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Vancouver Canucks vs Edmonton Oilers Mid-Series Review

The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers series is living up to the hype. Imperfect teams with high-end brilliance and just enough flaws to ensure no lead is safe. And after a lively Game 3, nowhere on the ice is safe either.

The Canucks & Oilers Series: Speed Against Solidity

In our series preview, we mentioned the first thing anyone seeing the Oilers thinks: These Guys Are Fast. And they are, posing a threat on any play where they can see the goal. But more dangerous than that, they are quick. It’s why Edmonton’s power play is so deadly.

Special teams were a one-sided affair in the Oilers’ first round. They scored nine power-play goals over five games, allowing zero in return. They also got 18 assists, meaning they got their touches before the red light. A high-control, whip-around team.

That has been on full display against Vancouver. The Canucks penalty kill is very good, holding the Nashville Predators to just two goals in 22 tries. Edmonton, as mentioned, is somewhat different. Vancouver knew they would need to stay out of the box to win, and have (mostly) done so.

By focussing on restricting chances, they have kept Edmonton to just four power play goals. That is in eight tries. Still, that is better than it might have been! The Canucks have been scored on later in the power plays, killing off the first half very well. But that and $2 million will get you a starter home in Richmond. You need to seal the deal.

Knowing that killing off every man advantage is impossible, a decent equalizer is scoring power play goals yourself. Vancouver has three in nine opportunities, which is close enough to count as a saw-off.

It’s Not Just the Offence

Outside the special teams, Vancouver can carry the play to Edmonton at 5-on-5. Their depth isn’t just among the forwards, though Dakota Joshua and Conor Garland continue to be dangerous. In fact, the defence of both teams is making headlines.

To start with the bad news, Ian Cole has had an atrocious three games. At least three goals have bounced in off the veteran defender, so it’s horrible luck rather than horrible play. That can’t have any player feeling good.

For Edmonton, the Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse combination have been repeatedly victimized. Mattias Ekholm is their stalwart defender, but he’s looking awfully alone out there when play is in front of Stuart Skinner.

Which brings us to the goaltending. Given Vancouver’s deliberate shot choice, most goalies end up with a bad save percentage after playing them. Skinner has allowed 12 goals on just 58 shots, though many are high-danger opportunities.

On the other side, the Canucks rookie Artūrs Šilovs has been holding the fort. Given who he’s facing, it’s often by the aglets of his skate laces, but he’s doing it. Eleven goals ended up in his net on 94 shots after three games. A dozen more have gotten past him only to ring off a post or be dragged from the goal line.

But It’s Also the Offence

More goals, it would seem. It’s no surprise that a Canucks and Oilers playoff series is a relatively high-scoring one. It might be a bit surprising that each game so far has been decided by a single goal. The opportunity was there with a two-goal lead in Game Three, but Edmonton got one back near the end.

The players getting the goals is illuminating. On Vancouver’s side, Brock Boeser is continuing his hot streak with three goals and five points in three games. Also up there are the two late season Calgary arrivals, Nikita Zadorov (2-2-4) and Elias Lindholm (3-1-4).

Pettersson is slowly coming out of his funk, playing a solid defensive game, though he has just a single point. The three assists from Quinn Hughes are surprising, given how much quieter his game is than usual. The broadly based approach is working to counter slightly disappointing numbers from their stars.

The Oilers, on the other hand, have loaded up their top line to get points from those who provide. McDavid scored four of his five points in one game. He spent most of Game 3 with Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, leaving the rest of the lineup to manage as best they could.

That Ekholm and Evan Bouchard top pairing carries all the water for Edmonton on the blue line. The amount they trust the other four defencemen is clear in their (lesser so) ice time.

For Vancouver, Tyler Myers has the responsibility of killing penalties and playing a shut-down role. Filip Hronek, pointless so far, is still supporting Hughes admirably. Zadorov is revelling in his ice time with renewed confidence and eagerness.

Canucks – Oilers Series Pressure Points

Down a game and at home, the pressure is all on the Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks fans are getting bonus games no one expected from them. It’s gone so well that when Ilya Mikheyev is mentioned it’s usually in praise for his recovering speed. It should be his $4.75 million paycheque, but why spoil the vibes, man?

The Canucks have their third-string goalie in net, and he’s solved their question of a backup for next season. He’s been so good, he’s solving next year’s problems. If Pettersson can recover his confidence as a scorer, then he’ll join a wildly dangerous top-six. But for now, the young superstar is a third-line player.

Edmonton mounted a huge comeback during the regular season to even reach the playoffs. Their expectations are through the roof and were from before the season even started. There was some hesitation around the defence and goaltending, but LOOK at those forwards!

Don’t get us wrong, they have excellent forwards. But the forwards aren’t what’s haunting them now. Four years of not getting as far as expected with the best player in the world is. The years of not being quite good enough are starting to wear on everyone.

The Oilers have front-loaded their best players and even briefly pulled their starting goalie. They are clearly feeling the pressure of the past and fear the agony of another failure. They don’t know what else to do.

Vancouver, meanwhile, simply has to wait. The system they play has earned their trust, shown in their repeated comebacks these playoffs. They have star players who aren’t at their best, and there’s plenty of room to improve. And if they don’t, the team might win anyhow.

What’s Coming

It’s anyone’s guess at this point, and that’s what’s fun about it. There is a vast amount of talent on the Oilers, and a few players who can change a game on their own. That might be enough to get them past Vancouver and into the Western Conference Final.

For Vancouver, the star has been the coaches getting their talent in control and focussed. Nothing seems to rattle them. Not an injured captain, not a star signed to a huge new contract not producing, not a rookie in the net.

Elliotte Friedman likes to say “Never bet against talent” but there might be a case for it here. The Canucks Head Coach Tocchet is looking to stay the course. What Head Coach Kris Knoblauch does to get Edmonton moving in the right direction will be interesting to see. He needs to do it soon and has few options at his disposal.

Main photo credit: Bob Frid – USA Today Sports


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