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The Canucks are still looking for the best combinations up front with sputtering offense



VANCOUVER – There are 14 million reasons Micheal Ferland signed with the Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent in July. There were two: Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

Promised during his initial meeting with Canuck general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green that Ferland would get to play at the top line if he chose to come to Vancouver, the 27-year-old winger made it clear to everyone that the chance to skate alongside young stars Pettersson and Boeser closed the deal.

"It came down to just having the chance to play with Petey and Boeser," Ferland reiterated during an interview just before the National Hockey League season began last week. “I thought that was the best thing for me and where I was at in my career. Not easy to turn down an opportunity to play with two really great players. Depends on why I chose here. ”

So, Ferland signed with the Canucks a four-year, $ 14-million contract that was cheaper than anyone had predicted for the power forward who scored 38 goals and 81 points for the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames over the previous two seasons.

And Tuesday, two games into that 328-game (plus playoffs?) Contract, Ferland practiced on Green's third-line side Adam Gaudette and Brandon Sutter.

Ferland left Rogers Arena on Monday after practicing with second-line center Bo Horvat, but was demoted again on Tuesday. Green also removed Ferland from the Canucks' power play, which went 0-for-10 on opening week and is a major reason for a 0-2 start that has seen Vancouver generate just two goals.

Ferland, who has no points, three shots and just three hits through two games, did not speak to reporters on Tuesday. On Monday, he told The Vancouver Sun: “A couple of games in and you start gripping your stick and you play with confidence that you are usually used to. Just trying to get that first goal and make plays after that. ”

elias-pettersson-skates-with-the-puck
Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson skates with the puck. (Darryl Dyck / CP)

Ferland's main problem, of course, though he played well after a virus restricted him to just two pre-season games – both while Boeser was in concussion protocol – and depleted him by nine pounds.

But the new Canuck is symptomatic of an overriding concern: a rebuilt team struggling to find the right line combinations and cohesiveness changes after a significant summer lineup.

"They're trying to find the right fit for everyone on the team," Green said Tuesday when asked about Ferland. “You look at some teams in the league, we played Calgary the other night and they played the same team we played last year minus one player. They have already gone through their trials and errors with their lines. We haven't had that luxury.

“I think we have 10 players that are new from Christmas on last year, maybe more. Obviously, we had a great summer of changeover. And with our exhibition schedule, it's easy to get our lineup together as well. We tried to, but Brock was here and Ferland was sick. We're overthink it. We just got to adjust and do it on the fly right now. "

When the Canucks play their home-opener Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings, just after Horvat is confirmed as Vancouver's new captain during a pre-game ceremony, Pettersson and Boeser will be joined by another newcomer, J.T. Miller.

Despite the 3-2 and 3-0 losses to the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, Miller had looked good on a powerful, straight line with Horvat and Tanner Pearson. But Josh Leivo is expected to play Wednesday with Horvat and Pearson.

Green is also changing his power play, moving Horvat up to the top unit and Leivo down to second, in addition to replacing Ferland with Gaudette, who even dressed for Game 1 in Edmonton.

"It's just going to take some time," Miller said. "We are just learning each other's spots (on the power play) and our tendencies."

But like the other 25 or so NHL teams not guaranteed a playoff spot next spring but hoping to earn one, the Canucks may have to wait a while before starting to accrue points.

The takeaway from this early sense of urgency around the team is that neither Pettersson, 20, nor Boeser, 22, the Canucks' most gifted players offensively, have been close to his best during the first two games.

Pettersson is pointless and has three shots on net, while Boeser has scored on any of his eight shots and has one assist. The first-liners have been outshined so far by the opposition's best players.

"For me, that kind of played slow," Pettersson said Tuesday. “I haven't played the fast hockey I want to – like making quick decisions, making plays fast. My main goal for the next game. I feel like I lost too many battles. The play has been there but I hold on to the puck for half a second, one second, and the play is gone. ”

Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, who was expected to gain more run support this season, said he was surprised the Canucks have scored just two goals in two hours.

"If we would have scored 10 goals, I would have been surprised, either," he said. “Two games. Guys are looking great in practice, looking great creating scoring chances. You don't want to get frustrated with anything. At the same time, you just want to say early because the crunch time (at the end of the season), these points that count. ”

The Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings follow the Kings to Vancouver before the Canucks embark on a four-game road trip that begins Oct. 17 in St. Louis against the Stanley Cup champion Blues.


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