A career night in San Jose last season could have punched Dakota Joshua’s lineup ticket Thursday.
It didn’t. And his first scratch of this NHL season was the point of the process.
It’s a continuing story behind the story of how the Vancouver Canucks have a franchise best 8-2-1 start after 11 games. They’re dominating league scoring with three players in the top six — Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller — while Thatcher Demko is serving early notice as a Vezina Trophy candidate.
It’s also the stuff behind the statistics that’s infectious.
It was Miller backchecking early Saturday to break up a Dallas Stars rush at the top of the slot and then springing Brock Boeser for a breakaway during a playoff-like 2-0 triumph. It was the centre looking like a budding Selke Trophy candidate by relishing tough matchups and winning 74 per cent of his draws (17-for-23). And he didn’t have a point or a shot.
“This might have been the most satisfying win I’ve had as a Canuck, in general,” said Miller.
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet has not only reached his leadership group to be assertive and accountable, those on the lineup bubble are kept on a short leash. In his world, you’re as good as your last outing because you need everybody in the drive to win. No passengers allowed.
Which gets us back to Joshua and a three-ring roster circus.
Nils Hoglander has earned a bottom-six role while Jack Studnicka and Joshua have rotated in and out depending on need and effort.
“That’s how you get the most and the best out of people and I don’t mind it,” Joshua told Postmedia. “First off, you want to make yourself respectable of the game with what you put out. And if you don’t meet the demands, you’re going to know about it.
“And if you’re doing well, he (Tocchet) is going to support you as well. I really like his straight-shooter mentality. We all want that. We don’t want to be fed something that’s not true, so I love that.”
Joshua responded Saturday by setting up the opening goal by taking a Carson Soucy pass in transition, drawing two defenders, and getting a pass through to Pius Suter. He finished with a game high seven hits.
Joshua also separated the opposite on the forecheck, was strong on the penalty kill and blocked a slot shot with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
“He was pretty good,” said Tocchet. “He’s big guy. Dallas plays a playoff heavy style and we need guys like that to win battles and get to the net.”
- Canucks winger Dakota Joshua scores one of his two first-period goals against the Sharks on Dec. 7, 2022 in San Jose.
Joshua knows that. He had a massive performance on Dec. 7, 2022 in San Jose.
In just 2:20 of first period ice time, he had two gritty down-low goals and a retaliatory fight for a cheap shot on a teammate. His second period hat trick goal was waved off by goalie interference and he finished with five shots, two hits and three take-aways in a wild 6-5 overtime win.
“And here we are,” reasoned Joshua. “I haven’t had a performance like that since. Always searching for that. You’re looking to grasp it.”
Here’s what the Canucks face in the coming week:
Oilers at Canucks
When and where: Monday 7 p.m. | Rogers Arena
TV: SN Pacific | Radio: Sportsnet 650
Why watch: Oilers are a mess, leaking badly
The Canucks have 8-1 and 4-3 wins over their struggling 2-7-1 Pacific Division rival that’s allowing the third-most goals per game (4.01), while the Canucks have allowed second fewest (2.0).
Who to watch: Centre Connor McDavid
The captain is a prime playmaker and can pull the trigger. However, his 8.7 per cent shooting percentage is alarming and two goals through eight games concerning. Four Oilers are in double-digit points, but the support system and defending aren’t there.
Canucks at Senators
When and where: Thursday at 4 p.m. | Canadian Tire Centre
TV: SN Pacific | Radio: Sportsnet 650
Why watch: Boo-bird jeers over cheers?
A year ago, when the Canucks eked out a 6-4 win in Ottawa, head coach D.J. Smith was under fire but given a vote of confidence. That GM is gone. The fan base still wants the bench boss fired.
Who to watch: Centre Brady Tkachuk
The young captain is a load to handle down low and is pissed that the fans are constantly calling for his coach to get canned. Expect him to lead by example. Already has a team-leading eight goals to go with his 11 points, but has piled up 34 penalty minutes, third most in the league.
Canucks at Maple Leafs
When and where: Saturday at 4 p.m. | Scotiabank Arena
TV: Hockey Night in Canada | Radio: Sportsnet 650
Why watch: Who really is Canada’s team?
The Leafs are supposed to top The Power Rankings for Canadian teams, not the Canucks. Vancouver has flipped the script by playing a strong structured game with great goaltending that the Maple Leafs are still struggling to find. Always appointment viewing.
Who to watch: Goaltender Thatcher Demko
Nothing like the national stage for the starter. Soaked it up Saturday for his second shutout of the season on HNIC. His 6-2-0 record, 1.55 goals-against average and .947 saves percentage speak of elite fitness, economy of motion and spectacular saves.
Canucks at Canadiens
When and where: Sunday at 4 p.m. | Bell Centre
TV: CBC, SN Pacific | Radio: Sportsnet 650
Why watch: What’s left in back-to-back test?
Closing out three-game eastern swing on a high note will mean not having low moments. Backup Casey DeSmith should get the net and the Canucks could gain the edge by drawing penalties and allowing the league’s third-ranked power play (30.7 per cent) to prosper.
Who to watch: Centre J.T Miller
Miller is striving to become a complete player. That requires a strong 200-foot game commitment, shutting down top lines and owning the faceoff circle. He did all that Saturday at Rogers Arena.
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