Tocchet frustrated with Kuzmenko’s play
Rick Tocchet showed no hesitation post-game Saturday to share his thoughts on where Andrei Kuzmenko’s game is at. “Kuzy’s got to start to play a little harder,” Tocchet said, then reiterated his point. “He’s got to start to play a little harder.” He’d benched the Russian early in the second period, skipping over him for several shifts. Tocchet suggested that Kuzmenko wasn’t the only player he was frustrated with — “there was four or five guys that just weren’t ready to win a battle,” he said — but he was certainly the highest-profile. Kuzmenko has just three goals this year, a slump that’s been masked by the high-scoring of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes. There are only so many goals to be scored in a season, so his time will surely come, but it’s the rest of his game that will determine how many chances he gets to try to score more. When you’re scoring, you can tolerate errors a little better. But when you’re not, and you’re not playing as hard as the coach thinks you can, that risks becoming a negative feedback loop. The numbers suggest he’s creating as many opportunities at 5-on-5 as he was last season, though he’s playing about two minutes less per game at even strength compared to last year. NOWHERE TO GO One thing the Kraken did well on Saturday was leave very little space to play in. And there’s a lesson there for the Canucks in the weeks and months to come. “They did a good job in the neutral zone today. When teams do that, we need to learn to be a little less stubborn with the puck and make it harder on them,” J.T. Miller said. “We turned the puck over a lot today … we didn’t play up to our standard, simple as that.” Ian Cole said the way the Kraken play was a big reminder of how the season is going to progress. “Their forwards, they track back hard. They put a lot of pressure on you from behind. Even when you beat them on the forecheck they’re coming back. The D are sitting right on our forwards. There’s not a ton of openness; not a ton of open ice, not a ton of open guys,” he said. “That’s how it’s going to be as the season goes, it’s always going to be in the playoffs. And if we want to be successful, we need to figure out ways to get through this.” Ryan Johnson told me a lot about what young players must learn to make the NHL. It was a very insightful conversation Friday, mostly centred around Linus Karlsson. But the overarching message was clear: Hockey card numbers are fine, but are you doing the work game in, game out, shift in, shift out. It’s a topic that came up in discussing Vasily Podkolzin last month. It’s come up around Nils Höglander and Dakota Joshua earlier this season. A big thing that makes or breaks a young player’s chance of both getting into the NHL and then staying there is can they sustain a full effort over a full 35-second shift?