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There Is No Need to Over Think – It’s Lotto Line Time

Trent Leith / October 21, 2021  

The Canucks have opened their season with a poor 1-2-1 record in their first four games. For a team that has a “playoff or bust” attitude, this isn’t the best way to go about collecting points. 

Now, I know it’s early and I shouldn’t read too much into an early-season speedbump, but every game matters especially as this team is far from a lock to make the postseason. There are some questions, like the defence, with this team. But, there are some serious upsides, like goaltending and the forward group. Travis Green needs to get the most out of his team, and with Quinn Hughes hurt, now would be a great time to get the rest of the team going. 

Unplug the Blender

Canucks fans of any tenure know how much Travis Green likes to make a lineup smoothie. He just opens the cupboard and just tosses whatever catches his eye into the blender. Sometimes, a lot of times, it works, but right now the team needs focus and consistency. 

There are more than a few new faces on the team, Conor Garland, OEL, Vasily Podkolzin, Jason Dickinson, Juho Lammiko, Tucker Poolman, Brad Hunt and Justin Dowling are just the new faces in the lineup for the Canucks on Wednesday. These guys, especially the forwards need to get locked in with a line or partner to help form some rhythm and chemistry.

You Already Won the Lotto, Stop Buying Tickets

Brock Boeser was injured for the first three games of the season and to this point has only laced up for a lone game so far. In that one game, Travis Green set up Nils Höglander on the top line with Brock and Elias Pettersson and took the opportunity to slide J.T. Miller down to 3C. 

As we know by now, the first game back for Boeser did not go well against the Buffalo Sabers. Buffalo won the game 5-2 and outshot the Canucks 43 to 34. It seemed as though the Canucks could not get any sort of sustained offensive pressure throughout most of the game. However, when looking for offence late in the third period, Green put the Lotto Line out together and according to the eye test, that’s where the longest and most dangerous sustained offence came for the team. 

J.T. Miller has stood out at the centre position and not in a good way. The Canucks are getting far from the best version of him in this experimental deployment on the third line. While Pettersson has two points and Miller has five, it’s clear by watching that they aren’t the offensive juggernauts we expect them to be. Based solely on the eye test, they do not look nearly as dangerous as they have in the last two seasons, and I think much of that is due to deployment. 

If you look at the numbers and not the eye, Pettersson has a 64.3 CF% and Miller has a lesser, but very respectable 55.2 CF%. This implies that despite playing a part, they are doing well as far as controlling the game. Usually, the truth lies somewhere between the eye test and the numbers, and it surely does in this case too. 

At this point, we all know the Canucks have an elite first line when Boser, Miller and Pettersson play together, and the Canucks need to start leaning on that a little more. Thomas Drance called them the Canucks “Chicken Noodle Soup” late Wednesday morning on his new show on Sportsnet 650. And he’s right, it’s comfortable, familiar and good. In tough times where you feel less than perfect, you should always turn to your trusty friend, chicken noodle soup. 

The Second and Third Lines

Once you put the Lotto Line back together it of course causes ripples further into the lineup, but I view these as ripples that will make the team better once some chemistry is formed. By moving J.T. Miller back up the lineup, it causes Nils Höglander to fall down to the second line. That makes a Conor Garland, Bo Horvat and Nils Höglander second line. Nothing shocking about that line, as they should provide needed secondary scoring.

Moving Miller also causes a big shake-up on the third line, and that’s where they should move Jason Dickinson to play third-line center as was expected when the Canucks traded for and signed him to $2.65M a year. It only makes sense to put Dickinson in the position he was hired to play because. Having a Podkolzin, Pearson, Dickinson allows you to have an elite top line back together, a strong second line and both could be facing lesser competition while this third line focused on the matchup. 

Over Thinking The Easy Parts

Travis Greene did say he likes to have Nils Höglander moving between lines to act as a spark plug for whichever line needs to get going. For that reason alone the lines will never be totally static, and they shouldn’t be. Green could move Höglander around in exchange for Boeser on the top line or Podkolzin on the third line, to help kickstart whoever needs it, but he shouldn’t stay there, he should have a “home base” so to speak to reset to and allow players to adjust to longer-term linemates. 

Travis Green does seem to like his veteran players more than his young guys, as is common in Hockey circles, but that makes for some strange choices sometimes. It seems like just yesterday that Travis Green would not play Quinn Hughes on the top power-play despite so clearly being the best option. Green is often slow to make the adjustments viewers are clamouring to see. 

Not making these changes could be Green wanting young guys to “earn” their chances, or maybe Green is hesitant to have a young guy hung out to dry. Leaving your greatest offensive weapon (The Lotto Line) unutilized for the majority of games is clearly a case of way overthinking a problem with a clear solution. If your team is not at its best, you should roll the team out in its best version. Travis, if you’re sick, have a bowl of chicken noodle soup.