Pouliot raises game as Canucks host Flyers
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VANCOUVER -- When Derrick Pouliot joined the Vancouver Canucks in an early-October trade, he was not expected to play much.
Now, it's difficult for Canucks coach Travis Green to keep the young defenseman off the ice.
Pouliot, 23, has become a mainstay with the Canucks (14-10-4) and will play a prominent role again Thursday night as they host the Philadelphia Flyers (10-11-7).
Pouliot, unwanted by the two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, has earned more than a passing grade from Green -- for his tape-to-tape passes among other things.
"It's a big strength of his to pass on the fly with his head up and snap it," Green said. "That's an art. He has been really good at it his whole life. Some guys pass in stride cleaner than others. But to be an elite defenseman you have to pass it hard and flat so it hits the blade and sits there."
Pouliot, an Estevan, Saskatchewan, native who languished mainly in the minors after the Penguins drafted him eighth overall in 2012, is also producing points -- a rare feat for most Canucks defensemen in recent seasons -- and preventing goals.
He scored a goal and added two assists in Vancouver's 3-0 victory over Carolina on Monday while recording a game-high four blocked shots and helping goaltender Jacob Markstrom earn his first NHL shutout.
"(Pouliot has) also done a good job in his own zone and we don't need him to be something he's not -- not yet," said Green, who coached him in junior with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks. "You can be a good player without being No. 1 power-play guy."
Pouliot scored the winning goal for the second straight contest as the Canucks extended their win streak to three games.
"We're heading in the right direction," said Pouliot, who has those two goals on the season along with eight assists. "Our starts have been good for the most part, aside from (Monday's first period against Carolina), so it's good to see we are going where we want to."
Pouliot was acquired for 6-foot-5 defenseman Andrey Pedan, who has more size than skill. He is in the minors and has yet to play a regular-season game for the Penguins, who also obtained a fourth-round draft pick in the deal.
It was initially expected that Pouliot would be the odd man out -- in other words, a healthy scratch -- when rearguard Erik Gudbranson returns from a wrist injury in about a week.
However, it now appears that, barring an unforeseen injury, another defenseman will draw the short straw, especially with Pouliot helping the Canucks shine at home, where they will play 10 of 13 games in December, but are a modest 5-5-3.
"We've been talking about finding consistency in our game," Green said. "But, yeah, we're at home now and, hopefully, we're feeling good about ourselves and we can get on a roll."
Meanwhile, the Flyers are on a relative roll. They have won two straight games, with the latest victory coming Wednesday night in Edmonton 4-2, after losing 10 straight.
"We went through a tough stretch and got a win the other night in Calgary and (Wednesday's win) was big to keep us going on the right track," Flyers goalie Brian Elliott told reporters in Edmonton.
Prior to beating Edmonton, the Flyers downed the Flames in Calgary two nights earlier.
"We have to stay hungry for wins," Flyers winger Dale Weise told Philly.com. "I think, when you lose 10 in a row, you kind of get that hunger back -- not that we didn't have it at the beginning of the year, but I think we've got that urgency in our game now where we just hate to lose and it really bothers every guy in here."
The Flyers, who are mired well below the playoff bar in the Eastern Conference, have won two successive games only twice this season. They will be playing the second of back-to-back road games -- as well as their third road game in four nights.
A win in Vancouver would give the Flyers an unexpected sweep of their three-game Western Canadian road trip -- and, perhaps, improve coach Dave Hakstol's job security following recent questions about his future with the club.
"We've got some ground to make up to scratch and claw back into it," Hakstol told Philly.com. "We can't let many more points slip away -- that's the reality for our hockey team."
Updated December 7, 2017