Good morning. Who wants coffee?
There’s a lot to sip and savour regarding the resilience the Vancouver Canucks showed Sunday in Washington.
They had to grind it out in a “mucky” game — and also benefit from a gaffe gift pass on J.T. Miller’s overtime effort for a 3-2 triumph — to improve to 2-1-1 on a trip that winds up Tuesday in Chicago.
The penalty kill was again a good story. So was Thatcher Demko with 31 saves, including four tough stops in the extra session. And so was the third line.
And so was Nils Hoglander. His second-period goal made it 2-2 and his effort was another reminder that there’s more there when he’s given a legit top-six look.
The Canucks could use a veteran winger to help with a push toward doing something of significance in the playoffs. But that comes at a cost. Hoglander isn’t perfect. He takes bad penalties but he plays hard, hits hard, can shoot and finish. He has a career-high 16 goals. He’s just 23.
He’s also affordable with another year at a US$1.1 million cap hit. Head coach Rick Tocchet will like that.
So, take a sip or two to ponder Hogs. And a bonus serving on Alex Ovechkin with his realistic pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s goal record and an encounter I won’t forget.
FIRST SERVING: Tocchet on Hoglander: ‘Really good. He was a dog on a bone.’
The goal was a beauty, but it took time to develop Sunday.
A second-period Hoglander effort was launched when Noah Juulsen, who’s playing poised, delivers big hit and good outlet passes, found the Swedish bowling-ball winger with a laser up the middle.
Hoglander then changed gears, and instead of cutting across the crease on goalie Darcy Kuemper, he went to the backhand and high to the short side.
“We were all yelling ‘skate’ at him to skate,” laughed winger Conor Garland. “He was cruising up the middle and a few seconds later he has a highlight-reel goal. He’s been great for us all year and it’s nice to see him get rewarded because he has been playing so well lately.”
Kind of like the Canucks.
A loss would have made it three-straight setbacks, the first time in a year, but the Canucks found a way in a matinee where some players didn’t have their legs, some looked tired, and it often wasn’t pretty. But they prevailed.
They don’t ask how? They ask how many (wins)?
It’s our efforts,” added Garland. “We’re pretty aware when we play well and when we don’t. That’s the best thing about us. When we have a bad effort, we follow it up with a good one.”
Hoglander has turned into a good story but understands the NHL career path is seldom a straight-line ascent. He knows becoming an NHL roster mainstay is an every-day commitment.
Hoglander was one of the last players off the practice ice in early October at UBC for good reason. Getting 1-on-1 instruction in a master-class session with Daniel Sedin was something he wasn’t going to pass up.
“Yeah, some tips and tricks,” said a smiling Hoglander. “Small things I can be better on along the boards to win those battles. It’s important to win those pucks down low and that’s my game, too. I like when they (Sedins) come and talk a lot — it helps a lot.”
Hoglander became a talking point within the organization for the manner in which he sucked up a tough demotion last season to the AHL affiliate in Abbotsford.
He didn’t cherish it, but he put in the work and reaped the rewards. Not that it was easy.
“Of course, when I got sent down the first day, it was like: ‘Ah, f*ck,’” recalled Hoglander. “But at some point, you just have to realize to make the best of the situation and trust that they sent you down to get better.”
He turned just three goals and six assists in 25 games NHL games into more push, bite and production. He finished the AHL regulation season with 32 points (14-18) in 45 games. He added a significant playoff presence with six points (3-3) in six strong outings, which drew management plaudits.
SECOND SERVING: Ovechkin: ‘As long as I’m healthy and can produce.’
Way back in ‘The Way Back Machine’, it added up to a distinct possibility.
Ovechkin was lighting it up once again and showing no signs of slowing down.
The legendary Capitals winger was on another heater when the Canucks came calling in January of 2016. At the time, surpassing Gretzky’s long-standing league record of 894 goals seemed like just a matter of time. It was not if. It was when.
Ovechkin had 26 goals at that point of that season and would finish with 53 in the middle of a three-year run that also produced 51 and 50 goal campaigns. So on a practice day in Arlington, Va., it only seemed appropriate for this reporter to ask The Great 8 about the great pursuit.
He was 30 then. He had his health and drive in order. The math suggested that averaging 40 goals over the next 10 seasons would surpass The Great One.
“Ten years? I don’t think I’m going to play 10 years,” Ovechkin said to me with a chuckle. “I’m not (Jaromir) Jagr. As long as I’m healthy and can produce.
“The physicality is the most important thing. You can play, but what’s the point if you can’t do anything out there?
“You just embarrass yourself and embarrass your name. You have to be done when it’s time, and of course, that is going to be hard. But sometimes you have to do that.”
Ovechkin has 14 goals this season — and has scored in five straight. He’s 58 goals behind Gretzky. Ovechkin has two years left on his contract extension. Can he do it?
“It’s really up to him,” said former Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “Great players tend to play forever, and if they have a special talent, they find ways to be productive. With that you can play for a long time.”
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