For a moment, it looked ugly for the home side. Edmonton Oilers defenceman Jeff Petry, early on Saturday night, drove into the Vancouver Canucks end, powered past Alex Edler, and whipped a puck at Roberto Luongo. The shot, seemingly harmless, zipped right through the goaltender’s five hole: 1-0 visitors, not even two minutes in.
The veteran Canucks, facing a potential piling-on from the upstart Oilers, quickly reassembled themselves, piling back themselves, wresting the nascent momentum and holding it tight on the way to a rout. A short-handed goal minutes later, by Brad Richardson on a breakaway, sparked the push and by the end of the first period the Canucks were up 3-1 and had 22 shots – as many in 20 minutes as the Canucks managed all game during their season-opening loss in San Jose.
Saturday was an evening where everything that went wrong for the Vancouver Canucks last year went right – and, likewise, everything that went wrong for the Edmonton Oilers last year went, again, wrong. The final tally was 6-2 Canucks, evening up the team’s record at 1-1 as Vancouver jets to Calgary for a Sunday tilt, while the Oilers are, again, in a familiar position, struggling, 0-2 and last place in their division.
"We just stayed on them," said Luongo after the game. "It was pretty to watch."
The Canucks did what they did not do against the Sharks – stealing back momentum when they had lost it, and never letting go, and it showed on the forecheck, banging for pucks, and the same along the boards up and down the ice. At night’s end the team had tallied 74 pucks at the net (44 shots on goal), a peppering that was hardly ever seen last season when Vancouver was among the teams that struggled to get pucks on the net, at even-strength and on the power play. Remedying that impotency has been a primary focus in the past three weeks -- and Saturday, at least for one night, it clicked.
“Winning and losing in this league comes on surges,” said coach John Tortorella before the game, “how to keep the surges on your side and when they’re not on your side how to get them back.”
For Edmonton, the start of the season – even if it’s just two games in – has to be disheartening. They do not in any way appear ready for prime time.
"We can't be losing one game after the other," said Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid. "We all have to wake up."
The team on Tuesday night blew a 4-2 lead at home against the Winnipeg Jets and the three days off didn’t seem to give the team any sort of jet-fuel boost, as players such as Taylor Hall seemed to float around the ice without much of an impact. Hall was minus-four and in the second period his sloppy boarding penalty led to a Vancouver goal. In another example, Nail Yakupov – who didn’t deliver himself or anyone a birthday present, as the second-year forward turns 20 on Sunday – managed one shot. The team as a whole could only generate about half the shots the Canucks recorded.
“This is the time of year you want to get a jump,” said Edmonton winger Mike Brown before the game.
Most obviously concerning for a team that has missed the playoffs seven consecutive years is the situation in net. Devan Dubnyk gave up five goals on 28 shots against Winnipeg and against Vancouver was driven from the net, yanked about midway through the game, giving up another five goals on 31 shots – and did not look good at any point.
Late in the first, with the game tied at one, he yielded a bad one, as Vancouver defenceman Dan Hamhuis, barely in the offensive zone, clapped a slapper, which was slightly deflected, but Dubnyk had a good long look at it and the puck beat him blocker side anyway.
Eighteen seconds later, he didn’t have much chance. A Canucks tic-tac-toe produced another fast goal as the team pushed relentlessly, Henrik Sedin feeding his brother Daniel in front, who immediately popped it back to Jannik Hansen, whose one-timer easily beat Dubnyk.
For the Sedins, it was a sterling night, a throwback to the recent years in which they were dominant. The two ended the night with five points – one goals and four assists, and their power-play marker about seven minutes into the second was particularly beautiful, old-school Sedinery. A puck popped out to Henrik in the faceoff circle, off a rebound, and he sent a no-look backhand pass to his brother in the other circle and the one-timer, Dubnyk with little hope, lit the red light.
Luongo, meanwhile, was a non-story Saturday in his official return to Rogers Arena. The first goal came on the first shot but he was thereafter steady in the face of not-much pressure. He had a bit of luck, too, such as early in the third when Edmonton defenceman Justin Schultz beat him high on the blocker side but the puck clipped the post.
The Oilers, coached by rookie skip Dallas Eakins, will have a lot to think about and, at least, they can take some solace that on Monday, when they take on New Jersey back in Edmonton, they’ll have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back from injury. He skated on Saturday before the Canucks and seems poised for his return.
Saturday night ended, for Edmonton, in potent imagery. Near the conclusion of a power play late in the game, the Oilers had pulled their goalie, and Vancouver’s Jason Garrison popped a puck down the ice, off the boards. It slowly slid towards the empty net. Schultz rushed back after it but could not reach it, the puck sliding in, the red light going on, again, and Schultz sliding into the net too, looking helpless, defeated.