Rancho Cucamonga cowabunga!
You may not appreciate that lede unless you’re Collin Delia or a Teenage Mutant Turtle. Go ahead, Nobel laureates for literature, criticize if you wish.
But remember, Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks was Game 69 for the Vancouver Canucks, who are two months into garbage time, and these are our third post-game “Takeaways” in four nights. So cut us some slack, and show a little respect for Delia, the backup goalie who grew up about a half-hour northeast of the Pond in Anaheim and on Sunday, in his first start since Feb. 21, stopped 17 of 18 shots for his first win since Feb. 9.
Delia came within seven minutes of becoming the first California-born goalie to post a National Hockey League shutout in his home state. The Californian who might have done it by now, Thatcher Demko, watched Delia from the Canucks’ bench after starting five straight games, including Saturday’s improbable 3-2 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings.
Playing for the second time in less than 24 hours, the Canucks dominated the Ducks to extend their winning streak against California teams to 10 games.
Anaheim generated only 11 even-strength shots and was outshot 21-5 and outscored 2-0 by the Canucks in the first 25 minutes. Vancouver’s defensive gem came after the Kings peppered Demko with 40 shots and held the Canucks to just six shots on net through 48 minutes.
Shots on Sunday finished 40-18 for the Canucks. But because Ducks goalie John Gibson was so sharp, Delia also needed to be. He got across his net to stop Trevor Zegras’ baseball line drive in the second period, when he also stuffed Frank Vatrano on a breakaway.
The only puck that beat him was a bank shot by Ryan Strome that dribbled through Delia with 6:50 remaining after Canuck J.T. Miller had the puck bounce over his stick when he was going to try stickhandling out of danger near the Vancouver net.
But Miller also rocketed a missile past Gibson to open scoring on a delayed penalty at 9:05 of the first period, before Elias Pettersson made it 2-0 on a power play at 1:31 of the second with an unscreened and unstoppable wrist shot over the goalie’s shoulder from the right-wing faceoff dot.
The Canucks have won seven of their last eight games to inch closer to .500 (31-33-5) and farther from Connor Bedard (generational draft prospect who would love to play at home in Vancouver).
Vancouver opens a two-game homestand Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
GREAT PLAYERS IN GRATING SEASON
Pettersson’s goal and assist moved him into a tie for seventh in NHL scoring with 88 points in his 67 games. And his 33rd goal is a new career-high for the 24-year-old centre. With 13 games remaining, Pettersson should become the first Canuck to surpass 100 points since Henrik and Daniel Sedin won their NHL scoring titles in 2010 and 2011.
When he hits his spot, his shot looks unstoppable these days – and so does Pettersson. Against the Ducks, even-strength shots were 11-2 when he was on the ice. On a team that has been outscored by 25 goals this season, Pettersson is plus-14 and has maintained positive metrics across the analytics board. Despite the Canucks’ disappointing season, Pettersson deserves to be on some Selke Trophy ballots this spring.
And then there is Quinn Hughes, whose pair of assists on Sunday made him the first NHL defenceman to post consecutive 60-assist seasons since Hall-of-Famers Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey last did it 29 years ago. Let that sink in. Bourque and Coffey won eight Norris Trophies between them.
In his career, Hughes’ 0.76 assists per game are the third-most in league history, behind only Coffey ( 0.81) and Bobby Orr (0.98). Think about that, too. At age 23, Hughes is not only already the best defenceman the Canucks have ever had, but on pace to be one of the most elite creators of offence from the blue line in NHL history.
Stuck on the West Coast, playing for what has been a bad team, Hughes gets little love outside his own market. There is a defensive bias against him. Maybe a size bias, too. But like Pettersson, Hughes also drives possession and is a team-leading plus-16. Two years ago, he was minus-24. The Canucks have outscored opponents 82-63 at five-on-five with Hughes on the ice.
His all-world agility and elusiveness, as well as his offensive talent, have been obvious since Hughes was a runner-up to Cale Makar as the 2020 rookie of the year. To be an elite defenceman, Hughes just needed to be a little better defensively, and he has been much more than that since Rick Tocchet took over as coach two months ago.
“I think he’s just been a terrific leader,” Tocchet said Sunday. “I haven’t really seen a bad game out of him. He’s very consistent. Obviously, the assists are great and his breakouts are incredible. The Coffeys or the world, (Scott) Niedermayer and Bourque, they’re great breakout guys. He’s climbing that ladder. I don’t want to give it to him yet, but he’s climbing that ladder.”
Winger Vitali Kravtsov returned to the Canucks lineup after sitting out Saturday, while Jack Studnicka went back to the press box. Tyler Myers, who missed Saturday’s game due to illness, logged 20:26 upon his return Sunday.
Anthony Beauvillier led the Canucks with five shots on target, and defenceman Noah Juulsen had a team-high five hits. Besides his goal and assist and four shots, Miller went 14-8 in the faceoff circle.
Tocchet: “When you don’t play well, you always look for players that have responses. And I saw some good response with some players that weren’t engaged last night. That’s what the game is all about. . . being able to respond if things don’t go your way.”