- When you face Connor McDavid 10 times in a season as the Canucks will in this COVID-shortened campaign, you have to be prepared for nights like Thursday. McDavid is so talented he’s going to win hockey games on his own and you can make a strong case that he did just that in Edmonton’s 5-2 victory. Just 24 hours after the Oilers captain was held off the scoresheet in the season opener, he got his revenge in a big way scoring three times and adding an assist. He was left all alone to pounce on a rebound in the dying seconds of the first period, he hit warp-speed and blew past all the Canuck defenders for his second of the night and capped his hat trick banging home his own rebound moments after an Oiler power play. The goal was aided by some confusion with Quinn Hughes stepping out of the penalty box leaving the Canucks with three defensemen on the ice. Confusion is rarely a suggested method of containing the best player on the planet. When McDavid senses hesitation on the other side, he rarely wastes such opportunities and that was the case as his goal with 4:52 remaining in the second extended the Oilers lead to 4-2. On the night, McDavid registered a game-high nine shots on 12 attempts. At evens with McDavid on the ice, the Oilers outshot the Canucks 20-7 and out-chanced them 14-4. The Canucks saw Connor McDavid at the top of his game on Thursday. They can only hope they don’t see it again over their next eight meetings this season.
- While the Oilers top guns of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined for five goals and 11 scoring points, the Canucks high-end players were silent. Beyond the fact that Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat were held off the scoresheet, none of them looked particularly dangerous on Thursday. Pettersson has just one point through the first two games of the season and while it’s far too early to show any concern, by his own lofty standards this would be considered a slow start. A big part of the problem is a power play which is 0 for the first two games. Last season the power play was a difference maker and won the Canucks hockey games, so far through six periods, the Canucks have yet to score on seven chances with the man-advantage. Certainly, they miss JT Miller. But there is enough talent remaining to unlock the power play potential. There have been some decent looks with the man-advantage, but so far no goals. That can’t continue much longer.
- It’s just two games, but on Thursday night, Miller’s absence was noticeable. Jake Virtanen started the game in Miller’s spot alongside Pettersson and Boeser, but that didn’t last long. Nor should it have based on the way that trio performed. Nils Hoglander then took a couple of spins with the top line. So did Tyler Motte and Tanner Pearson. Brandon Sutter saw a shift with the top line and then it was Adam Gaudette’s turn. You get the picture. Two games into the season and with one key player out of the line-up, the search is already underway to find someone to step into the most-coveted role on the hockey club. Many were chosen, few stepped up and made the most of the opportunity. It’s a concern because the Canucks are living on the razor’s edge in the event of another injury before Miller returns. There were no questions about their depth on Wednesday, but Thursday was a different story. And it now remains to be seen who will get the chance to start there on Saturday in Calgary.
- Perhaps some were blinded by the brilliance of McDavid’s performance, but don’t allow that to let you lose sight of the fact that Thursday looked and felt an awful lot like so many of the games the Canucks played last season. They surrendered 46 shots on goal. The Canucks believe they have improved their defense, but on Thursday night they were far too permissive and spent far too much of the night in their own zone. The Oilers seemed a more determined bunch in the rematch and were able to get to the net with more frequency than they did on Wednesday. Where the Canucks never really felt under siege at any point in the season-opener, that was hardly the case on Thursday. Alex Edler had a strong night in the season opener, but was on for the first four Edmonton goals on Thursday night and it’s fair to wonder about his workload on back to back nights after leading the team with more than 25 minutes in ice time on Wednesday. Like all teams, the Canucks are still finding their way in the early going. But in order to truly believe they have upgraded on the back end for this season, they have to find a way to keep the shot totals down. After Thursday’s loss, the jury is still out on the make-up of the team’s defense corps.
- Nate Schmidt was one of the few bright spots for the Canucks in a losing cause. Not only did he score his first goal of the season, but the Canucks controlled 71.4% of the shot attempts at evens when he was on the ice. After the Oilers opened the scoring, Travis Green opted to use Schmidt with Quinn Hughes in a pairing along with the team’s top line in an attempt to generate offense. It’s going to be worth monitoring as the season unfolds how often the Canucks use that tactic. It has the potential to be like hitting the turbo boost button in an effort to give the team a lift. Although it didn’t work as planned on Thursday, it’s still a useful card to play in certain situations. It was hardly a perfect night for the newcomer. While Schmidt allowed McDavid to beat him to the loose puck and stuff home the rebound on the 2-0 goal at the end of the first period, he took full ownership in his post-game Zoom availability with the media. Schmidt has been lauded for being a character and breath of fresh air with his larger than life personality. It has to be noted it was refreshing to hear his blunt self-assessment and accountability on a play that needed a better outcome at a pivotal point in the hockey game.