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Potentially high-scoring Game 6 between Canucks, Oilers a spot to target player prop bets

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For casual hockey fans, the question is clear: How are the Vancouver Canucks doing this? How is a team with a third-string goaltender in Arturs Silov and a struggling star forward in Elias Pettersson one win away from beating the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the playoffs? The reasons are varied.

First and foremost, Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner has been remarkably bad in this series. In the three games he has played, Skinner posted a -5.21 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). To put that in perspective, the next worst goaltender in GSAx in the second round is the Carolina Hurricanes’ Frederik Andersen, who registered a -0.22 rating. 

The Oilers ranked first in high-danger chances produced per 60 minutes during the regular season, but now they are struggling to generate them against a tight-checking, physical Canucks team. How deflated is the Oilers’ offence at 5-on-5? Currently, it is manufacturing high-danger chances at a rate only slightly better than the Montreal Canadiens, who finished second-worst in the Eastern Conference standings, produced over 82 games.

Lastly, Edmonton’s secondary scoring has been erratic, a problem when combined with the fact that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl haven’t been consistent enough in their dominance to get a stranglehold over the series. While McDavid and Draisaitl are among the leaders in points in the second round, McDavid has just one point in the Oilers’ three losses.

Here is the point where credit needs to be accorded to the adversary. The Oilers aren’t just losing this series. The Canucks are trying to pressure and forecheck the Oilers into submission, and it is working.

Despite all of the above, the Oilers are a -196 moneyline in Game 6, which is patently absurd. If they win on Saturday, it will be in a very tightly contested game. I view the game as a toss up. With Pettersson playing his best game on Thursday, I could see Vancouver shocking Edmonton in an upset. Based on the big names being held off the score sheet on Thursday night, I am all in on the player prop bets.

Vancouver Canucks at Edmonton Oilers

Saturday May 18 – 8:00 PM ET

During the regular season, three players finished with more assists than Vancouver defenceman Quinn Hughes: McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Nathan MacKinnon. Zero defencemen during the regular season finished with more points than Hughes.

Hughes is going to win the Norris Trophy and my suspicion is it will be by a comfortable margin. A possession magnet and playmaking genius at 5-on-5 and on the power play, Hughes helps orchestrate the offence with his skating and vision.

When Hughes finished Game 5 with no points, my face took on the grin of a Cheshire Cat. Aha! Time to pounce. Hughes was held pointless in only 27 of 82 games this season. In 47 regular-season games, he registered an assist.

The Canucks’ offensive scheme is going low to high and spreading the Oilers out. They force Edmonton to sort out its coverage when they bring a forward to the point or use the middle slot for a deflection. Other defencemen can execute, but Hughes is the catalyst who generates opportunities on the cycle and off set plays from won faceoffs.

It hasn’t appeared lately, but the most unstoppable play the Canucks run is the criss-cross cycle play with Hughes and J.T. Miller that sets up Brock Boeser on the backdoor. No wonder. Miller and Boeser combined for 176 points during the regular season and are two players I am thrilled to wager on in Game 6. 

But Hughes’s ice time with those two has varied this series, though Game 5 may have signaled a new grouping as Hughes’ presence enhanced the second line.

In Game 5, Canucks coach Rick Tocchet decided to put Pettersson as Elias Lindholm’s wing and the result was overwhelmingly positive. The duo finished outshooting opponents 7-4 at 5-on-5 and doubled the Oilers in high-danger chances.

The logic makes sense: With Pettersson slumping, Lindholm and Hughes are the elixirs. Miller and Boeser promptly saw less than four minutes with Hughes at 5-on-5 on Thursday, but worked closely with him on the power play, which had a different look in Game 5.

Boeser and Miller switched places on the left flank and as the net-front presence, which created a different gravity in terms of playmaking. Miller was setting up teammates from behind the goal line and trying to make a power-move deke to the front of the net to force the Oilers’ penalty kill to sink lower, opening up room at the top. The Canucks’ power play units struck in Games 2 and 3 but have been held goalless in their last two. I don’t see that repeating. I think Hughes and Miller will both get assists on Saturday and that Boeser will register a point as well.

Edmonton’s breakout had way too easy of a time exiting their zone in Game 4, enabling the Oilers to spend extensive time in the offensive zone. That wasn’t the case in Game 5. The Canucks’ F1 and F2 were much quicker getting in on the forecheck, and Vancouver tightened up their gaps as the Oilers tried to advance the puck up ice. In Game 4, Edmonton harnessed the stretch pass to great effect. That tool was dulled in Game 5.

The Oilers struggled to get above Vancouver’s forecheckers in Game 5, and when they did they squandered their chances. I think having the last change in Game 6 will help the Oilers as they pick their matchups, and I suspect they will be snappier in their execution and a little more decisive in their transitions so that clean entries lead to more offensive zone time.

Thursday’s game was also uncharacteristically sluggish for the Oilers stars, and that probably isn’t happening again. Before Game 5, as a trio, McDavid, Draisaitl, and Evan Bouchard were outshooting teams 35-8 at 5-on-5 during the playoffs and outscoring them 5-1. In Game 5, they were outshot and allowed two goals while notching zero.

Bouchard has an absolute rocket of a shot, but he also is a great passer who has the decision-making and poise to find the passing lane. It is not just Bouchard’s shot, but his playmaking from the point that make the Edmonton power play so magnificent.

And Draisaitl is so unselfish that he passed up shooting on 2-on-1 in Game 4 to dish to Cody Ceci on the backdoor. Draisaitl’s proficiency off the rush is enabled by the inevitability of his gaining a clean entry.

After the Oilers were held goalless on five power plays in Game 5, I imagine they will cash in at least once in Game 6, and Draisaitl and Bouchard are likely candidates to pick up assists in the process.

We’ve had two straight games that have finished with five total goals. Game 6 seems like it could end up like Game 1, with goals coming fast and furiously. I want to cash on what I think will be a high-scoring game by riding many of the games best players.

Picks: Quinn Hughes to record 1+ points -180, Brock Boeser to record 1+ points -170, Leon Draisaitl to record 1+ assists -192, Evan Bouchard to record 1+ assists -166, Quinn Hughes to record 1+ assists -136, J.T. Miller to record 1+ assists -120