Monday was about fun. Tuesday was about business.
Sometimes, relaxation and getting away from the rink can be the best tonic — especially at the end of a long road trip. The Vancouver Canucks got a day off to bond and explore Nashville before facing the Predators in what wasn’t just another game.
A victory would produce a 3-2 road trip and a 4-2 record to create the kind of confidence that only comes with success.
“It’s good to shut your mind off from hockey and they did that, but we can’t be lackadaisical,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said following the morning skate Tuesday. “You win this game you feel good about yourself. You don’t then everything swings so much.”
The fact that the Canucks hung on for a 3-2 decision had everything to do with not being lackadaisical, even though they were a little undisciplined in the third period. They started strong. They exited their zone better. They defended better. They outshot the Predators 13-4 in the second period.
And they got the kind of goals which spoke to everything Tocchet has been preaching about push and bite and consistency.
Ilya Mikheyev used speed and a quick slot release to open scoring. Nils Hoglander was re-inserted into the lineup and established position in the slot and deflected a Quinn Hughes point shot. And an untouched Phil Di Giuseppe benefitted from pursuit of a bouncing puck to score.
Here’s what we learned as the Canucks return home to host the St. Louis Blues on Friday and the New York Rangers on Saturday:
Hoglander sends the right message
Tocchet was looking for increased energy and believed playing Hoglander and sitting Jack Studnicka might have a dual effect. More jump and more competition for lineup spots.
The theory paid dividends with Hoglander scoring in the second period to put the Canucks up 3-1. He then couldn’t quite corral a bouncing puck after getting behind the defence for another scoring chance. He would finish with three shots and five attempts.
After sitting out Saturday in Florida, the bowling-ball potential of Hoglander was the go-to move because Tocchet knew the Swedish winger had sucked up an AHL demotion last season and did the offseason work. He lined up with Sam Lafferty and Anthony Beauviller on what proved an effective trio.
The alignment understood the simple credo: Don’t be a liability. Don’t take a penalty. Don’t get scored on (they did once) and any offence would be a bonus.
In the first period, Laffferty turned over the puck in his own zone, then hustled to intercept a pass and started the breakout. Beauvillier, who has yet to collect a point, was foiled on a backhand move at the net and on another down-low opportunity on the same shift. And Hoglander had a take-away a two shot attempts.
For Beauvillier, he’s doing what you do when you don’t score. Be responsible without the puck. But he deserved better with three shots and four attempts and more net presence.
Little things add up to big trouble
Carson Soucy has been playing better since returning from injury, but the defender would like a do-over on the Predators’ opening goal in the first period.
Soucy used the sideboards as a zone exit plan with Cole Smith trying to seal the attempt, but Colton Sissons was in position to take advantage of the loose puck.
He moved into the slot and benefitted from Smith battling for position with Soucy to create a partial screen before putting a wrist shot past Thatcher Demko high to the stick side.
The Predators got their second goal when the pressing Canucks got caught on a 3-on-2 break in the second period which allowed Tommy Novak to find Colton Sissons with a cross-ice feed. Sisssons went short side on Demko and then hit the post in the third period.
Mikheyev reads, reacts scores
The engaging Mikheyev was brutally honest about his long and arduous rehab from Feb. 2 knee surgery.
He would be happy one day with progress and dismayed when he experienced pain. But nothing replaced the joy of returning Saturday after missing 37 games.
His progress on a line with Andrei Kuzmenko and J.T Miller was evident Tuesday. He read the rush and sped into position in the high slot in anticipation of a pass from his countryman before snapping it glove side. Four shots and seven attempts Tuesday and two points in two games. He’ll take it. With a smile.