Shift-by-shift: Bo Horvat’s NHL debut

Bo Horvat’s first career NHL game wasn’t one for the ages. It won’t make any top-10 lists for great debuts. All the same, it was a solid start for the 19-year-old and certainly something on which to build.

He had just under 9 minutes in ice time over 16 shifts and had a relatively empty stat line: plus-1, with one shot and one blocked shot. He did go 9-for-13 on faceoffs, but the boxscore even underplayed that, crediting his first career faceoff win to Henrik Sedin.

Delving into the advanced statistics for the game gives us a little bit more information: the Canucks out-shot the Avalanche 6-to-2 when he was on the ice at even-strength and were 8-5 in shot attempts. That’s good, but it’s worth noting that the entire team had great possession numbers because the Avalanche are not particularly good at puck possession.

It’s also worth noting that Horvat started a fair amount in the defensive zone: of his 13 faceoffs, 5 of them were in the defensive zone, 7 in the neutral zone, and just 1 in the offensive zone. Of those 5 defensive zone faceoffs, Horvat won 4 of them, only losing to Ryan O’Reilly.

He wasn’t exactly sheltered either. The three Avalanche forwards he faced the most were Jamie McGinn, Ryan O’Reilly, and Matt Duchene, all staples of Colorado’s top-six.

That’s about all we can decipher from the statistics we have available and it paints a pretty unspectacular but promising picture. But I wanted to know more. So, like I’ve done for the debuts of other Canucks rookies, I looked at Horvat’s game shift-by-shift.

FIRST PERIOD

1 | Horvat takes and wins the opening faceoff, then stays out for the subsequent shift. He goes to the front of the net after Edler’s dump-in and has a centring pass from Henrik Sedin tipped away from him before he can reach it. He’s in good position on the backcheck as the Avalanche break back and remains in good position throughout the rest of the shift, though he doesn’t get another touch on the puck.

2 | Horvat jumps over the boards with Derek Dorsett, who dumps the puck in, then retrieves it and centres for Horvat, who went straight to the front of the net. Nate Guenin manages to lift Horvat’s stick and the Avalanche break the other way, but Marc-Andre Cliche high-sticks Dan Hamhuis as soon as they gain the zone. Horvat’s second shift lasts just 19 seconds.

3 | A couple minutes after the Canucks’ power play ends, Horvat comes out and tries to help Dorsett in a puck battle at the Avalanche blue line, but can’t chip the puck in. He harries the Avalanche defence as they try to break up ice. After the Avalanche dump the puck in, Horvat comes down low to the front of the net and is in a good position defensively after an ugly turnover by Kevin Bieksa that results in Bieksa taking a high-sticking penalty.

4 | Horvat doesn’t take a shift on the 4-minute penalty kill and his next shift lasts just 8 seconds as his attempted tip-in to gain the Avalanche zone goes over the glass.

5 | After a save by Ryan Miller, Horvat comes out for a defensive zone faceoff against Cliche. Horvat wins the faceoff, but Edler and Dorsett get their wires crossed and give the puck away at the blue line. They get the puck back, but Dorsett’s outlet pass misses Horvat and goes for icing. He loses the subsequent faceoff to Ryan O’Reilly, but blocks Jamie McGinn’s resulting wristshot after smartly peeling off O’Reilly in the slot.

6 | Horvat comes out for yet another defensive zone faceoff and wins it against Cliche. They break out, but Dorsett goes offside at the Avalanche blue line after getting tangled up. Horvat loses the resulting neutral zone faceoff to Cliche, but is in excellent position defensively after the Avalanche gain the zone, intercepting a pass behind the net and finding Alex Edler for the easy breakout. Once in the Avalanche end, Horvat takes the puck behind the net, peels out and takes a his first NHL shot from a bad angle, likely hoping for a tip or rebound.

SECOND PERIOD

7 | An early power play delays Horvat’s first shift. He finally comes out five-and-a-half minutes into the period and wins his only offensive zone faceoff of the game cleanly. Off the possession, he picks up a puck from Dorsett and goes behind the net, then surprises everyone with a sick blind, behind-the-back pass that was likely meant for Dorsett, who was heading to the net, but instead finds Hansen at the left hashmarks. Hansen’s shot is stopped, but it’s an impressive bit of skill from Horvat.

8 | Horvat comes out for the last few seconds an Avalanche power play, so this is technically his first penalty killing shift. He doesn’t get a touch of the puck on this shift, but takes the body on Guenin after a dump-in.

9 | Not a lot Horvat can do on this shift, as an ugly turnover by Ryan Stanton in the defensive zone leads to some extended pressure by the Avalanche, but he has his first real mistake of the game, misjudging Gabriel Landeskog coming off the boards. Landeskog gets a shot off from the high slot and Bieksa takes a cross-checking penalty in the scramble in front of the net.

