VANCOUVER -- In just over four minutes Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks’ power play managed to generate two goals after going nearly five hours on this homestand without scoring any.
And although those sniper-quality goals by J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson merely offset what Vancouver’s dreadful penalty-killing surrendered to the Dallas Stars, it was a distinctly positive development that two of the Canucks’ struggling stars had some success.
Not coincidentally, so did the team as the Canucks won 6-3 for just their second win in a seven-game homestand that ends Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.
Vancouver’s problems at Rogers Arena have emanated almost entirely from their special teams. The Canucks have surrendered only five even-strength goals in their six home games, but lost four of them -- all by one goal -- because they were getting torched on special teams.
On Sunday, at least the tire fire went out on the power play, which was three-for-six to end a zero-for-18 hibernation that began halfway through their home-opening loss to the Minnesota Wild nearly two weeks ago.
“I just think it's important that we enjoy it but also we’ve got to do it again,” Miller said. “It's one game and it's important we keep this going into the next one.
“It's not a whole lot different... a good power-play night and a bad one. It's nice to see some pucks go in. We had some people at the net; Brock (Boeser) did a hell of a job on the first two goals screening. And then the last one is just the puck luck that we needed.”
After a power-play intervention in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators when coach Travis Green removed captain Bo Horvat from the bumper position and outstanding quarterback Quinn Hughes from the point of the first unit, the Canucks re-assembled their power play and top line on Sunday.
The biggest changes were motion and mindset. The Canucks were far more active in rotations, creating and moving into space, while a morning power-play meeting had all members adopting a shoot-first mentality.
After the Stars’ power play demonstrated what quick, lateral puck movement is supposed to look like when Joe Pavelski made it 1-0 on a tap-in at 13:35 of the first period -- sinking the Canucks' penalty-killing to a grotesque 10-for-18 on the homestand -- Miller tied it at 2:19 of the second period, just seven seconds into Vancouver’s first power play.
He leaned into a wrist shot from the left-wing circle that beat goalie Anton Khudobin blocker-side. And on the Canucks’ second power play, Pettersson made it 2-1 just 4:18 later when he lasered a screened shot post-and-in from the middle of the high slot.
It was Pettersson’s first goal in 10 games and just his second this season. It was also one of the few times this fall he has looked like the lethal marksman who won the Calder Trophy a couple of years ago.
“We had a good, honest talk with the power-play group this morning,” Pettersson said. “Everybody was going to be shooters. I think we’ve just got to continue having the mentality to snap it around, move it quick, change positions, like to be shooters.”
Miller, who ended a seven-game scoring drought last week, added a third power-play goal for the Canucks on a third-period changeup that leaked through Khudobin. The three goals matched Vancouver’s special-teams output from the previous nine games.
It also didn’t hurt that Boeser, the third member of the Lotto Line, added an empty-net goal with 2:21 remaining. The four goals amassed by Boeser, Pettersson and Miller were more than half of the seven they’d combined for in the Canucks’ first 11 games.
Their hope is that the power-play positivity may spill over into their even-strength game.
“Yeah, for sure,” Pettersson said. “I mean, it's been a couple games since I scored the last one, so it just brings a lot of confidence. I think five-on-five, our line still can do better. I think we can get more offensive zone time, but for sure it gives you a lot of confidence scoring.”
Luke Glendening and Ryan Suter added goals for the Stars, who went two-for-three on the power play but never recovered after surrendering three straight goals early in the middle period.
But Dallas still might have won had Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko not made another handful of five-star saves, including a diving paddle stop against Jamie Benn on an early two-on-one. In the third period, Demko stopped Benn again on a breakaway, made a point-blank rebound save against Pavelski and robbed Joel Kiviranta at the back post.
Clearly, more than the Canucks’ special teams are imperfect. But fixing the other stuff won’t matter until Vancouver solidifies its power play and penalty killing. At least for the power play, Sunday was a start.