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Patrick Johnston: Delightful depth delivers in Canucks' newfound scoring strength

The Canucks are fourth in the NHL in goals for.

Yes, you read that right: With the 2019-20 season now a third over, the Canucks sit fourth. They’re on pace to match a goal tally not seen at Rogers Arena in a decade — or since it was known as GM Place. It’s a far cry from how the Canucks finished 2018-19: At the end of last season, Vancouver had scored the seventh-fewest goals in the league.

Their power play is the league’s fourth best.

A dozen times this season they’ve scored five times in a game. Their defence is middle-tier, but their offence is proving to be among the league’s elite. Most pundits figured the team would be better compared to last year’s low-scoring outfit, but so far this squad has exceeded expectations.

Scoring their way out of trouble has proven to be a not-unreasonable strategy: Their shot attempts are up over last year and save percentages across the league continue to trend downward — the average save percentage this year is .905, the same number posted last year, down from .911 earlier in the decade. (Intriguingly, a decade ago the average save percentage was just .906.)

“I think a big thing for us is depth this year,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who has scored eight times this season. “Now we’ve got three lines that can score.”

Elias Pettersson has continued to produce — he has 12 goals — as has a fully-fit Brock Boeser (11 goals), plus the addition of Quinn Hughes (second in rookie scoring with 23 points) has certainly helped a great deal.

But Horvat is correct in that the Canucks’ success is also driven by solid production from their wingers, with J.T. Miller on pace to break 30 goals for the first time in his career, Tanner Pearson and Jake Virtanen on 20-goal paces, plus centre Adam Gaudette putting up points and scoring goals (13 points in 19 games).

But therein lies the rub: Can the Canucks keep up this production?

Most teams go into a new season hoping they’ll have enough scoring, but so far the Canucks are actually proving their pre-season belief correct.

“It’s hard to say, right? You can’t put a finger on it. You can’t say you’re going to … (but) you’re trying to score as many goals as you can,” Horvat said.

That they’re scoring is indeed a good thing, with scoring up across the league.

“You’re not going to be, you know, just ‘we’re content with two or three,’ right? You want to push for the fourth and fifth goal and keep going because, I mean, you see it this year especially, there’s so many comebacks and there’s so many teams that you know you’re up by three goals and that’s not enough now, and so as many goals as you can score the better.”



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Pettersson said that, as much as anything, the Canucks’ scoring prowess comes down to hard work.

“I feel we get more scoring chances if we’re working hard. We play with more confidence and we create chances,” he said. “I feel like most of our lines are contributing and making plays and scoring goals and that’s what we need, and I think we’ve showed that lately.”

Horvat has often had to play the role of Mr. Everything in recent seasons, and while instinctually he’s proud to be the guy who gets sent out in tight situations late in games, there’s no denying he’s much happier to see his team closing out games up by a couple of goals.

“It definitely feels nice to be up by three or four goals and not trying to fight to get leads back or to be in tight goal scoring (situations) in the end of games. It’s a lot easier to play when you’re up by a couple,” he said with a grin.

“Some games I feel like I’m on for the last two or three minutes of the game, right? So to be up by a couple, it’s kind of nice to sit on the bench and and just the watch the guys go.”

LISTEN: In this week’s edition of the White Towel podcast Patrick Johnston and Ed Willes join Paul Chapman to talk about the burst of offence the Canucks have received this season. While the most prolific players are Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller has been the most important offensive key for the team this year. They also discuss owner Francesco Aquilini going ‘scoreboard’ on critics of the Miller trade, the importance of Quinn Hughes to the Canucks attack, and finish with a lengthy discussion on the inquest into hockey culture which has now centred on former Canucks coach Marc Crawford.

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