Canucks need more playoff production from their depth forwards

Aug 19 2020, 2:04 pm

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When Jake Virtanen was made a healthy scratch for the first game of the series against the Minnesota Wild, it was newsworthy. When the Canucks were shut out in that game, the calls for him to be reinserted into the lineup were significant.

Injuries allowed Virtanen to get back into the lineup for every Canucks postseason game since then. You can understand why keeping an 18-goal scorer out of the lineup would be a controversial decision, but watching him play since then, I think it’s fair to say Travis Green has been vindicated.

A big body, there was hope among many Canucks fans that Virtanen would take his game to another level in the playoffs. That hasn’t happened.

In seven postseason games, the Abbotsford native is still in search of his first playoff point, and other than a fight in Game 4 of the Minnesota series, he hasn’t been noticeable in any game. Virtanen has just five shots on goal in total, and the Canucks have attempted 27 shots for and 41 against when he’s been on the ice at five-on-five, albeit in just 9:29 of average ice time.

Virtanen headlines Vancouver’s underperforming depth forwards, but he’s certainly not alone.

Only six Canucks forwards have a point in the series against the St. Louis Blues, with Antoine Roussel accounting for the only point from a bottom-six forward. Brandon Sutter had a strong series against the Wild, and Tyler Motte has shown heart and hustle, but in terms of production, there’s none there.

Bottom-six forwards aren’t supposed to be leading the team in scoring by any means, but they do need to pot the odd goal. Or control play and turn momentum. Or kill penalties.

They haven’t done a whole heck of a lot of any of that in this series though.

Ryan O’Reilly has been the main storyline of this series, but the Canucks’ third and fourth lines haven’t had to play against him much at five-on-five. And yet still, the Canucks depth forwards rank near the bottom of the team in terms of shot attempt differential.

Motte, who is praised regularly for his hard work (and for good reason), ranks dead-last on the team in shot attempt differential. When Motte is on the ice, the Canucks have generated 24 shot attempts in this series, versus 64 shot attempts by the Blues.

The Canucks penalty kill is operating at a 75% success rate this round (the Blues have four power play goals in 16 attempts), which is tied for second-last in the league. That’s not a good look for Vancouver’s usual penalty-killing forwards, notably Jay Beagle, Motte, Sutter, and Loui Eriksson.

Rookie winger Zack MacEwen has had a rough couple of games, as he was in the penalty box for a goal against in Game 4, and his blown coverage resulted in a goal against in Game 3.

Perhaps Adam Gaudette gets into his second postseason game tonight, because the bottom six could certainly use a boost.

The series is only four games old, so this is a small sample, but still a concern as the Canucks look for two more victories. Clearly, the Canucks will need their best players to perform, but if O’Reilly’s line continues to dominate at five-on-five, they’ll also probably need an unlikely hero to emerge. At the very least, they need an air-tight penalty kill and positive play against the Blues’ bottom six.

So far, that hasn’t materialized.

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