘That’s on me. Sorry boys.’ I’ve got to get that one out. That’s kind of where I live right there – making sure I get those clears out. And when I don’t, usually you pay. And we did, and that’s the game.”
Vancouver’s power play could have helped Beagle. It could have helped a lot of things.