Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in a game they just as easily, coulda, shoulda, woulda, won. But they didn’t, and now they sit 0-and-3 in the first three games of their seven game homestand with a record of 3-5-and-1 overall. They played well, they were the better team at five-on-five, but their scorers didn’t finish and they fell short. While improved play is something they can build on, particularly in the defensive zone and particularly in the second period, the frustration grows.
“We can sit here and say how well we played five-on-five, but at the end of the day we didn’t get the job done,” said Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “In order to win hockey games you have to score goals … we have to bear down and bury our chances.”
Shots on goal for the evening finished 34-30 in favour of the Oilers.
The Mental Game
The number one thought that entered my mind after the Canucks lost to the Oilers involved the response Vancouver may or may not have against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. It won’t be Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada, it’s not the division rival Oilers, and there’s no Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
Will Vancouver stick with it? Discipline to systems ranks just as highly as physical discipline in terms of staying out of the penalty box. The team just played a strong defensive game at five-on-five but failed to score … again. Will they cheat at one end of the ice to end the drought at the other. Therein lies the danger. Not to mention the Blueshirts are hardly slouches. The New Yorkers sport a 5-2-and-1 record and present unique challenges. They’re well coached, physical, and provide a balanced attack.
The Canucks cannot allow the enthusiasm or discipline to wane or this losing streak will take on a whole different level of implication and consequence. It can be a slippery slope.
Stay out of the Box
At practice Friday, when asked how the Canucks could stop the Edmonton Oilers lethal power play, Canucks Head Coach Travis Green replied, “Don’t take any penalties.”
It didn’t work. The Canucks took two penalties, Tyler Myers for hooking at 9:40 of the 1st period and Oliver Ekman-Larsson for high sticking at 17:53 of the 2nd period. The Oilers connected on both chances. Edmonton started the night with an astounding success rate on the man advantage of 42.9%. By going two-for-two, they’re now at an other-worldly 47.9 percent.
Meanwhile, the Canucks saw their penalty kill percentage slide a little further below what should be the basic floor of decency, 80%, down to 72%. The Vancouver power play actually had a nice little run, with single power play goals in three consecutive games leading up to the home game against Philadelphia Thursday night when they went 0-fer. They were 0-for-1 against Edmonton and now sit at an 18.8% conversion rate for the season.
What was a smaller crowd Thursday night at Rogers Arena for the 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers bellowed more noticeable moans, groans, and boos towards the very end of that game, than did the larger, more festive crowd Saturday night for the 2-1 loss to the Oilers. Two reasons: one, there was a fairly large, noisy contingent of Edmonton fans on hand, drowning out any local discomfort with cheers, and 2) the Halloween revellers were having a pretty damn, good time.
Where the Thursday group was pretty much hard core hockey, the Saturday congregation was living large. It was indeed a festive evening and many came dressed for the occasion.
Quietly Being Swedish
Yes, we’re only nine games into the 2021-’22 campaign, but Ekman-Larsson, acquired along with Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes back on July 23rd, has been steady. He did take an unfortunate penalty that led to an OIlers goal Saturday night, but he consistently makes plays that don’t show up on the score sheet, like getting shots through. One prime example being the one he rang off the cross bar and post that would have tied the game early in the second period.
Despite being physically involved on a consistent basis, there’s a certain calmness to his game, exactly what many of us expected when he arrived. Despite his struggles the last two or three seasons in the desert, this is a veteran leader with above average skills and disciplines for an NHL defenceman. We’ve made reference before to his recent escape from hockey purgatory, otherwise known as Glendale, Arizona. Again it’s early, but OEL appears to be relishing his opportunity to play in a real hockey market and environment.
3) Similar to the second star on this list, I’m giving number-3 to Conor Garland for a bounce-back effort. Coming off a game against Philadelphia where Coach Green only played him 10-1/2 minutes, Garland played 15-minutes and led the team with six shots on goal. Green called it Garland’s “best game of the season.”
2) There were many candidates for this number-two slot, but I’m giving it to Elias Pettersson mainly because he had a breakthrough night. He appeared to have his confidence back and wasn’t shying away from physicality. He still stunk in the face-off circle at 31%, winning four and losing nine, but he and his Lotto Line took a stop forward. Now they just need to finish.
1) Thatcher Demko was splendid throughout the game, spectacular at times, particularly against McDavid, who was looking to the rafters in disbelief after a couple of Demko saves. One sequence had Demko making two right pad saves along the left wing post, stoning McDavid twice in alone. He also robbed McDavid on two clear opportunities from the slot.
The Vancouver Canucks have a team day off Sunday.