The Canucks came into tonight’s game in the Oiler’s rink as a team playing out the string. Lately, it has been the familiar refrain of the team playing hard and competitively, and losing out in the third in close games. The Oilers seem to have turned it around after dropping out of the lofty heights of the Pacific division race to the top, too a more mundane rent district. They are pretty close to saying they have made the dance for the first time in the last ten years, and had scored 14 goals in their last two games.
Still, it was only a few years ago that the situations for these two teams were reversed, and that makes the narrative builders right ALL the time. “See ? We told you the way to go is to lose big for a while, look at the Oilers !” Don’t believe that stuff. Yes, they have some high rent talent from a prodigious, soul crushing amount of losing, but the difference is that they won a lottery. The same as the Leafs won a lottery recently. The Oilers are better this year because they have a generational talent amongst the scoring leaders in the NHL. Not because of the years previously mismanaged and suffered through.
Of course, that might be oversimplifying. And give those other young guys credit as well. It is a team game. But their record was quite clear before this first full year of Connor McDavid. They sucked. Incrementally better at times, but loitering at the bottom of the West, infected with losing. That is the affliction the Canucks team is trying to avoid. As Herman Edwards famously said, “You play to win the game.” I wholeheartedly agree with Herm, and the Canucks, who obviously believe the process supersedes the results, and a winning culture is more important than a ping pong ball or two. Hell, they finished with a great chance in the lottery last year, and ended up drafting fifth. It is a game of chance.
But enough of that. How did this one go ?
- The Canucks certainly came to play tonight, even if the lineup was noticeably different than the last one. Bachman got his first start in two weeks, and the Sedin line featured an abrasive, hard skating french guy who, for one night least, made you think about that uniquely Canuck delicacy of Poutine and Meatballs. The Sedins were inspired, had the Sedin Cycle working against the Oilers all night, and were unlucky not to get a goal for their efforts. Daniel Sedin had 3 shots, missed two more, and Chaput ( he played most the shifts there, Willie went back to Granlund on a few late shifts with the team trailing ) had two more, and seemed to have that sense of the Sedin Cycle that Burrows instinctively had. Henrik Sedin was 8 for 13 on draws, and was throwing around nice passes like it was no big deal. They were hard on themselves in the media after the last game. They have to like their effort tonight.
- That generational talent for the young Oilers was the difference tonight. He scored the first goal of the game, against the run of play, ( in a second period where the Oilers were doing mostly nothing. They were outshot 11-7 in that period, and it was only a flurry of shots late in that period to make that number respectable. See his goal in the highlights below ), on a decent enough pass in the Canuck zone off the rush, I guess. It was what he did with it that was the difference, cutting effortlessly into the slot from the boards, and unleashing a wrister after his play to the slot had moved the goalie away from the short side just that little bit. Of course it went top shelf and in for a 1-0 lead that was frustrating for Canuck fans.
- His second impact on the game’s scoresheet was, I suppose, from his rep. I don’t want to bitch about the refs that much, and I guess Edler’s stick got in his feet a little bit. That tends to happen when a fast player tries to split two defenders. It is not usually called when they all go down in a heap, and certainly not often in a one goal game. Let’s just say with the time, and in the context of the game, the ref who made that call could have let it go, and maybe would have if it was not the young superstar going to the ice.
- Whatever. It was penalty that had to be killed, and unlike the previous two the Canucks killed off against the best power play in the last month in the league ( at almost 35 % ), and this late power play was their best. They had it in the zone for the entire time, and while the Canucks were doing well for most of it, limiting shots and having active sticks, they sagged towards the the end as they tired, and after Latest was stopped in close earlier, he was set up in the left circle for the one timer and beat Backman trying to get over for the 2-0 tally that effectively ended it.
- But really, the only real star for the Oilers was their ( “overworked” ? McClellan is sure playing him a lot. Hope that doesn’t come back to bite him in the playoffs. Though I get it. The two points tonight helps, but the Oilers haven’t clinched yet. ) goaltender Cam Talbot. He was very good. The Canucks had some chances. Some very good ones. Hell, they had two posts on one shift, with Tryamkin getting robbed by the skinny red defender, and Boucher really could have scored instead of hitting the post from right in the slot, thanks so much Puck Gods. You could have given Chris Tanev that one he put off Talbot’s stick AND the post though. He has had a tough season...
