On the eve when a new year was ushered in shortly after the conclusion of the match between the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, a shift in expectation paralleled a change in calendar year. When the storylines had seemingly written themselves with the Canucks up by 2-1 late in the third, Connor McDavid tied the game with 1:33 remaining off a beautiful tic-tac-toe play on the power play, but it was the Canucks, playing the second of a back-to-back road trip, who prevailed in the shootout to win 3-2.
Usually, a come-from-behind effort like this from the Oilers to squeak away with a point would be lauded as a satisfactory effort, but it's an indication of how far the Oilers have come this year that on the cusp of 2017, the reactions were marked with introspective disappointment rather than complacent satisfaction.
"We were flat-- I don't know any other way to put it," said head coach Todd McLellan after the game. "We played the game standing still- we wanted to pass from a stationary player to another stationary player to another stationary player. We didn't go after or skate a team that played an overtime game the night before, and when you stand around and you try to do it the easy way, it doesn’t work…we probably got fortunate finding a point tonight."
The Oilers have been on a roll lately, picking up 10 of a possible 12 points in their last six games, and expectations have been heightened accordingly.
"For me it's more disappointment than satisfaction tonight because we had a chance to go on the road on a roll-- we should, and we did feel good about our team, but again tonight, not enough grade A performances from a lot of people," continued McLellan. "As a result, we find a way to get one point-- I guess you could say it's good, but I'm looking at it from half empty, [and] I don't think it's where we needed to be.”
It was also a surprisingly high quality hockey game from two teams who have not been known to play matches at this calibre, featuring a dynamic pace and speed throughout, a thrilling overtime period, as well as stellar performances from both goaltenders.
"The other goalie played well, they did a lot of great things; it was a good battle with a late goal there to get a point, but disappointed not to get the full two points," said Connor McDavid after the game, acknowledging the good play of Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who made 42 saves for the win. Cam Talbot kept the Oilers in the game at many points in the game, including a brilliant sliding save on the Sedins in overtime, countered immediately by Markstrom on the counterrush with a great stop on Adam Larsson in close.
"It wasn't our best game of the season by any means," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was stymied by Markstrom as the third shooter in the shootout to end the game, "but we did find a way to get that point and we battled hard-- like I said before, their goalie played solid, he kept them in it, and so did Talbs-- he made some big saves at big moments in the game to get us that extra point."
The Canucks seemed to take a lead in the first period off of a Marcus Granlund shot that beat Cam Talbot, but after a long review, it was deemed that Brandon Sutter had interfered with Talbot's ability to make the save, and the goal was waved off, to the great surprise of Oilers fans everywhere, to whom the words "coach's challenge" carry very little positive meaning.
Alex Burrows, fresh off his 800th game as a Canuck, opened the scoring (forreals this time) at 5:43 in the second period, one-timing a deflection off of Bo Horvat after an Eric Gryba giveaway on a zone clearing attempt. It was Burrows' seventh goal of the season, bringing him close to his tally of nine goals last season just halfway through this season. The Oilers attempted another coach's challenge on this goal, once again claiming goalie interference, but this one was unsuccessful and the Canucks carried a 1-0 lead until Drizzy Caggiula evened the score at 1-1 12:31 into the second, just after the expiration of the Oilers' power play off a Nikita Tryamkin holding call.
Coming off what Coach McLellan called one of his best games in a long period, Caggiula's second of the season was a one-timer in front of the net off a gorgeous feed from Ryan "Matt Benning" Nugent-Hopkins, with the other assist going to Matt "Ryan Nugent-Hopkins" Benning. At the end of the second period, the Oilers were outshooting the Canucks 26-20, but the Canucks had 10 high danger shot attempts to the Oilers' four-- it still felt like a relatively even game, and the onus was on the Oilers, as the better-rested team, to come out with more jump in the third and close this one out. For all the discussion about the growth of this team, it was situations like this-- completely winnable games-- where the extra polish and confidence would really shine.
There was no storybook ending, but the team certainly came close. The Canucks were the first to respond when 4:57 into the third, a surprising amount of sustained pressure by the Canucks led to a goal by Sven Baertschi off a feed from Bo Horvat, putting the Canucks up 2-1. Once again, Eric Gryba was involved, allowing Horvat to get past him and get the feed across.
The Oilers were rewarded with a power play in the final minutes after a flurry of chances against a seemingly infallible Jacob Markstrom. Finally, it was the captain who put the team on his back again, as McDavid took the perfect cross-ice feed from Draisaitl and tapped it in to even the score with 1:33 remaining, in the process tying Evgeni Malkin for the league lead in scoring with 43 points on the season. Leon Draisaitl picked up his 19th assist of the year, and his eerily stoic parents finally broke and showed a modicum of human emotion, though ubercool Papa Draisaitl's reaction still more closely resembled misery than elation.
The Oilers sustained momentum after the tying goal, and Markstrom barely salvaged the game for the Canucks from the clutches of Lord Loss with 52 seconds left, robbing a still cursed Jordan Eberle point bank with his glove hand-- Eberle has just one goal in his last 16 games.
A thrilling overtime featured electric end-to-end action and odd-man rushes, but solved nothing, and it was Bo Horvat who scored the shootout winner for the Canucks as they came away with their third straight win. It was an evening of mixed results to welcome a pivotal year in the organization’s turnaround, but the higher bar itself is a good ending to what is hopefully not only a frenzied 2016, but a longer period of losing as the team attempts to write a fresh new chapter in the franchise.
- Drake Caggiula has returned to his Emperor Caligula form post-Christmas break, getting a crucial first goal and tied for the team lead with seven shots on goal tonight. His coach noticed the effort, as well- "Since Christmas he's found a lot of confidence-- I thought he was very sharp tonight, maybe our best player."
- Even though the Oilers outshot the Canucks 44-32, the Canucks had 14 high danger scoring chances to the Oilers' 7, and it was Cam Talbot who kept his team in the game and made the comeback possible.
- For once, the Oilers have some depth on the blueline, which meant Matt Benning missed three games, but I'd rather see him in the lineup every night over Eric Gryba. He made a very good play on the backcheck in the second to grab the puck in front of the net, leading directly to a counterrush by McDavid that drew a penalty on Tryamkin-- the Oilers would score on the ensuing powerplay, reversing the momentum of the game. Jumped in offensively more often and finished with an assist, playing the same amount of ice-time as Oscar Klefbom tonight with 21:02.
- Adam Larsson did a great job keeping his Swedish senpais in check, holding the Sedins off the scoresheet with some heavy physical play that seemed to piss them off a bit.
- Todd McLellan pointed out after the game that there was a lack of grade A performances from a few individuals, particularly defensively, and the primary culprit was Eric Gryba, who was complicit in both Canucks' goals. A blatant giveaway on the first one and an inability to cover Horvat in the second were glaring mistakes and made him look lead-footed, killing any goodwill he had garnered with the game-winning goal against LA. Brandon Davidson was also on the ice for both Canucks goals, and him and Russell both finished with a team-high three giveaways.
- The Oilers got absolutely manhandled in the faceoff circle-- to the eye, it looked like McDavid was getting owned by Sutter most of the night, and indeed the whole team was, finishing with a FO of 38%. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Hendricks were the only ones who had their heads above water with 62% and 60%, respectively, while Connor McDavid's 33% seemed rather okay compared to Drake Caggiula and Leon Draisaitl's respective 20% and 13%.
Game in a Haiku
Nice try tonight, boys.
Next time win the game, and make
Leon's dad smile, Eh?
Tuesday, January 3, 2017 @CBJ, 5pm MST. Tune in to watch the Oilers break up this winning streak.