Derek Roy may have been the only new face, but the Vancouver Canucks looked like a different team on Thursday.
The Canucks defeated the Oilers 4-0, just two games after losing by the same score in Edmonton.
Roy had one assist in his Canucks debut, but it was the whole team that seemed to have a lot more jump and a dedication to shutting down the Oilers’ explosive offence.
“We tried to limit their odd-man rushes and the penalty kill did a great job as well,” said Roy. “We know they are an offensive powerhouse and they like to generate stuff off turnovers so we did a good job not turning it over and making sure we were backchecking too.”
Cory Schneider made 23 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, and the eighth of his career, blanking a team that has scored 25 times in their past five games.
Schneider made a couple of tough saves off Magnus Paajarvi, who was set up in front of the net by Jordan Eberle’s centring pass, while Edmonton was on the power play and trailing 2-0 early in the third period.
“If they get an early goal, you never know what’s going to happen — it’s a one-goal game and makes everything tighter,” said Schneider. “I was just trying to make sure that on that power play they didn’t get one and get back in the game.”
His best stop was when he got a glove on a Taylor Hall shot when the Oilers’ winger was alone in front of the net on a power play with just four minutes to go in the game. About a minute later he rushed out of his net, past the hashmarks, to deny Ales Hemsky a breakaway opportunity.
“Our special teams couldn’t get going, which have been strong against Vancouver,” said Edmonton head coach Ralph Krueger. “Just couldn’t get our power play going — just all kinds of signals of a lack of energy. I thought the desire was there but we just couldn’t match what was for them a very strong game, as good as I have seen them play this year. They gave us no space and room.”
Henrik Sedin scored a goal and set up Kevin Bieksa’s first-period goal to help Vancouver (20-11-6) move past Minnesota for first in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference. Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian scored in the third to help Vancouver snap out of a two-game losing skid.
“We weren’t too happy with the last two games,” said Schneider. “Edmonton’s a playoff team right now and we may see them down the road. So we made sure that after last game in Edmonton that we did the same thing to them in our building.”
Nikolai Khabibulin made 24 saves for Edmonton (16-14-7), which had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell into ninth in the conference, outside the playoff picture.
“It looked like they were half a step quicker to loose pucks and everything, but in the second and third periods we played a lot better, just couldn’t find the back of the net,” said Khabibulin. “Having lost a couple of games in a row and they didn’t play that well in Edmonton, so we knew they were going to try to play their best game tonight.”
Bieksa opened the scoring with a power-play goal just 16 seconds into a five-on-three with five minutes to go in the first. Jason Garrison’s initial shot hit Jeff Petry in the foot, causing the Oilers defenceman to hobble on the ice as Henrik Sedin set up Bieksa for a one-timer at the top of the circle. His low shot made it past the right pad of Khabibulin, giving him six goals on the year and his first in 14 games.
That was also Bieksa’s 200th career point in his 455th game, all with the Canucks.
Vancouver had just six power plays in their previous four games. The Canucks have now scored three power-play goals in their past 21 games. They finished 1 for 5 in the game, while the Oilers were 0 for 4 with the man advantage.
The Sedin twins combined to give Vancouver a 2-0 lead at 14:26 of the second period. They worked the puck around off a rush and then Daniel Sedin found Henrik Sedin at the side of the net, partially behind the goal-line, and the Canucks’ captain shot it into the open net.
“(Henrik Sedin’s) line did a real strong job against their top line tonight,” said Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault. “Every time I could I had Hank’s line out there. When they didn’t have the puck they were taking space and time away from them and when they had the puck they kept it and played real solid.”
Higgins made it 3-0 at 6:57, taking a saucer pass from Roy on a two-on-one and beating Khabibulin for his 10th of the year.
“He saw me all the way,” said Higgins of the play Roy made. “The D overplayed him a little bit and he feathered a beautiful pass over to me. It was a hell of a pass.”
The line of Higgins, Roy and Jannik Hansen combined for eight shots on net and created a lot of chances, showing immediate signs of chemistry.
“That line had some great looks,” said Vigneault. “Higgins played a real strong game at both ends of the rink and made some real good plays offensively. For our first game with those three guys together, I’m real happy with that line.”
Kassian converted a rebound with less than four seconds to play, his sixth of the season, to round out the scoring.
Note: The Oilers’ Nick Schultz played his 800th career NHL game Thursday.