Canucks Post Game: Roller-hockey Jake, Boeser nears Bo, Gaunce Watch ends, Hutton’s chagrin, Dowd and out?

 

 
 
 
 
Jake Virtanen ends bold end-to-end rush Thursday by scoring on Aaron Dell.
 
 

Jake Virtanen ends bold end-to-end rush Thursday by scoring on Aaron Dell.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Points to ponder as the Canucks showed some moxy in rallying from a 3-1 deficit before losing 5-4 in overtime to the Sharks on Thursday. Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser and Brendan Gaunce showed continued growth in their emerging games and Sam Gagner even showed some grit in fighting Jannik Hansen:

VIRTANEN ROCKING, ‘ROLLING’

The point was gaining a point and there are areas that need to be cleaned up — especially the penalty kill that allowed three goals. That speaks to the loss of the injured Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter, who excel in that category and especially in defensive-zone face-offs.

The Canucks are now 1-6-1 since Horvat suffered a foot fracture and have been outscored 41-19.

However, there was something else to take from the setback. It was Jake Virtanen getting his game to another level with a goal and an assist, five shots, three hits and 14 minutes of ice time, his second highest of the season.

“We made a push back the whole game and showed the character we have on this team to push it to overtime,” said Virtanen. “The coaches have been showing me video of how I should take the puck to the net and I’m feeling a lot more confident and I’ve just got to keep doing that.

“With my speed and my physicality, I can beat the D-men and crash the net hard and bring it (puck) to the back post.”

The beauty of committing to an entertaining style of play — and having a coach willing to live with mistakes — has allowed the winger to emerge from a cloud of self-doubt and methodically grow his game.

Virtanen could always skate. He could always shoot. But he couldn’t always process the game and doing something positive on every shift — and not becoming a liability — has been a work in progress.

“As a young group, we’re going to have to learn,” added Virtanen. “Every young guy is learning every day whether it’s defence or offence and Green is good at pulling you aside and telling you what you need to do.”

Class has been in session all season. On Thursday, Virtanen got some good grades.

He figured in the opening goal on an impressive bull rush. And just as he was a about to do around the net, he feathered a cheeky backhand pass through the legs of goalie Aaron Dell that found a pinching Erik Gudbranson. His shot went off Brendan Gaunce for his second goal in 97 career games.

“I was planning on going around the net and just kind of saw in the corner my eye that he (Dell) kind of let up and I got it (puck) on Guddy’s stick and it went off Gaunce,” said Virtanen. “It was good to see Guddy get up ice and we need all of our D-men to do that.”

Virtanen then did his best Horvat impression.

He went end-to-end in a 4-on-4 foray. He blew out of his own zone and blew past defenceman Tim Heed before showing a one-handed effort under Dell for his fifth goal of the season.

That was as impressive as matching up against Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski and holding his own at even strength.

“I played a lot of 4-on-4 in roller hockey growing up — and I like the 4-on-4 and it’s kind of my bread and butter,” added Virtanen. “I like the open ice to build my speed.”

LOOK OUT BO, HERE COMES BROCK

It was looking like one of those rare nights for Brock Boeser.

He had just one shot attempt in the first period, a power-play effort that sailed over the net. In six minutes of power pay time, he logged but 2:49 and the Sharks did a good job clogging up passing lanes.

The rookie hasn’t gone more than two games without a point and he made another point in his multi-dimensional game. When Alex Biega drove the net in the third period, was tripped and had his jam job stopped, it was Boeser who calmly found the spot before whipping a wicked backhander up top to make it 3-3.

You can’t teach that stuff.

Horvat led the Canucks in goals last season with 20. Boeser could eclipse that before Christmas if he pots a pair against St. Louis on Saturday.

Boeser almost won it in overtime before Markus Granlund missed a rebound chance. As for the play that led to his goal, he said this much:

“I just read that the defenceman was going down, so I wanted to make a play. Once I got in the middle, I kind of wanted to shoot it, but their other D fell. I passed it to Bulldog (Biega) and he made a nice move and I just got the loose puck

“We definitely thought we could have won the game, but we need to clean up our special teams but we did better 5-on-5.”

As for having 19 goals?

“That’s the type of player I am,” he shrugged. “I like to produce and score goals and I’m going to anything to help the team win games.”

GAUNCE WATCH FINALLY ENDS

It got to the point where Brendan Gaunce didn’t want to talk about it.

He had one goal in his previous 96 career NHL games and when the puck went off him to open scoring it spelled out two things: 1. Releif 2. Getting to the net is going to get you rewarded.

“I felt it hit my stick and I didn’t know if it was in or not and that (goal) was good, but we need to win these games,” said Gaunce who logged 18:15 and eight minutes in the final period as coach Travis Green went to three lines to match what the Sharks were icing.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s a relief. The two chances I had coming down the wall, I probably should have scored on one for sure. I felt pretty confident today. And when you’re playing confident, it (goal) is just a beneficiary of that.

“Our line was playing pretty well. We had shifts where we were pinned in our zone, but we stayed tight and when you’re playing a team like that in the third, you almost want to get it to overtime and give your skilled players a chance to win it.”

Said Green: “I loved the way we played tonight, out side of the penalty killing. If we play that way every night, we’re going to be OK.

“Gaunce is playing a real good game right now and we’re hoping he can become a good two-way forward who can lean on bodies. And sometimes it takes time to add a scoring touch.”

HUTTON’S GRIN NOW A CHAGRIN

Would Ben Hutton have made a difference Thursday? Hard to say. Probably not. The way the Sharks were beating a path to the goal, he probably would have had containment issues.

Simply stated, Hutton has lost his confidence.

He was minus-3 Sunday and a healthy scratch Tuesday and Thursday. Biega has taken his spot and doesn’t look like he’s going to give it up after his first two-point game of his career Thursday.

Hutton is now seeing the game from a distance. Is that good?

“For sure, you can gain something when you don’t play,” said Green. “The obvious one is when you’re not playing good enough. With Hutton, it’s a fine line. The fact he doesn’t have the points — or the points he used to getting — sometimes that will affect a player over the long haul.

“That has creeped into his mind a little bit. When he competes hard and is closing in his own zone and eliminating bodies, his whole game is strong.”

IS DOWD DOWN AND OUT?

In six games since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Jordan Subban, Nic Dowd has become a centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. He has taken six minors and been in the box for five power-play goals against.

And he’s pointless. But he did win 75 per cent of his draws Thursday (12-for-16) so there’s that.”

Dowd took a lazy hooking minor on Brent Burns in the opening period and a dozen seconds later, Joe Thornton moved into a tie with Doug Gilmour for 18th on the NHL all-time points list (1,414) when he whipped a cross-ice feed past Jacob Markstrom who had dropped to his knees.

Thornton’s second goal broke the Gilmour tie and then he added another helper when Dowd took a face-off violation minor for playing the puck with his hand to give the Sharks a 5-on-3 advantage.

“I’m not going to knit-pick his game,” said Green. “His line was really good and he’s starting to settle in and we’ve preached being aggressive.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com
twitter.com/@benkuzma

 
 
 
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Jake Virtanen ends bold end-to-end rush Thursday by scoring on Aaron Dell.
 

Jake Virtanen ends bold end-to-end rush Thursday by scoring on Aaron Dell.

 
Jake Virtanen ends bold end-to-end rush Thursday by scoring on Aaron Dell.
Jake Virtanen's speed, shot and confidence have been steadily growing.
Brock Boeser is one goal shy of the 20 that Bo Horvat had last season to lead the club.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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