Protecting “the house” defensively at even strength and the power play appeared to be the two big areas of focus for Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and his Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. This, one day before the NHL’s best road team comes to town to battle the Canucks on Sunday night.
The Carolina Hurricanes own a record of 12-3-and-1 away from Raleigh this season for 25 points, the most in the National Hockey League. The Canes sit tied for second place in the Metro Division with 39 points overall, just one point behind the first place Washington Capitals with two games in hand.
The Hurricanes beat the Oilers in Edmonton Saturday night 3-1.
Of course the Vancouver Canucks appear to be experiencing a renaissance to their season since the arrival of Boudreau five days ago, producing a record of three wins without a loss since he took over.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job the last week of finding some energy and some intensity that we were lacking beforehand” said defenceman Tyler Myers. “We just have to keep pushing forward and keep building as a group to get better.”
Myers played a key role in the last two victories in particular, punching the clock to the tune of 28:08 of ice time in the 2-1 shoot-out win over Boston on Wednesday and another 25:52 in Friday’s win over the Winnipeg Jets.
However, no one played a bigger role than Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko. He turned aside 35 of 36 shots against the Bruins before snubbing them in the shoot-out, then made 34 more saves, including five in overtime, before shutting the Jets down in the shoot-out as well. Early in the Winnipeg game he was spectacular.
Demko’s dominance and ability to save his team at big moments … that element of the Canucks existence hasn’t changed.
Boudreau has already echoed an age-old sentiment; great goaltending can make a coach look very good. Some of that is humility, since there’s no doubt this Canucks squad is playing with a greater sharpness and assertiveness since “Gabby” took over behind the bench.
Saturday morning brought about coaching efforts to improve the power play.
“For me it’s shots,” Boudreau stated. “I’ve watched three games now where we’ve passed it back and forth, I mean beautiful passes, but no shots on net. Every power play that I’ve been involved with that’s been number one in the league, we did it in Anaheim, we were number two in Minnesota, number one in Washington for a couple years, it was always shot based. You shoot it, you retrieve it, you get it back, and once you start making people move, then you start scoring.”
For the third time this week the Canucks will benefit from a team coming in on the tail-end of a back-to-back set of games. The LA Kings came in Monday from Edmonton the night before, the Jets beat the Seattle Kraken one night prior to Friday’s game, and now the Hurricanes will come in off playing Saturday night against the Oilers.