Plot twist: Vancouver Canucks bench Top 6 forward, go with Swede Line in Game 5 vs Edmonton Oilers

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This in from Brendan Batchelor, play-by-play announcer of Vancouver Canucks radio, news that Vancouver is benching Top 6 winger Ilya Mikheyev and grinder Sam Lafferty and going with an all Swede line led by struggling Elias Pettersson.

Höglander. Lindholm. Pettersson.

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Suter. Miller. Boeser.
Joshua. Blueger. Garland.
Di Guiseppe. Åman. Podkolzin.Extras: Mikheyev, Lafferty, Karlsson

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Hughes. Hronek.
Soucy. Myers.
Zadorov. Cole.
Friedman. Juulsen.

Said Sportsnet’s Irfaan Gaffar “All 🇸🇪 (Swedish) line reunited. Pettersson on wing. Hopefully they’ll be able to scoot around and get some more offence going for Vancouver tonight.”

Sportsnet’s Dan Riccio noted: “Höglander-Lindholm-Pettersson played 57 minutes together at 5v5 during the regular season. They scored 5 goals and gave up 2 while carrying a 48.9xGF%. (as per moneypuck).”

And Mike Kelly, analyst for the NHL network: “Elias ‘The Fixer’ Lindholm will have Elias Pettersson on his wing tonight. Great opportunity for Pettersson to increase his impact in the playoffs as he’s been stuck on the perimeter in the offensive zone far too often. Pettersson scored 40% of his goals from the inner slot this season – he has 0 shots from there in 10 playoff games.”

Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet said that he felt he had to give Pettersson better linemates, reported Noah Strang of The Daily Hive.

Said Tocchet: “We watched video together, he’s energized… That’s my job. I’ve got to help the kid out too.”

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My take

1. Star forward Pettersson has been in a scoring funk in the playoffs, just one goal and three assists in 10 games. Changing up his linemates is a way to get things going, and that includes the benching of his former linemate forward Ilya Mikheyev. Mikheyev is in the second year of a four-year deal that pays him $4.75 million per. He’s been a Top 6 forward for the Canucks much of the season.

2. Mikheyev has no goals and no points in 10 playoffs games. He’s playing just 12 minutes a game. In the regular season, he played 14 minutes per game and had 31 points in 78 games. Clearly Mikheyev was one of the 5-to-7 passengers that Tocchet lashed out at after the Game Four loss.

There’s been no shortage of criticism of Mikheyev in Vancouver, with blogger Daniel Wagner saying, “I can’t speak for Elias Pettersson, but if I was an elite hockey player who had to watch my primary linemate repeatedly lob pucks into the crests of opposing goaltenders, I would also sink into an existential malaise.”

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There’s also heat on Pettersson, with radio announcer Brook Ward of Sportsnet saying: “Maybe Pettersson simply can’t handle the tough going of the playoffs. He looks like he’s about 14O pounds. Looks like a kid playing against men. Maybe playoffs are simply not a good fit for him.”

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3. Vancouver has got to change up something. The Canucks are in this series mainly because of goaltending, Van getting great goaltending from Arturs Silovs and the Oilers not getting it from Stuart Skinner.

The Grade A shots in the series are 70 for the Oilers, just 38 for Vancouver. The Oilers are dominating the flow of play. For Vancouver to win, they must reverse that trend somewhat.

4. After the Game Four loss, Tocchet included Pettersson on his list of playoff passengers, a heavy insult for a top forward, but the coach also mentioned that having better linemates for Pettersson might work. Vancouver has now made that attempt, forming a Swede Line, with Pettersson, Nils Hoglander and Elias Lindholm. Hoglander has just one assist in eight games, but Lindholm has been one of the best Canucks in the playoffs with eight points in 10 games.

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5. Things are certainly getting salty in Vancouver. As you will recall, Tocchet questioned the effort and performance of a third of his team after Game 4, saying, “We need five or six guys to get going here. I mean, it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. With some guys I don’t know if they thought it was playoffs. We can’t play with 12 guys. We got to figure it out quick.”

And: “You can’t win if you have five or six passengers, or seven. I don’t know how many, but there was at least half a dozen just passengers tonight.”

Asked about Pettersson not getting it done, he said, “Like I said there’s five or six guys. He’s got to get going. I don’t know what else to say.”

It will be interesting to see what this public scolding brings out in the Canucks but it’s hard to imagine one team will be more desperate than the other. This Oilers team has crashed out of the playoffs repeatedly in the playoffs. It’s won some series, but has yet to get out of the Western Conference. The clock is ticking on the Oilers, so plenty of reason for them to play with ferocity and urgency as well.

6. Optimism is now rising in Vancouver, it seems, with Canucks radio host Satiar Shah saying, “Old enough to remember people putting a fork in JT Miller and Brock Boeser last year to watch them have a resurgence this season. The same lesson will apply to Pettersson who has clearly been underwhelming but he’s far from the finished product.”

Dutchyshen

P.S.

Here is how I remember Darren Dutchyshen, the TSN anchor who worked at Edmonton ITV in the 1990s, endearing himself to sports fans with his wit and humour.

At the Cult of Hockey

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