- Check the stats here. The Canucks were the better team tonight, as far as zone time, chances, and just the “eye test” of the game. They were quicker. Most every line was getting chances and pushing the play. Hell, Markus Granlund had 7 shots on the night. The Canucks, when you add in the misses and blocks, were even better than their 33-23 edge in shots that featured a third period where they had a 14-7 edge. The Oilers had 22 shot blocks, and the Canucks missed 16 times, compared to 12 blocks, and the same number of misses for the visitors. The Canucks were definitely on the right side of it, with 71 attempts to 47 for the residents of Rogers Place. Even the Oilers having a 33-14 edge in hits belies how dominant the Blue and Green were. The Oilers were trying to get the puck and chasing most of the night.
- For all of that, credit Richard Bachman. The first was probably the home team’s best, and the Canuck back up made several solid saves. He kept it a close game until late, and really did not have a chance on either goal. I have been saying the Canucks were better because they were, but the young Oilers have talent all over the place, and they had their chances. Backman’s best might have been late against Deharnais when the game was almost over. He battled like he seems to always do. Nice effort, even if Markstrom is back soon sir. It must be tough to stay ready that long, and he was almost as good as that game against the Ducks.
- The Canucks are 8th in the NHL on faceoffs. Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter have supplemented Henrik Sedin nicely, and the fourth line guys that have done that job have all done pretty well ( hello Manny Malhotra’s coaching ! ) to boot. You saw it tonight, with the Canucks pressing the play, mostly because they had the puck so often. Going forward, that is a very good thing. Even if tonight it was against the 30th placed team as far as being good at faceoffs goes.
So, the draftists will be happy tonight, as the Canucks gained a ping pong ball or two. Those are the folks that took “play the kids” as code for wholesale losing and tanking. As far as this team goes however, I am not worried about their heart and will to win any longer. Willie Desjardins has his young team playing hard, and competing, while gaining valuable experience.
The thing about parity is, it means a lot of teams are good. Not every one of them wins a lottery and supplements their program with a generational player like the Penguins did once upon a time ( and that lottery was the entire league ! Lucky bastards ), and like the Oilers did a couple years ago, and to a slightly lesser extent, like the Leafs did with Mathews.
But, damn, couch coaches and media mavens. Enough with the armchair GM-ing, and constant bitching about the coach. He has a young team learning, buying in, and consistently having career years. Look at Granlund, Baertschi and of course Bo Horvat. Nikita Tryamkin has grown at leaps and bounds this year. ( I remember when the “experts” were talking about how “he will probably be a stay at home guy with that reach...”, and he is jumping up at the right times, being dangerous, and using a speed they all gave him no credit for to get back most of the time ). The same with Troy Stecher. We all know that teams that finish low have changes in that position, but I ,for one, sure hope they keep him employed. At least for next year ;-) .
There are things to complain about, of course. The power play, while it looked good again tonight, has been bad for too long, and some complain that he gets out “match up game” coached ( though that one I almost always dismiss. If you are a team that plays a four line game, you will try to get matchups, sure, but the important thing is to have all four lines rolling at a high rate of work, so as to overwhelm and wear down the opponent. Some Canuck fans will recognize the style as one the Bruins used to win a Cup in 2011 ), but in this city, you will always find someone complaining about something.
Me ? I am looking forward to a bunch of top notch guys in camp, like Boeser and Joulevi, for instance. Dahlen and a healthy Goldobin, for a couple others. To say nothing of whomever #SuperScoutGM picks up.
Selling hope again sucks, but when your team plays this hard, and is in as many close games as the Canucks have for their fans, are you not entertained? Even with only 10 road wins ? I know, even as they are frustrating to watch, these losses, that I am proud of the team on the wrong end most nights. That its a very good thing, a team working hard to a common goal, even if they are getting hosed by the Puck Gods at the moment.
That’s it. See you next week.