Speaking with reporters after a second-straight victory over the Ottawa Senators, Vancouver's Elias Pettersson was in a jovial mood. When asked about whether he heard teammate Quinn Hughes call for a drop-pass that led to a J.T. Miller goal, Pettersson couldn't help but take a good-natured dig at his young teammate.
"Yeah," Pettersson said. "I heard a squeaky noise behind me."
It's great to see Pettersson in a better mood this week because previously, he and the Canucks seemed to be under a dark cloud. The team lost two of three games to the red-hot Montreal Canadiens and Pettersson in particular looked flustered. The player who had been so integral to Vancouver's offense in recent years all of a sudden looked tentative with the puck on his stick and nothing seemed to be going his way. He was turning the puck over at inopportune times and his line with Miller and Brock Boeser just wasn't singing.
But on Wednesday, the 'Lotto Line' seemed to turn a corner. Miller had two goals and three points in the 5-1 victory, while Pettersson notched two assists himself and also made some great detail plays.
"When 'Petey' is on top of his game, you see a high compete level," said coach Travis Green. "We didn't have exhibition games and sometimes it takes a little bit to get your engine running as hot as it needs to and we saw glimpses of it from that line tonight. When he's on the top of his game you do see good things come out of other areas of his game that don't have to do with offense and that's part of winning in hockey on any team."
And while the Canucks looked like a dangerous outfit this season because of their variety of weapons, success will start at the top with the likes of Pettersson and Bo Horvat - though the captain hasn't had any problems, leading the Canucks in scoring with 10 points in his first nine games. Shooting more is one way for Pettersson to get in the mix and he seems to be back to his usual excellent self now.
"Especially on the power play, when I have good looks I'm going to try to shoot all the time," he said. "Maybe in previous games I've been holding on to the puck, not taking the shot. I had more of a shooting mentality today."
For Pettersson, the rebuilding Senators may have been the perfect tonic for a Vancouver squad that stumbled out of the gates with a 2-5-0 record before the pair of victories over Ottawa.
"Frustration comes when we're not winning games," Pettersson said. "Now we've had two good games to build on. Our confidence is good, me and the team - we all believe in each other."
Pettersson believes that he and linemates still have more to give and while there has been a lot of hair-pulling in the Vancouver market over the team's slow start, Green does make a good point about the lack of an exhibition schedule. Now, that wasn't strictly a Canucks problem - every NHL team was in the same boat - but at least Pettersson and the Canucks are starting to build something before it got too late.
The NHL's all-Canada division is very fun to watch, but it's important to remember that only four squads can make the playoffs and other than Ottawa, it's not easy to peg a weak sibling amongst the group. In a 56-game season where every game is divisional, it was imperative that Vancouver didn't fall too far behind right from the get-go.
On paper, the Canucks are one of the most intriguing teams in the division thanks to talents like Pettersson, Hughes, Horvat and rising goalie star Thatcher Demko. Vancouver set a high bar with its playoff run in the bubble last year, but the franchise has also been waiting to win a Stanley Cup for 50 years now. In a season like no other, they can't afford to squander their chance - and getting Pettersson on track was a must.