“He’s coming”: Tocchet backs Pettersson despite Canucks star’s slump

The Vancouver Canucks return to Rogers Arena with five games left on their schedule. They are now just three points up on the Edmonton Oilers for the top spot in the Pacific Division, and the Oilers have a game in hand.

After a road trip where they managed to get just one victory and lost decisively to two potential first-round playoff opponents, the Canucks are focused on getting their game going before the start of the postseason.

Elias Pettersson hasn’t scored in eight games, and the Swedish star had his least productive month of the season in March. However, he started showing signs of life against the Los Angeles Kings, and head coach Rick Tocchet isn’t worried as we get closer to the playoffs.

“On the road trip I thought there was some really good stuff there. I think he’s coming. We are at a stage, we’re trying to find certain people to go, and I thought that line produced, they got us some goals,” said Tocchet this morning about his star centre.

“I can always be better,” said Pettersson after morning skate when reflecting on his play recently. “I’m staying game-by-game, trying to be the best I can.”

The Canucks have built an identity of being hard to score against. That structure fell apart slightly on their latest road trip, as they allowed 13 total goals over the three games. However, there could be an explanation, according to Tocchet.

“I don’t think we’re giving up a ton. Vegas, the odd-man rushes, obviously I hate those, but I thought for the most part a lot of teams are converting on their chances, we’re not, so it looks bad,” explained the head coach. “Our conversion rate has to get better, we’ve got to stay out of the box, and we’re giving up too many power-play goals.”

The team allowed five power-play goals against their latest road trip. They scored just eight total goals in the three games.

While the Canucks have been solid defensively over the past few months, they’ve been struggling to score. Players like Sam Lafferty, Ilya Mikheyev, and Pius Suter have all been on major scoring slumps. The impact has been a lot less depth scoring, something that Tocchet chalks up at least partially to their opponents and the time of year.

“I think it’s a different game in the second half compared to the first; that’s number one. Especially now in the stretch drive, there’s more urgency in teams; we’ve been playing higher-level IQ teams, better-structured teams, so it’s harder to score,” said the head coach about some of the offensive droughts happening on his team right now.

The team ranks 26th in goals since the NHL All-Star break.

The Canucks have a relatively inexperienced core, with many of the players having few postseason games outside of the 2020 COVID-affected bubble playoffs.

“Now, because the stakes are higher, we’ve made the playoffs, now it’s like, what happens?” Tocchet said about the added scrutiny and pressure at this time of year. “There’s a lot of ‘Who are we going to play, who is going to play with who?’ Before it was just whatever is the task on hand, tonight’s game. Now people’s minds are wandering, just in general, because we’re going to a different level.”

“It’s a challenge for me to get these guys to make sure just to worry about today. Worry about the Vegas Knights, don’t worry about who we’re going to play, are we going to win the division, are not? There are too many variables. You can only control your first shift tonight, and I think that comes with experience.”

The puck drops for the game against the Golden Knights tonight at 7 pm PT at Rogers Arena. This is the fourth and final matchup between these two teams, with the Golden Knights winning two of the first three games.