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X's and O's - Matthias steps up

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
After a slow start to the 2014-15 campaign, Shawn Matthias has emerged as one of Vancouver’s most consistent forwards over the past few months while also sprinkling in a few moments of brilliance.

During this time, Matthias has also had to overcome both a forearm to the face from Toronto defenseman Stephane Robidas and a Dean-from-Fubar-esque mustache for the entire month of November.

The 6-4, 225 pound forward has been using his size very effectively at both ends of the ice for the Canucks, and when he is able to combine that with his tremendous skating ability, good things often happen (see: his goal in Carolina on Friday night).

Seven of his eight goals this season have come in Vancouver wins, and Matthias also has points in two of three games. He is proving to be a very valuable player for the Canucks, both because of his versatility – between wing and center and in terms of playing up or down the lineup – and his work ethic. When he is moving his feet, there aren’t many NHL defensemen that contain him off the rush or along the boards.

Here’s his goal from Friday night:

Now let’s take a closer look.

The play starts with a defensive zone faceoff between Brad Richardson and Eric Staal. Richardson, recognizing that he is giving up about five inches and 30 pounds to Staal, decides to create a scrum situation in hopes of some assistance from one of his wingers. I’m not sure if I like Carolina’s home uniforms or not. They are really, really red. Although I did read a study that sports teams wearing the colour red are more likely to win, though.

The puck slides back to Chris Tanev, who very quickly transitions up the ice. Tanev has always been a solid skater, but he has really improved in terms of acceleration and direction change over the past couple of years. That, combined with his great hockey sense and positioning, have allowed him to quietly emerge as a bona fide top pairing defenseman in this league.

Tanev moves the puck over to winger Jannik Hansen. Matthias flies out of the defensive zone like he’s Pavel Bure.

Hansen makes a deft one-touch chip pass to Matthias, who is closing in on Carolina defenseman (also former Olympian and recently-named NHL All-Star) Justin Faulk.

Matthias makes a power move to chip the puck by a flat-footed Faulk. Matthias may be a third line forward most of the time, but this is a top line play, especially against one of the better young two-way defensemen in the NHL – his struggles against the Canucks notwithstanding.

After having quickly separated away from Faulk, Matthias finds himself in alone against Cam Ward. He makes another great move to get Ward leaning one way before quickly depositing the puck top shelf on his forehand side. Matthias looks like he’s playing NHL 15 on easy mode.

Here’s another view of Matthias charging up the ice. Faulk has him contained pretty well at this point, but the gap between them becomes too small once Faulk reaches for the puck from Hansen’s chip pass.

Here’s Faulk reaching… and missing.

There aren’t many 225 pound players who move around the ice as well as Matthias does. His wide-and-low skating style is reminiscent of Rick Nash at times.

There is lots of open room behind Ward after Matthias dekes him out of position.

Matthias is settling in very nicely playing under Willie Desjardins. You can’t ask for much more from a bottom-six forward. He plays hard at both ends of the ice and uses his size and speed very well to track down loose pucks and dump-ins. And he also has the ability to occasionally make people jump out of their seats with plays you would expect only from much higher-profile players.

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