Canucks: Garland-Joshua-Blueger trio as sharp as it gets

Canucks: Garland-Joshua-Blueger trio as sharp as it gets

Canucks: Garland-Joshua-Blueger trio as sharp as it gets

The Canucks lost Saturday, but Conor Garland,Teddy Blueger and Dakota Joshua were at their forechecking best.

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In terms of stature, you can be excused for thinking of Conor Garland and Dakota Joshua as an odd couple.

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Garland is one of the shorter players in the NHL, while Joshua is a towering, broad-shouldered figure.

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They have very different playing styles, but when on the forecheck for the Vancouver Canucks, they produce similar results. They turn over plenty of pucks, create scoring opportunities and rarely find themselves trapped in their own end.

Even though the Canucks lost 2-1 Saturday in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, the game showed the effectiveness of Joshua and Garland.

Playing again with centre Teddy Blueger, the line won a faceoff in their own end. Garland then led a rush to the other end of the ice, flipping a perfect lead-pass to Joshua, who drove hard on the forecheck to collect the puck uncontested, then got the puck to the crease for Blueger to shovel over Minnesota goalie Filip Gustavsson.

A hard-working, net-front goal was executed perfectly.

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Starting in a defensive position, but finding offence nonetheless, has been a regular assignment for the line.

“We’re just trying to generate offence, to generate O-zone shifts. We’re starting out in the D-zone a lot but we’re finishing a lot in the O-zone so that’s usually a good sign for us,” Garland said.

“We just try to make it hard on whoever’s out there (from the opposition), as a line, and we try to tire the other teams … so our top guys get out there.”

Rick Tocchet was full of praise for the line after Saturday’s game.

“That line listens,” he said of the trio.

The line is so good at turning around the play that Garland has the best shot-attempts split of any Canucks player: nearly 60 per cent of the shot attempts taken while he’s on the ice are by the Canucks, an outstanding figure.

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And his linemates aren’t far behind.

Joshua says that not only is Garland the most entertaining player he’s ever skated with, he’s also the most effective support player.

“Oh man, he’s such a good support guy. He’s always close to the action, whether or not it comes off clean every time. For his size. He’s very disruptive,” said Joshua, who scored two goals on Thursday, both with Garland involved in the buildup.

They’re both masters at winning the body position battle, but in different ways.

“For me it’s because of my reach. Him — it’s obviously not, but he’s so good at getting his feet moving and getting under guys.”

If you play with Garland, you know to keep your stick on the ice.

“You never know what he’s thinking. He does have a creative mind and he definitely thinks the game well,” Joshua added, grinning. “That is one thing that I noticed — maybe he makes passes you wouldn’t expect from others. Gotta be on your toes.”

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Garland defines why every player should always have two hands on their stick, and their stick blade on the ice.

“He likes to have the puck in the offensive zone and we want him to have it,” Blueger said. “He’s a pretty unique player, a combination of quickness and great hockey sense.”

Blueger was originally slotted to play on the fourth line, but when Pius Suter went down with a groin injury last month, the veteran checker joined  Garland and Joshua. He’s not known for his offence, but the line has proven a quietly effective threat.

“They got a similar mindset, as far as just trying to out compete the other team,” Blueger said.

Garland hasn’t scored much this season, but he says he’s not fussed. He’s dialed in to the big picture.

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“Well, winning’s more fun. I’ve scored a lot in my career, but I’ve never really been deep in the playoffs. So I would enjoy that a little more,” he said.

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