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Oilers 3 Canucks 2 (SO): Chances aplenty in back-and-forth affair

One team was missing its star, the other team had theirs.

One couldn’t help but wonder how this game might have played out if Elias Pettersson had been declared fit enough to play for the Vancouver Canucks, who lost against the visiting Edmonton Oilers 3-2 in a shootout on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.

This was not a game for the history books. There were misfired passes all over the ice. There were missed goals too.

And that will probably burn the Canucks. There was an outright win to be had here. In a tight playoff chase, every point counts.

It was two teams who have dreams of the playoffs, but who are both on the outside looking in at the moment.

On this night, it showed. At least in the Canucks’ case, there’s a notion of forward progress. And yes, there’s the reminder that their budding star will soon be back.

Canucks coach Travis Green was disappointed his team lost, but wasn’t displeased with the effort.

“I thought it was a hard-fought game, had a bit of a playoff feel to it,” he said after the game.

Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock spoke in similar terms.

“Who knows if you’re going to get in (the playoffs), it’s going to be like this every game,” he said.

In the Oilers’ case, they surely were thankful that Pettersson wasn’t playing. The Oilers are a disaster when playing defence.

That the grinding trio of Tim Schaller, Markus Granlund and Josh Leivo were able to create a series of two-on-one breakdowns in the first period, ending with Granlund alone in front for a great chance, summed up the challenges the Oilers currently face. (Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen stonewalled Granlund.)

They have the sport’s best player, they had some serious scoring depth not that long ago, and now they’re this.

Jacob Markstrom stretches out to stop Leon Draisaitl during the shootout.

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They’re a lesson in how important it is to have a plan, to focus on moves that make you better in the long term and to not ignore the importance of finding quality defencemen who can play the modern game.

For their part, the Canucks had plenty of chances. They had three misses early in the game — two from Bo Horvat — and even in overtime they were wondering what they needed to do. Brandon Sutter was robbed off the goal line, with Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse swiping the puck away, and Horvat put himself in on a rush to the net but Koskinen stood tall.

The Canucks got goals from Sutter (a first period power play marker) and Markus Granlund. The Oilers’ goals were from Jujhar Khaira and Connor McDavid.

The winning goal was scored in the shootout by Alex Chiasson.

“Leon’s move helped me a lot,” he said of Leon Draisaitl, who had tried a similar move earlier in the shootout but was stopped by Jacob Markstrom.

Chiasson showed how excited he was to score the winner afterwards.

“With the experience I have over my career, what happened last year with me, I’ve learned to stay in the moment,” he said. “Some guys get tangled up in that. Stay focused on my things. I was hoping my name would come. It’s a confident move for me. It’s one I’ve done a lot.”

Here’s what we learned:

McDavid goal

When hockey’s best player is in the house, you expect something special.

The goal McDavid scored to put his team ahead in the final minute of the first period was just that.

With the puck in the neutral zone, the penalty-killing Canucks thought they had time to make a change. McDavid found the puck and attacked the zone all alone.

“Puck just chipped out, I tried to get the puck back in as fast as possible,” McDavid said matter-of-factly after the game.

To anyone else, that’s a sequence that ends in “ho-hum.”

Actually, this is “ho-hum” for McDavid too, the difference of course is that ho-hum for him is scoring goals.

There were three Canuck defenders in the vicinity but that didn’t matter. McDavid just does what he wants. In this case, that was sniping the puck past Markstrom.

Edmonton Oilers left winger Jujhar Khaira (16) celebrates his goal with teammate Darnell Nurse (25) during first period NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.



One end, then the other

You know the proverb: a mistake at one end is followed by a goal at the other.

On a first period power play, Sven Baertschi couldn’t hit Josh Leivo in stride despite both wingers being well in the clear in the Edmonton zone. It was a surprising lack of execution.

Moments later at the other end of the ice, the Canucks somehow couldn’t handle the efforts of Oilers penalty killers Khaira and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Khaira found the puck on his stick and wired a shot past Markstrom to open the scoring.

The Surrey native pointed to Nugent-Hopkins’ work as being key to his goal.

“It started off with Nuge making a nice composed play skating the puck out,” he said. “As I went up the ice, room created itself, I wanted to be a shooter today … that’s a big part I need to work on.”

Both moments will surely be on the game-review tape as a reminder of what not to do.

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Derrick Pouliot (5) knocks Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) to the ice during the first period.



The high and the low

There could have been two goals for the Canucks’ oft-maligned second power play unit. They got a fine goal in the first, with Sutter picking the top corner past Mikko Koskinen, who was blinded by a Jake Virtanen screen.

It was a great first period for the Abbotsford winger. He made an excellent pass to Sutter off the end boards after winning a puck battle in the corner and he had several other forays into the offensive zone, using his powerful skating and size to create trouble for the Oilers’ defencemen.

“We talked about making sure we got in the goalie’s eyes,” Virtanen said. “Sutsy made a good shot.”

But that the unit didn’t score a second goal is why we’re talking about a low. Ben Hutton fired a point shot past Koskinen late in the second period, a great goal that came after Hutton had made a shimmy on the half-wall to create space before dishing to Granlund down low, who then moved the back high to Hutton.

