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[Article] Canucks: How roster roulette to push the pace can become victory staple


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Canucks: How roster roulette to push the pace can become victory staple


Ben Kuzma


Win and you’re in.


That is a customary approach to NHL lineup assembly. It’s a reward system for the long-standing acceptance that winning solves everything. And because losing exposes the ugly things, there’s often a need for roster roulette.


Rick Tocchet’s lineup deployment is understandably different.


The Vancouver Canucks head coach often sounds like a skipping record with non-negotiable staples that must remain constant to breed energy and efficiency. He should get an endorsement with Staples office supplies because those products keep everything intact.


Tocchet knew his club was running on fumes Tuesday in Nashville, the final stop on a gruelling 12-day, five-game litmus test road trip. He gave them Monday off in Music City and then made a prudent lineup adjustment.

Tocchet re-inserted winger Nils Hoglander, who sat out a Saturday victory in Florida, into the lineup and stressed that it was not a slight on the scratched Jack Studnicka.


The rationale was that a fresh and focussed Hoglander could add a bowling-ball presence and maybe offensive bite on the fourth line. He could also be a catalyst to spark the responsible but pointless Anthony Beauvillier.


“I didn’t want Hogs to be on the shelf too long and it’s not a punishment for Studs,” stressed Tocchet. “He’s just got to stay with it. I’m putting Laff (Sam Lafferty) back at centre. Sometimes, competition breeds more tenacity.”


They were great calls.


Hoglander responded with the winning goal, three shots and five attempts as the Canucks held on for a 3-2 victory. It produced an encouraging 3-2-0 trip and eye-opening 4-2-0 start to sit second in the Pacific Division. 


Beauvillier also had his best game of the young season. 


He had two scoring chances on one first-period shift — a backhand deke across the crease and maintaining net presence for another opportunity — and finished with three shots and four attempts. He was noticeable.


As for Hoglander, who turned a demotion to the AHL last season into determination to return to the NHL, the plaudits came with a caveat. Good game. Keep it up. Expect change.


“Energy and going to the net and he did a nice job,” acknowledged Tocchet. “Two or three guys are going to have to rotate out (of the lineup) to keep that energy going.”


It’s easier to accept because it takes everybody to win consistently, especially when you have a lot to prove personally and collectively. 

It’s obvious for the players in pursuit of an elusive playoff position. Missing the postseason the last three years and seven times the last eight weighs on everybody. 


Tocchet twice won a Stanley Cup as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh, but has advanced just once to the playoffs in seven seasons as a bench boss. He guided Arizona in 2019-20 to a first-round appearance.


Fast forward and what Tocchet has accomplished since taking over the bench last January from Bruce Boudreau hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s reaped some early praise Tuesday night.


“Credit to them, I thought they trapped extremely hard,” said Predators coach Andrew Brunette. “They did to us what we would have liked to do to them. They deserved the win. We didn’t deserve to be in that game.”


A year ago, the Canucks stumbled out of the gate with an 0-3-2 road trip that raised red flags. 


They responded with 5-1 and 3-2 losses on home ice to prompt a circle-the-wagons address by general manager Patrik Allvin to ensure the sky was not falling and the head coach was safe. 


The Canucks were a structural mess. They coughed up early leads and odd-man rushes and couldn’t outscore their problems. The power play sputtered and the penalty kill was a league worst.


For Hoglander, understanding how Tocchet wants to construct his lineup — and not use scratches as a punishment option — is new territory.

Last season, Hoglander was a healthy scratch on five occasions by late November, and even aligning with J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat seemed like more a short-term curiosity than long-term fix.


And when Hoglander was assigned to Abbotsford, it was the ultimate wake-up call. He wasn’t happy. But he was prepared to put in the work. It resulted in a better game and offseason and elite fitness.


“Of course, when I got sent down the first day, it was like: ‘Ah, f*ck,’” Hoglander told Postmedia at the outset of this season…



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It's quite simple - Rick wants speed and forechecking ability. He wants gritty guys playing with skilled guys. It's very NHL 04 style, and it's working. Petey's line looked neutered 5-on-5 with Garland or Lafferty at times, but as soon as Mikheyev comes in they're dynamite.


PDG is playing with Miller and Boeser for the same good reason, and he was never going to lose that spot as long as Rick is our coach. He forechecks well, hits, disrupts the opponents and draws a lot of attention, then Boeser and Miller sneak in and have so much more time and space.


Our bottom-6 is a bit of a safari right now and could use a bit more identity though, but Blueger coming back will dictate that. We've got good two way centers in Suter and Blueger who don't score much but PK and defend well. We've got good gritty wingers who forecheck well like Joshua and maybe Garland (forechecking-wise) and Lafferty. Then we've got some skill in kids like Hoglander (and in theory Beauvillier). That mix trickles up and down our lineup and it works very well.

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