There were several episodes of what was basically keep away, like it was a schoolyard, one player far more skilled than the other.
But yet again, for all of the Vancouver Canucks’ skill, they could not shut down a lesser opponent at home, in this case the second-worst team in the league, the Edmonton Oilers.
Vancouver let two leads slip away, including a 2-1 advantage in the third, followed by a thrilling overtime of aggressive rushes and near goals at both ends. Then it took five shooters in an exciting shootout for the Canucks to pull out a win, 3-2.
Earlier in the evening, the Canucks at times completely dominated the visiting side. Vancouver made multiple offensive pushes that lasted upwards of a minute during which the Oilers could barely get a stick on the puck, much less wrest it away.
But the Canucks, as has been the case more often than not in recent games, failed to convert its edge on the ice to the tally on the scoreboard. The team’s players and coaches have repeatedly counselled themselves this month to shoot more, get “greasy” in front of the net in the words of defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
Vancouver was once again outshot by a weaker visiting opponent in the first period – although the team managed to get up 1-0 on a cracker of a goal from Daniel Sedin.
The Oilers – without star rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – outshot the Canucks in the second, too, and evened the score after a beautiful pass from Taylor Hall across Roberto Luongo’s crease to an open and poised Shawn Horcoff, who easily popped it in, Luongo having no real chance. For the Canucks, it was a period of near misses, including a slapper from defenceman Sami Salo, returned from injury, that rang off the post during a power play.
Vancouver’s scoring punch just wasn’t at full blast on Tuesday – maybe it was thoughts of time off during the all-star break. David Booth and the American Express second line was a bright spot, as Booth’s goal in the third marked his third-consecutive game with a tally. The winger appears to be in full bloom again after missing 18 with a strained knee ligament.
The team once again missed the scoring touch of captain Henrik Sedin.
The Swedish centre earlier this month stood atop the league’s scoring ledger but Tuesday marked his fourth-consecutive game without a point. Sedin’s lack of firepower last June – zero points in the first five games against Boston – was a big reason the Canucks couldn’t clinch the Cup.
On Monday after practice, Sedin seemed to warn that even the likes of Edmonton are a challenge, notwithstanding their near-last ranking.
“We’ve played a few teams that maybe fans and media think we should beat pretty handily,” said Sedin in street clothes in the locker room after morning practice. “But it’s a tough league.” He then called Edmonton “scary”: “We know what kind of talent [Edmonton]has over there.”
Tuesday’s win lifts Vancouver to 30-15-4 and 64 points, tied with Nashville and Chicago in the West and Boston in the East. The Detroit Red Wings, who play Montreal Wednesday night in the last game before the break, have 67, the New York Rangers 66 and the still-surging St. Louis Blues 65.
After the break, the Canucks will have a small home-ice advantage in 32 games to season’s end, 18 at home and three fewer, 15, on the road. Rival Chicago visits next Tuesday in the first game back.
Edmonton limped into Vancouver in ugly shape. Even though the Oilers were coming off a shootout win a night earlier at home against the strong San Jose Sharks, the team’s season was in tatters. Edmonton media have of late argued the fate of general manager Steve Tambellini and coach Tom Renney, with the majority opinion calling for patience, but frustrated nonetheless. Rebuilding was expected to be arduous – and the prospect of becoming a Pittsburgh or a Chicago alluring – but standing 29th out of 30 teams at the all-star break hurts.
It especially hurts since it is a depressing reversal of a season that began bursting with promise, 13-8-2 out of the gate.
The Oilers obviously miss rookie-of-the-year candidate Nugent-Hopkins, going 2-7-1 in 10 games without him before Tuesday night. The lousy run can be pinned on a stark absence of goals, just nine in eight games before Vancouver.
And it’s the absolute worst for Edmonton on the road, winning just one in 13 before Vancouver. The Oilers are 18-26-5.