10 | After Henrik scores with 4 seconds left in the period, Horvat comes out and wins the all-important faceoff at centre ice.

THIRD PERIOD

11 | Horvat and Dorsett come over the boards with Zack Kassian still on the ice from the preceding third-line shift with the puck in the defensive zone. Horvat gains the offensive zone, before having the puck knocked off his stick right to Kassian. Without any options, Kassian sends a weak shot wide, hoping it gets picked up on the far side, while Horvat goes to the net. Hamhuis gets the puck and throws it towards the net. It’s tipped enroute by Dorsett, then goes off Tyson Barrie’s stick as Horvat ties him up. For a moment it looks like Horvat might have scored his first goal in his first game, but he doesn’t even get a point on the play.

12 | Horvat loses a neutral zone faceoff to Ryan O’Reilly, but helps defensively and creates space for a Dorsett shot with some solid physical contact after the Canucks breakout.

13 | After Horvat harries them through the neutral zone, the Avalanche shoot the puck out of play. Horvat loses the subsequent neutral zone faceoff to Cliche, but his line gives the Avalanche nothing to work with. Horvat skates the puck out of the defensive zone after a nice pass from Chris Higgins, then feeds Hansen, who sends it back across to Higgins. After some work along the boards, Higgins finds Bonino, who snipes the puck short-side on Varlamov. For the second time in the game, Horvat had the pass before a secondary assist.

14 | After the goal by Shawn Matthias, Horvat wins the faceoff at centre ice against Matt Duchene, but the Avalanche gain possession in the Canucks zone after Hamhuis’s ring-around hits a stanchion and bounces over Hansen. Horvat, anticipating the breakout, is caught a little out of position, but Duchene misses the puck on a bouncing centring pass and Horvat skates the puck out of the defensive zone and chips it into the Avalanche end. He gets hit off the puck, which makes its way back into the Canucks’ end, almost leading to a scoring chance before the Canucks ice the puck.

Horvat wins the defensive zone faceoff against John Mitchell, but Dan Hamhuis ices the puck again. Horvat once again wins the faceoff against Mitchell, who is Colorado’s best faceoff man. He gets off the ice after Hansen clears the zone.

15 | Horvat once again goes straight to the net in the offensive zone and is battling in front when Varlamov saves Hamhuis’s point shot.

16 | With Bieksa in the box (again), Horvat gets a real penalty killing shift. He doesn’t have to do much, managing one poke check.

CONCLUSIONS

Horvat certainly looks NHL-ready when playing against the Avalanche, though it will be interesting to see how he copes with the size and skill of the Californian teams, assuming he remains in the lineup throughout the rest of this road trip.

Defensively, Horvat was positionally sound and made good reads, particularly on his 5th and 6th shifts. He wasn’t perfect, allowing Landeskog to skate into the high slot, but he at least got a stick on him to lessen the danger of the scoring chance.

Offensively, Horvat kept things fairly simple, apart from his lovely pass to Hansen on his 7th shift. He went hard to the net and battled defencemen once he got there, which led to the game-tying goal. He also looked confident skating the puck up ice and twice had the tertiary assist on Canucks goals, which counts for approximately jack and squat.

Watching his game shift-by-shift revealed that one of the reasons he took so many defensive zone draws was because of icing calls, but he’s likely to get called upon for more of them if he keeps his faceoff percentage above 50%. That may also lead to some more penalty killing minutes in the future, as his one shift on the PK came in garbage time when the game was essentially over.

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4 comments

  1. Matt
    November 5, 2014

    Here’s a question:

    With Burrows coming back, who sits? Hansen and Matthias would have been my picks five games into the season, but they’ve both really picked up their games. Linden Vey’s not the greatest 5v5 player but he’s been excellent on the power play. Seems like it would be one of Richardson or Dorsett, but they’ve both been solid in their roles too.

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    • J21
      November 6, 2014

      I would assume it will be Bo.

      The early returns sound like he can keep his head above water at the NHL level, but I still think roster management will mean he’s eventually sent back to junior.

      And then once one of the Canuck forwards inevitably go down with a long-term injury, we will kind of wish we still had him, because Canucks.

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  2. chris
    November 5, 2014

    So what it looks like you are saying is, when Horvat’s on the ice, Bieksa has a better than average chance of taking a penalty.

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  3. shoes
    November 6, 2014

    I see nothing wrong with the team spreading his 8 more starts out and having him practice regularly. Injuries will come and the not sending to junior will not be an issue. In 8 more games they should know whether he should stay or go, anyway. Just don’t play him in the back to backs.

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