Pavol Demitra wasted no time hitting the scoresheet in his return to the Vancouver lineup
If that’s the way Pavol Demitra and Kyle Wellwood play together without having played together, just wait until they become familiar with each other. |
Demitra, making his return to the Canucks' lineup after missing 10 games with a rib contusion, was handing out assists like early Christmas gifts in Vancouver's 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at GM Place.
His first helper of the night went to Wellwood midway through the first period on a play that the former Leaf started with a face-off win against Matt Stajan in the opposing zone.
The draw went back to Shane O’Brien who immediately sent it Demitra’s way, from the right face-off circle the Czechoslovakian then spotted Wellwood who had gained position on Stajan in front of the Toronto net.
Without hesitation Demitra went tape-to-tape with Wellwood, and despite having less room than a goldfish in a shot glass, Wellwood poked it top shelf on Vesa Toskala.
The smile on Wellwood’s face said it all, welcome back Demitra, thanks for helping me jab a dagger into my former team.
“That was definitely a nice goal to get,” said Wellwood, who leads the Canucks with seven goals.
“I went out to eat last night with Stajan and to get one on him off the draw was pretty comical for me.”
Demitra’s second assist wasn’t quite as impressive as his first, but he’ll take it.
On the power play with less than two minutes to play in the opening period, Demitra hit Mattias Ohlund with a soft backhand pass that set the defender up for a clear shot on net.
Ohlund made the most of it with a fireball blast, Toskala was there with his pad, unfortunately he wasn’t there on the rebound that Ryan Kesler quickly put behind him for his fifth score of the year.
The second assist on a goal is often overlooked, but Kesler recognized that Demitra was the catalyst on Vancouver’s second goal of the game.
Plays like that are why Kesler is so happy to have such an elite player back in a Canucks uniform.
“He brings another element to our offence and he proved tonight that he can be a difference maker every night,” said Kesler.
“We did what we could without him, but it’s good to have him back.”
Already in on Vancouver’s opening pair of goals, Demitra displayed his unselfishness in letting Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows set up Willie Mitchell to put the Canucks up 3-0 early in the second.
Demitra was back in on the scoring for his team’s fourth goal, the one that chased Toskala from the net.
In tic-tac-toe type fashion, Demitra passed from behind the Toronto net to Lawrence Nycholat who was positioned by the right face-off circle, he then dished it to Daniel Sedin and a sweet tip-in goal, his sixth of the season, was the result.
In the end it was Mitchell’s goal, the only score Demitra wasn’t in on, that counted as the game-winner, but the Canucks wouldn’t have even been in this game without their prized off-season acquisition.
“Pavol was great out there, he got three assists and he was dancing and handling the puck well,” said Wellwood, who skated with Demitra, alongside Taylor Pyatt, for most of the night.
“He’s one of the most skilled players I’ve seen,” added Roberto Luongo, fresh off another strong game in which he recorded 28 saves.
“He sees the ice well, he’s got a good shot and he’s got the full package so it’s nice to get a guy like that back in your lineup.”
The irony of it all is that when Demitra was placed on the injured reserve on October 21, the player called up to fill his shoes was Wellwood.
Now here they are 10 games later wreaking havoc on the Leafs without even really knowing each other’s on-ice quirks.
According to Demitra, familiarity isn’t needed when working with a character player like Wellwood.
“When you’re playing with a guy like that you don’t need practice. He’s a very skilled guy, very smart on the ice and he can read. It was very easy playing with him and obviously we’re hoping to score many, many goals.
“He’s shown he can play and he’s an unbelievably patient guy and he’s got great touch,” said Demitra, adding that the success of his line stems from unselfish play.
“That’s why I like our line. We don’t have one selfish guy on our line, it doesn’t matter who scores, we’re just helping each other, whoever’s open and we had a lot of chances.”
It was all cheers for the play of Demitra from teammates and the home crowd, but Alain Vigneault, doing what a coach does, found the flaw in his first game back.
“For a player that had missed 10 games, I think obviously he really helped us offensively,” said Vigneault. “He helped us on that play on the power play, the only thing I didn’t like about his game was when he had the opportunity to get it out on their first goal and didn’t do it. But besides that I liked everything about his game tonight.”
Harm done at the time, yet not in the big scheme of the game and certainly not in the larger picture of the season, so it can slide.
We’ll take three assists to one mistake any game; welcome back Demitra.
1 – Goal this season for Willie Mitchell, he scored the game-winner against T.O
3 – Points for Pavol Demitra against the Leafs, all assists
7 – Goals this season for Kyle Wellwood, he opened the scoring against his former club
10 – Games missed by Demitra since being placed on the IR on Oct. 21
28 – Saves for Roberto Luongo; 13 in the first, 5 in the second and 12 in the third
Score early, score often and don't back off once you have the lead. That's the game plan every night and Vancouver played it to perfection against Toronto.
It took the Canucks a while to get their offence going, and they never really were high flying with only 15 shots for. But when you're making them count on the scoreboard, the overall shot total is meaningless.
Flawless through two periods, the defence was off a little in the third, but the Leafs were out of gas by then so it didn't matter.
The unit as a whole showed no slowing down without Kevin Bieksa in the lineup, Lawrence Nycholat played a solid game in his absence.
Luongo finished with 28 saves, he was the difference early on as the Canucks were outshot 13-6 in the first.
Vancouver played a little undisciplined and with Toronto owning the third ranked power play in the NHL, that wasn't the best idea.
The Canucks gave the Leafs eight power play chances, the visitors capitalized on only one opportunity late in the third.
A lot of times Vancouver didn't even allow Toronto the comfort of getting set up; their aggressive play was especially evident during a two-man advantage for the Maple Leafs in the opening period.
Vancouver went 1-for-5 with their power play chances, although they had only three shots on net.