If Friday’s practice line combinations were any indication, Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau looks to be breaking up the ‘Baltic Line’ of Elias Pettersson, Vasily Podkolzin, and Nils Höglander for Saturday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Arena. Podkolzin and Höglander skated with centre Jason Dickinson on Friday.
Despite their offensive chemistry in recent games, the defensive shortcomings of “Pods” and “Hoagie” has already led Boudreau to breaking them up in-game.
The line has been disbanded in third periods recently, including in San Jose against the Sharks on Thursday night.
“The way the momentum had shifted to San Jose, that they were just like ‘deer in the headlights’ on a couple of those shifts, it was making it very hard for Pettersson to do what he does,” Boudreau said after practice Friday. “So I thought putting (him) with more experienced players might help that situation.”
While it meant moving Petey to a different line midway through the 3rd period, it basically meant the end of the game for the other two.
After changing linemates, Pettersson picked up a hard working assist on the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 go-ahead goal by Conor Garland with 5:37 left in the regulation. Tanner Pearson was the other winger. In recent games Petey has been shifted to work with other veteran teammates. Thursday night he showed effectiveness at both ends of the ice all evening long.
The temptation for Boudreau to keep trying the Baltic Line is understandable. There’s a youthful exuberance, a creative energy, and a natural communication between the three.
“They are two good players, we all think hockey the same way,” Pettersson said Friday. “All of us are young, we want to play fast, we want to find the open teammate. We’ve been playing good, we just haven’t finished it, scoring goals on the chances I think we created, but they’re two fun players to play with.”
Unfortunately the lack-of-finish finger points at Pettersson’s fellow-Swede Höglander. The 21-year-old left winger has been stuck on eight goals since New Year’s Day in Seattle. That’s 15-straight games without one, while adding just three assists along the way. Handling the puck around scoring areas seems to be like holding a hot potato for Hoagie, a Mexican jumping bean bouncing away from a young man gripping his stick.
The expectations from a productive year one in the NHL can often lead to a slump in year two, especially when low production turns to pressure which turns to more low production.
“I don’t talk to him about the psychological part of scoring,” Boudreau said. “He seems to get a chance a game, but he doesn’t make the most of the chance. I think he would love to get a goal or two, and I think that would help him out an awful lot. I think he had a chance on the power play right off the bat and then he had a good shot tip, and then he drove to the net in the second period where he had a good chance.
“He’s gotta finish one of these things,” Boudreau added. “Every time I’ve seen him get a point, or Pods get a point, boy their game picks up, they feel it. They need to do that early in a game. They did it in the two Nashville games and they were really good.”
Petey doesn’t possess those problems at this point. Having overcome his well-documented slow start to the season he has 12 points in his last 13 games including seven goals.
With his game back on track it might be time to hand out some advice to his linemates. For Petey and Hoagie, it means communicating in Swedish.
“Sure, when it’s just me and him we talk Swedish,” Pettersson said. “They’re two good players, but if I see anything and think I can help them with (it), I’ll talk to them.”
Given the dynamic offensive talent of the Anaheim Ducks, Boudreau’s approach to his line-up might be similar to the one he took against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Baltic Line wasn’t really a part of it. Höglander only played eight minutes.
“Every game right now you’ve gotta play to win, there’s no ‘oh well, I’ve gotta get him his ice time, him his ice time’,” Boudreau said. “We’re into the last thirty games, we’ve gotta play to win every game.”
Regardless of whether or not they get together Saturday night, it’s a pretty safe bet that Vancouver Canucks fans will see the line together again in the not-so-distant future.
((Editor’s note: The Baltic Line is two parts Swedish, one part Russian, with no Finnish. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.))