WASHINGTON – Sunday was like coming home to the University of Bo.
There was Brock Boeser (Class 2018), who trained on Bo Horvat’s right wing, and this is where Boeser’s career in the National Hockey League began. Boeser graduated from Bo U. about 10 minutes after Elias Pettersson arrived at the Vancouver campus four years ago.
On Horvat’s left flank was returning student Tanner Pearson, Horvat’s longest serving linemate before Bruce Boudreau became the Canucks manager last December and moved Pearson along with center JT Miller. Horvat helped jump-start the NHL winger’s career when Pearson was traded to the Canucks in 2019 and scored nine goals in his first 19 games.
Horvat joked a year ago, after Nils Hoglander was moved off his line after an impressive rookie season, which was like a prep school sending wings to bigger things.
But it was like old times on Sunday for Horvat, Boeser and Pearson – and desperate times for the Canucks when Boudreau scrambled up his lines after Vancouver managed to lose his first two games in regulation, despite being up by 3. -0 and 2-0 against the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Horvat helped Pearson and Boeser get better. Now he could use some of their help. All three fought in the first two games.
“I think everyone in this room knows we can be better and everyone has a little more to give,” Horvat said as the Canucks prepared to play against the Washington Capitals on Monday. “I think we can help each other move forward for sure.
“There are some good things in my game, but there are also things I need to clean up a little bit. I think I can be a bit more of an offensive threat. On the defense, I think I was fine. It’s just getting to grips with the puck to try and play a little more. But, you know, everything comes. “
Quick, Boudreau hopes.
I’m still looking for your 600th NHL win – especially so the reporters will stop asking him – Boudreau swapped Miller and Horvat during practice, giving each center the wings of the other after the Miller-Pearson-Boeser topline was territorially wiped out in the 3- 2 on Saturday in Philadelphia.
Horvat did not fare much better with Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin, who trained on Sunday with Miller.
Horvat didn’t look like his powerful and dynamic self in the first two games. The Canucks captain is at his best when he leads the game, using his speed to back off the defenders and make it to the net.
He seemed nervous about a couple of turnovers against the Flyers. Horvat said during preseason that he couldn’t allow his contract situation – unsigned beyond this season and the seemingly stalled deals – to affect his play on him. Is it on his mind?
“It will always stay in your mind, of course,” he said on Sunday. “But for me, it’s not letting it catch me and just going and playing. I can only control so much. I can only control my play on the ice and help this team win. Obviously, when the team is successful, I will be successful and everyone will be happy. If we can get back to that, everything will be fine.
“The whole team has to limit turnovers. But for me, find that simple 200-foot game I’ve always been known for. I won’t be the flashiest guy out there, but doing the little things is what separates me. “
With 31 goals scored last season, Horvat’s only point so far is an assist power-play. But that unit was beaten 2-1 by opposing penalties and is half the reason why the Canucks have built a 6-1 lead in the special teams in two games.
Horvat’s expected five-on-five goals are only 43.9%, although that number shines when compared to Pearson (27.1%) and Boeser (26.3). The small two-game champion isn’t worthy of major conclusions, but Boeser has only two shots on goal in two games, while Pearson has looked unusually suspicious, taking three minor penalties and only recording one shot so far.
“I have some things to clean,” Pearson said. “I’m proud of the battles on board and small details like that. And the preliminary check, rather than being all done (in the offensive zone) and chasing the whole game. “
Pearson noted that he has played more with Horvat than any other linemate since joining the Canucks and believes the two have “chemistry”.
“When we are good, we are on the front row and we create turnovers and then we will work offensively,” he said.
Boeser, at least, has a reason if this turns into a slow start for him: For the second consecutive year, he missed preseason due to injury and is only now getting the reps that many others had in September.
He has two assists, but the Canucks have been beaten evenly when Boeser is on the ice.
“It’s not easy,” Boeser said. “I was so excited to have a full pitch and my body felt good, and then to have an accidental (hand) injury, I was definitely frustrated. But I worked hard to be able to come back for the first game. Obviously, there are some things. . . small details that will make the games come back. Little things that I have to try to focus on right now and try to build each game and keep building.
Boeser’s absence allowed Kuzmenko to take the door position in the first unit’s power play.
“I’m a competitive kid and I’d love to be in that first unit with those guys,” Boeser said. “But wherever they put me, I’ll try to do my best. Every time I go out, I will try to score a goal. My mentality doesn’t change much: trying to help the team win ”.
Boudreau said he believes Horvat, Pearson and Boeser can become a “control-marking line” – a unit that can defend itself against top attackers while still generating attack. As an example, the coach mentioned the trio of Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker that Boudreau had with the Minnesota Wild a few years ago.
Tucker Poolman, who missed the last two bouts in Philadelphia due to what is believed to be a recurrence of migraine complications that cost him the second half of last season, did not train on Sunday, although Boudreau said the defender felt better.
Reserve defender Jack Rathbone is expected to make his seasonal debut on Monday, while Kyle Burroughs will be elevated to a top four spot to replace Poolman alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson. For the depth of the blue line, the Canucks drew back American League defender Noah Juulsen, sending extra striker Sheldon Dries to the other side.