Hutton’s celebration was ecstatic and nearly as good as the high-velocity wrist shot.

And then the goal was taken away on an offside review. It wasn’t clear why until a high replay angle showed that Virtanen was slow getting off the ice on a line change, while his mates were rushing the puck in on the far side.

Attention to detail has been a big talking point on this team, making a gaffe like this one especially notable.

Virtanen nearly made up for it with a rush in the game’s final minute in regulation, but Koskinen got his left pad out to stop the deke and shot.

“Not looking. Just changing. Bad change,” Virtanen said.

Take ’em

Some hard forechecking by Schaller and Leivo forced Oilers defenceman Caleb Jones into firing the puck into his own team’s slot, where Granlund was only to happy to flip the puck past Koskinen, tying the game up at 2-2.

Granlund nearly scored earlier, on the aforementioned defensive breakdown by the Oilers, but Kris Russell swiped the puck off the line.

Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks tries to maintain control of the puck while being defended against by Brandon Manning.

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For all his hustle, Bo Horvat’s not been able to find the net since before Christmas.

On Wednesday, bad luck struck twice: there’s no other way to explain him misfiring on two chances in the first period to score.

The first would have been a highlight reel goal for the season, as he made a deke by putting the puck behind his back and on to his skate to put himself alone in the slot. The tried a shot, the puck came back to him and with the cage as open as a roaring lion’s mouth. He slid it wide.

Later in the period, Brock Boeser wound his way through the Oilers defence — it was a common sight on the night, the visitors’ defence separating like oil does when confronted with water — and found himself on a two-on-one with Horvat. He saucered a pass over to the centre, who straight up whiffed on his one-time again.

Tyler Motte had his own version in the second period, when a shot from the right point rattled off legs and found motte to the left of the crease.

The puck hit his stick, but Motte was so surprised by the moment he couldn’t finish the tap-in and what might have been another Canucks goal went missing.

Who needs shots?

The rather amazing thing was that while the Canucks missed out on those three grade-A chances, they only had 11 shots on goal through two periods.

And that was also despite getting four power plays.

That saviour

Jacob Markstrom was working on “desperation saves” in practice last weekend. The kinds of saves where you just have to do something, anything, while lying prone on the ice.

That save he made on RNH in the shootout was a fine example.

Oh, and he’s on quite the run, while we’re at it.

Hockey Talks

Wednesday was the sixth annual Hockey Talks night hosted by the Canucks, an effort to raise awareness about mental health issues, built off initiatives first started in the wake of former Canuck Rick Rypien’s passing.

Canucks radio commentator Corey Hirsch, an advocate for mental health, said the focus was on empowering youth.

“It’s all about getting the message and the info into the hands of our youth. We started the talk to end the stigma….they will be the ones to end it,” he said.

All six other Canadian teams and five American teams are also participating in the campaign by hosting their own nights over the coming weeks.

More information is available on the Canucks’ website.

Connor McDavid is stopped by Jacob Markstrom on Wednesday.



Credit the analytics

Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said he trusted the numbers for his shooter order in the shootout, which saw the visitors go Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid and Draisaitl one-two-three. Khaira was the fourth shooter, and Chiasson the fifth.

“It’s a hard read for which guy you’re going to use, but analytics had the guys out there,” he said.

The Hard Match

Travis Green spoke before the game about how having both Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle available as defensive-minded centres meant he could free up Bo Horvat for more offensively-oriented duties.

That meant he put Sutter and Beagle up against McDavid to start the night. Both centres did well in the shot-attempts battle, with Sutter going even and Beagle just minus-four for shots directed towards each team’s net while they were on the ice.

Sutter was up against him primarily in the first period, but Beagle took over the prevent role in the second and third periods.

Credit to Alex Edler as well; the blue-liner played across from McDavid most shifts on the night and limited the Oilers to just 11 shot attempts against the Canucks’ goal.

Overall, McDavid was just plus-two. That’s a job well done for the Canucks.

The shot map

Before the game, Hitchcock suggested he thought the Canucks were difficult to get inside of defensively, that they protect the slot well.

Most observers would say that’s not been the case for much of the season. There has been something of a tightening of their crease area defence, yes, but not one that you would say is league-leading unbreakable.

On this night, the Canucks did a good job keeping the slot relatively safe.

They also did a good job of generating chances at the other end.

That playoff chase

There are still seven teams with dreams of the playoffs, chasing those two wild card spots. The Canucks have played the most games of any, but their opponents are slowly burning through their games in hand.

The Canucks would have kept themselves in a tie for the second wild card spot had they won on Wednesday. (Yes, they’d be sitting on the outside on the games played tie breaker, but close enough.)

Instead, it’s the Oilers who are keeping pace with Minnesota.

The Canucks have just three games before the All Star break, then they’re on the road. Unless things go horrendously wrong over these home games against the Sabres, the Red Wings and the Hurricanes, this story line isn’t going anywhere soon.

That’s good for the team’s emotional state. And it’s good for the fan base. But the organization has to keep its eyes on the long-term prize, which is not a short playoff run this season, but contender status in a couple seasons.

That means making moves with only the future as the focus.



Buffalo Sabres at Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m., Rogers Arena, SNETP, SNET 650 AM

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