1) Somewhere between Dallas and Nashville, the Vancouver Canucks appear to have found their groove again. After a 5-3 win in Music City on Thursday, the Canucks turned in one of their best defensive performances of the season in a 2-1 shootout win in Washington. The Canucks held the highest-scoring team in the National Hockey League to just a single goal and they did it while down to just five defensemen when Alex Edler left the game after five shifts with an upper body injury. Chris Tanev logged a season-high 25:41 -- much of it matched up against Alex Ovechkin who had seven shots on goal on 12 attempts, but did not find the back of the net or the scoresheet in any fashion. With Edler out, the ice time of four of the remaining five defenders was elevated. In addition to Tanev, Tyler Myers clocked in at 25:21, Quinn Hughes played 25:03 and Jordie Benn saw 22:37 of action. Troy Stecher was the only Canucks defender under 20 minutes (17:26). In his post-game remarks to the media, Travis Green paid assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner high praise for the way he handled the defense and maintained match-ups without the services of Edler.
2) Elias Pettersson scored the Canucks lone goal during the game. It was an absolute rocket of a one-timer from the right wing face off circle during a two-man advantage 14 minutes into the hockey game. With Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny without his stick, the Canucks attacked his side of the ice. JT Miller slipped the puck to Pettersson who blasted it up high past Braden Holtby. It was Pettersson's second goal in as many games and his 10th of the season. The second-year Swede has a share of the team lead with 10 goals in 23 games and is on pace for more than 35 now for the season. His 10 goals in 23 games puts into perspective how absurdly good scoring 10 goals in his first 10 NHL games was a year ago. It was also noteworthy that after struggling with a two-man advantage at a key juncture in Dallas on Tuesday, the Canucks made a subtle change to their 5-on-3 set with Bo Horvat replacing Josh Leivo. As a group, they made no mistake on Saturday in Washington.
3) To their credit, the Canucks pushed the pace of the hockey game in the late stages of the third period. It would have been understandable had they protected their single point and played for overtime, but that wasn't the case. With four minutes remaining in regulation time, Bo Horvat had a re-direct of a Tyler Myers point shot balloon on him otherwise he easily could have broken the 1-1 deadlock. Moments later, a Brock Boeser shot hand-cuffed Holtby and Tanner Pearson swatted at a loose puck which then squirted free to Quinn Hughes who had moved in from the left point. Hughes appeared to have much of the net to shoot at, but Holtby lunged to his right and was able to thwart what looked like it might be the go-ahead goal. Give both goaltenders -- Holtby and Jacob Markstrom -- credit for making key stops at crucial times. Markstrom made 32 saves during the game and then successfully stared down all seven Washington shooters he faced in the skills competition. Markstrom has now won back to back games for the first time since October 20th and 22nd against the New York Rangers and Detroit.
4) The Canucks had Markstrom as a key penalty killer on Saturday. Good teams get that kind of contribution from a goalie when he is dialled in as Markstrom seems to be right now. But the story of Saturday's penalty killing wasn't so much what the goalie did, but rather what the skaters in front of him accomplished. The Canucks held the league's sixth-ranked power play to just four shots in six minutes of work with the man-advantage. Ovechkin had one shot in the first period and one in the third while the unheralded Travis Boyd had the other two. The Canucks penalty killers led by Chris Tanev (5:05), Tim Schaller (4:18), Jordie Benn (4:17) and even Loui Eriksson -- yes Loui Eriksson who was second among forwards with 3:32 of short-handed ice time -- stepped up in a big way and limited Washington shot attempts and basically erased any second-shot opportunities. The penalty kill had been bleeding goals and had been beaten at least once in three straight games and seven of the last eight. But on Saturday, the Canucks held the Caps at bay, won the special teams battle on the day and ultimately won the hockey game. The penalty kill was a big part of that especially when it dug deep to kill off 3:15 of short-handed time in the third period of a 1-1 tie.
5) Incredibly, the Vancouver Canucks are 2-1-1 in their last four games with exactly one 5-on-5 goal. Yes, they have managed to secure five of eight standings points while scoring just one goal at even-strength. It makes no sense really, and yet it speaks to the strength of the team's power play and the groove it has been in of late. Going back to last Saturday's 5-4 overtime loss to Colorado, the Canucks have scored 12 times. During that run, they lost to the Avs in OT, fell 6-1 in Dallas, beat Nashville 6-3 and now Washington 2-1. They have seven conventional power play goals, Saturday's 5-on-3 goal, a pair of 6-on-5 goals late in the Colorado game and Tanner Pearson sealed the deal in Nashville on Thursday with a short-handed goal into an empty net. The only goal scored at evens in the team's last four games was Bo Horvat's breakaway goal in Dallas on Tuesday. To stretch the point even further, the Canucks have not scored an even-strength goal off an in-zone setup since Troy Stecher's goal at home against Dallas on November 14th. The lack of 5-on-5 scoring is an issue, but one for another day. Because on Saturday a power play goal, a shootout goal and rock-solid goaltending proved to be the winning combination in Washington.