‘It’s probably the best I’ve felt since my first year,’ says revived sniper. ‘Getting back from the back injury … it definitely feels good scoring goals I might not have scored last year’

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Brock Boeser’s shooting accuracy has more than doubled from last season. And so has his confidence.

If The Lotto Line is going to be the difference for the Vancouver Canucks to start a long climb back into playoff contention — driving a stake into the heart of the opposition at even strength and especially on the power play — then Boeser’s eye-popping 20.7 shooting percentage should be the trigger.

The right-winger was tied for second in National Hockey League goals with a dozen and tied for ninth in points with 22 heading into Tuesday’s tussle with the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena. He’s also on pace for 30 goals and has evolved from a one-dimensional gunner whose game was predicated on play with the puck and not without it.

There are several contributing factors to Boeser’s better release and accuracy, puck pursuit and recovery.

It’s something special to score off the fly or in a stationary sweet spot and not cheat to do it. And when you add good health to the equation — no nagging back or wrist soreness to restrict skating or a lethal release — then the Boeser you see today bodes well for the coming weeks and months.

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“It’s probably the best I’ve felt since my first year,” he said before facing the Oilers. “But it was tough. Getting back from the back injury, it’s harder than you guys (media) think and frustrating at times, but it definitely feels good right now scoring goals that I might not have scored last year. That’s where I get my confidence back.”

You can teach defensive diligence, but you can’t teach a release that resembles Boeser’s rookie season when he was talk of the town and a Calder Trophy finalist. He had 29 goals through 62 games before being sidelined with a back injury that would hamper the 2015 first-round pick.

Jan 28, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser (6) celebrates his second goal of the game against the Ottawa Senators  in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Brock Boeser celebrates his second goal of the game against the Ottawa Senators during a Jan. 28, 2021 game at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports files

Everything has to be in sync to score. A tug from the lower back or wonky wrist when planting for a shot will send pucks high and wide instead of to the back of the net. And even when Boeser wasn’t scoring last season, he was scoring trust points from coach Travis Green for learning a two-way game.

“I still think I had a pretty good year last year and learned some things,” said Boeser. “Even in the playoffs, I played hard and was really focused on a 200-foot game and thought I did a good job with that. This year, I’ve kind of picked up where I left off and I feel like I’m skating well. It has allowed me to back pressure harder and not get as tired.”

All this has eliminated the what’s-wrong-with-Boeser narrative and silenced trade rumours. Part of the outside angst was he burst onto the NHL scene and then struggled through injury and expectations.

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To his credit, Boeser shut out the noise this year. He responded by scoring twice in a season-opening victory at Edmonton and four two-goal games in his first 11 outings equalled the franchise mark established by Tony Tanti.

“He’s just a more mature player,” said Green. “He’s gone through things and rocky parts and has now been in a playoff series. He understands what it takes to win and in his own game to have success.”

The scoring grabs the headlines, but a responsible game is harder to play.

“With the commitment in the D-zone, our whole line has been alright but can be better at breaking pucks out cleanly to spend more time in the O-zone,” admitted Boeser. “We need to be the difference-makers every night and we’re close, but we’re just not there yet.”

VANCOUVER, BC - February 11, 2021  - Vancouver Canucks Quinn Hughes and Calgary Flames Sean Monahan battle during NHL action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, February 11, 2021. 

Photo by Arlen Redekop / Vancouver Sun / The Province News (PNG) (story by reporter) [PNG Merlin Archive]
Quinn Hughes and Calgary Flame Sean Monahan battle during NHL action at Rogers Arena on Feb. 11. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

FINDING POWER IN PLAY

Prior to Tuesday, the power play was blanked in four of the last six games and only struck three times.

It sounds like a broken record to ponder what’s plaguing a 20th-ranked unit that was fourth last season and boasted before training camp of No. 1 potential. A big part is seeing the same opponent in series that can stretch from two to four games. If you’re predictable, you’re in trouble.

It’s why first-unit quarterback Quinn Hughes, and his five-man attack, have a say about deployment with Green and power-play architect Newell Brown.

“Especially with these series,” noted Hughes. They (opposition) will make adjustments and we’ll make adjustments. Brock can play in a couple of different areas and that helps our power play. We might show something different in Game 2 than Game 1 and that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

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“It’s a partnership,” added Green. “Newell is very bright and up to speed on different looks in the league and part of it his having interaction with your players. Good ones are very sharp and study what penalty killers are doing — even from power play to power play.

“You hear them talk of what could be open and what changes they can make for the next one.”

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