VANCOUVER -- The Philadelphia Flyers were able to dress 18 skaters and two goalies against the Vancouver Canucks, but when Elias Pettersson had the puck, he probably saw only 19 opponents because backup netminder Carter Hart was sitting on the bench and out of sight.
Actually, unless it was a Vancouver power play, Pettersson may not have seen Philadelphia starter Martin Jones, either, because the struggling Canucks star didn’t often have the puck near the Flyers’ net.
That’s how the game seems when you’ve almost forgotten how it feels to burst through an opening or make a great pass or score a goal: zero space, many opponents, and where the heck are your linemates hiding?
“When he steps on the ice right now, I don't think he sees a lot of options,” Henrik Sedin said Friday when asked about Pettersson. “When you have confidence and you're feeling it, you only see Canucks jerseys out there. It's like there's no opponent -- they're out of the way, you don't even think about where they are. I'm sure he only saw Flyers jerseys out there yesterday. It's maybe tough to understand, but that's the way it is when you are struggling a little bit. I see ourselves in him when you're not scoring.”
Sedin and his brother, Daniel, scored more than anyone else in Canucks’ history, combining for 2,111 points before retiring in 2018. They returned to the organization last summer as special advisers to general manager Jim Benning.
The omnipresent twins were at the Scotia Barn arena complex in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday to watch a Canucks practice that had Pettersson reunited with his 6-40-9 linemates Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller.
The Lotto Line, which has been used in spurts this season as the Canucks chased games like Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to the Flyers, is expected to start together Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena.
With the ink just dried on a new three-year contract worth $22 million, Pettersson has only one goal and one even-strength point this season. In the last six games, four of them losses, the elite centre has just two assists and nine shots on net.
He is struggling only slightly more than Boeser, the team’s leading scorer from last season who has one goal and one assist in five games since returning from a pre-season injury. Miller has seven points in the Canucks’ eight games, but just one goal and has been blanked in the first two games of a homestand that has started poorly for Vancouver.
The only thing more plentiful than rain and Teslas in Vancouver are theories on the Canucks, and one of them being promoted now is that coach Travis Green’s insistence on better defensive play has come at the expense of scoring, especially among his star forwards.
“I hate to hear that because the one thing doesn't take the other thing away,” Sedin told Sportsnet. “You can play good defence and still score. For me, that's a non-issue. You can stay above your guy in the defensive zone, you can backcheck hard, you can get pucks deep when you need to, and you can still score.
“I hate to hear that they're focusing too much on defence or they need to score more. No, they have to play well. They have to play a good, 200-foot game. If you do that, you're going to give up fewer chances and you will score. Every time you go through this where you start focusing on defence -- and this is from our experience -- it always takes time for the offence to come. But the problem you run into if you start to focus on defence, and then especially as an offensive player you're not scoring right away, the teams that get in trouble are the teams where your top players can't stand not scoring, so they start cheating and now you're back to square one. You have to be patient.”
Where does Sedin think he is? We’re eight games into the season and the Canucks are 3-4-1. Patience!?
“Those guys are going to score again,” Green reassured reporters on Friday. “There's certain things that go into scoring much like there is to defending, and a lot of times. . . you're using the same catchphrases at both ends of the rink. It's funny how the game is connected.”
By connecting Boeser, Pettersson and Miller, Green is both showing confidence in his best players while making plain the challenge to them: get out front and lead the team.
“These guys, they want to score, they want to help the team win,” the coach said. “I don't think they're trying to fool themselves and think that they've had a phenomenal start. They need to play a little better. They know that for our team to have success -- or like any team, really -- the guys that you lean on to score need to produce. That's part of the game. They're going to. They're not just good, they're great young players. It's not a time to panic. It's time to dig your heels in and work, be confident and play the game with a lot of passion.”
Pettersson said Friday his “will” is never an issue. He also said he changed sticks over the summer, going with a slightly longer twig with less flex. More theories.
“I'm just trying to learn from. . . these past games,” the 22-year-old said. “I know I have a lot better in me. So I'm just trying to get back to playing the best hockey I can play.
“I mean, it's not my first . . . slump or whatever. Of course, it's frustrating because I always want to play my best to help this team win. But, I mean, I'm still learning, I'm trying to become better every day.”
• After missing two games with an undisclosed injury, centre Jason Dickinson practised Friday on the third line between Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin. Tucker Poolman, injured in the 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, practised on the defence’s fourth pairing. Winger Matthew Highmore suffered an upper-body injury Thursday and “will be off for a little while,” Green said. Centre Nic Petan was recalled from AHL Abbotsford.