Jonathan Quick makes the save against Brandon Sutter
LOS ANGELES — You’re often supposed to be careful what you wish for.
Travis Green knew what awaited his club Tuesday and he sounded part hopeful and part prophet.
“It’s a good challenge, a big challenge and I like it when you face some hard games,” the Vancouver Canucks coach said just before his club met the Los Angeles Kings. “You learn a lot about your team. And there might not be a bigger challenge in our division than coming into L.A.”
Well, he nailed that one.
The Canucks dug a two-goal hole before four minutes elapsed against the National Hockey League’s second-stingiest team and top-ranked penalty kill. They were overmatched and even overwhelmed at the outset and looked like they were going to go quietly into the SoCal night.
Then Derek Dorsett got mad.
Then the Canucks got resilient.
Then they found new power play combinations that actually worked.
It turned the improbable into an impressive 3-2 victory. And it capped a revealing four-game road trip in which the Canucks rode a roller-coaster of indifferent play yet finished 2-2 because they finally found some power play mojo.
Here’s what we learned:
Boeser and the dot
Brock Boeser was feeling it. He not only got to the faceoff dot on a new-look power play to let that heavy wrist shot go, it struck Jonathan Quick on the shoulder and Bo Horvat was there to jam home the rebound.
The goal was encouraging on several fronts.
For starters, there was movement. There was the symmetry of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and the smart cross-ice pass by the captain to find Boeser in his favourite shooting spot.
What took so long?
It was also Henrik’s first power play point of the season and the centre actually started the comeback. His shot off the wall went off the butt of Nick Short and found the short side.
And because you can’t really quibble with the Canucks’ play at even strength, the power play adjustment ended an 0-for-11 funk after being blanked with the man advantage in San Jose and Anaheim.
Green had three different power play alignments in practice Monday and said he had options. And his gut told him to find the right shooter and net-presence guy to complement the Sedins. It not only worked, it’s a bonafide first unit because there’s a passer, shooter and finisher.
If that wasn’t enough man-advantage hope, the game winner started with a sweet cross-ice feed by Thomas Vanek to Sven Baertschi on the second power play unit. He got Quick moving the wrong way and went far side.
Dorsett being Dorsett
Green didn’t expect Derek Dorsett to back down against the Kings, even though the pesky winger and leading goal scorer is skating on thin suspension ice. He has two instigator penalties and a third warrants a two-game suspension.
That didn’t stop Dorsett when he attempted to shift momentum after the Kings needed just 23 seconds to open scoring on Anders Nilsson, who got better as the game progressed. He stopped Tanner Pearson on a short-handed break with the game tied 2-2 early in the third period and then stopped Adrian Kempe with 3:48 left.
Dorsett took on Andy Andreoff but made sure he didn’t start the bout or throw the first punch. After that, he landed several blows.
The Canucks attempted to get Dorsett’s instigator penalty Thursday in Anaheim against Josh Manson rescinded, but the league cited distance travelled and fight initiation in its ruling. So, what do you say to a guy who needs to play on the edge, but not go over it?
“There’s not much to say,” said Green. “He’s an aggressive player and sticks up for his teammates. You never want to take that away from a player. I think both of his instigator calls could have gone either way, to be honest.
“He’s not a guy who goes and instigates a lot fights — he fights straight up his whole career.”
Gaunce versus Virtanen
Green said his rationale for playing Brendan Gaunce with Sutter and Dorsett was based on moving Markus Granlund to the middle between Vanek and Sam Gagner. Gaunce is a big body, but so is Jake Virtanen and there’s the debate.
Both have played 80 NHL games, but Virtanen is a better skater, has more scoring potential and Tuesday was tailor made to bring physicality back to his game. He sat while Gaunce took a bad offensive-zone tripping penalty in the first period that led to an Anze Kopitar goal.
You could argue giving Virtanen more minutes on a shutdown line might be too big an ask, but why not find out? Then again, it was Gaunce’s backhand saucer pass that sprung Sutter and resulted in his failed penalty shot.
OVERTIME: Green said he expects to have Chris Tanev (thumb) back in 1 1/2 weeks. That might make the defenceman eligible to return at some point in the team’s six-game road trip that opens next Tuesday in Philadelphia.