With Pettersson’s incredible start to his rookie season, it was hard to avoid comparing him to other NHL greats. When you get compared to Wayne Gretzky after your first NHL game, every other comparison becomes fair game.
Since then, Pettersson has been compared to Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, and Sidney Crosby, as well as great rookie seasons from Canucks history and across the NHL. It was inevitable that he would also be compared to the reigning Art Ross winner and arguably the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid.
Sunday night in Vancouver was the first time Pettersson has ever faced McDavid, as the Canucks unusually went 29 games without playing the Edmonton Oilers. Sportsnet did not shy away from the comparison, posting a graphic with the first 30 games of their rookie seasons side-by-side, pointing out that Pettersson and McDavid had an identical 34 points.
Only, this game against the Oilers was Pettersson’s 30th NHL game, so when he scored the game-winning goal in the third period, he passed McDavid’s total with 35 points in 30 games. It’s official — numbers don’t lie — Pettersson is better than McDavid.
Meanwhile, Brock Boeser had a three-point night, bringing him to a point-per-game pace for the season and giving him six goals in his last five games, while Horvat shut down one half of the McDavid vs Pettersson match-up. The two best Canucks on the ice played second and third fiddle, but they harmonized beautifully.
I watched this game.
- Oilers fans might point out that McDavid was a mere 18 years old in his rookie season, while Pettersson is a full year older in his. Okay. McDavid had 12 goals and 38 points in his first 30 games in his second season in the NHL at 19: that’s five fewer goals and just three more points than Pettersson. I’m not saying Pettersson is as good (or better) than McDavid, but if you’re looking just at points, Pettersson is right there.
- Travis Green and the Canucks had a pretty clear plan in this game: stop McDavid and hope for the best. They hard-matched McDavid with a forward line of Antoine “Rooster” Roussel, Bo “Ox” Horvat, and Loui “Entire Ant Colony Interlocking into the Shape of a Person” Eriksson, along with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev on defence. McDavid came in with an 8-game point streak, scoring 6 goals and 15 points in that time; holding him to no goals and just one assist feels like a win.
- Notably, the Oilers’ vaunted top line of Mcdavid flanked by Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson combined for just two shots on goal. You can’t ask for much more out of your shutdown group; to do more they would have had to take a crowbar to McDavid’s knees in the hallway.
- Horvat played a whopping 15 minutes against McDavid at 5-on-5. In that time, the Canucks out-shot the Oilers 11-2. That’s what we call going above and beyond the call of duty. As good twitter person Grainne Downey suggested, arguing whether Pettersson is better than McDavid is passé; we should be arguing whether Horvat is better than McDavid.
- Alex Edler and Chris Tanev deserve some credit as well for shutting down McDavid, as they also played around 15 minutes against McDavid at 5-on-5. Though neither are as fleet of foot as they once were, they didn’t allow themselves to get burned by McDavid’s speed, keeping him largely to the outside. For what feels like the first time in a long time, Edler and Tanev led the Canucks in corsi at the end of the night; the Canucks out-shot the Oilers 13-2 with Tanev on the ice at 5-on-5- and 14-4 with Edler.
- Jake Virtanen had an interesting night. He was basically a utility infielder, subbing in on pretty much every single line. He started the night with Adam Gaudette and Nikolay Goldobin, but he played a shift with every single Canucks forward except Brock Boeser. At times he was in a shutdown role with Horvat or Jay Beagle; at other times he was getting in on the forecheck to free up the puck for Pettersson. Essentially, he was a Jake of all trades.
- After a fast-paced but goalless first period, Edmonton opened the scoring 1:40 into the second. Pettersson attempted to pull the puck out of danger in the defensive zone, but Erik Gudbranson, attempting to do the same, poked it off his stick. Jujhar Khaira found the loose puck and spun a pass to an open Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who Josh Leivo didn’t follow to the slot. Pettersson was upset with himself for losing the puck, but, of the three, he was least culpable. Completely unable to culp.
- The Canucks couldn’t seem to score at even-strength, so it’s a good thing they drew five penalties. Well, sort of. Three of the Oilers penalties were of the automatic variety: two pucks over the glass for delay of game and a too many men on the ice call. They didn’t so much draw those penalties as point at them and say, “Hey! Heeeeey! HEY!”
- Roussel legitimately drew the penalty that led to the Canucks’ first goal by obeying the classic hockey coach instruction: keep moving your feet. While tangled up with Caleb Jones, Roussel kept his legs churning, eventually making it impossible for the refs not to notice. He was like Michael Flatley on skates.
- The power play set up below the goal line, an odd formation that you’re likely to see more and more in the NHL (more on that mid-week). Horvat sent the puck behind the net to Boeser, while Edler pulled a classic Sami Salo move: he skated completely outside the offensive zone so he could really accelerate into a one-timer. Boeser put the puck on a tee and Edler Happy Gilmore’d it straight through Mikko Koskinen. It wasn’t so much that Koskinen got a piece of the shot, but that the shot got a piece of Koskinen.
- The next Oilers penalty was an odd one. Leivo lifted Kevin Gravel’s stick, which, in turn, hoisted the puck up over the glass. It was like an older brother bullying a younger sibling by taking their arm and hitting them with it: “Quit hitting yourself! Why do you keep hitting yourself?” Except it was, “Quit delaying the game! Why do you keep delaying the game?”
- Jacob Markstrom had as many assists as McDavid in this game and his was well-deserved: he drew in the Oilers’ forechecker and sent a great pass up the boards to Ben Hutton. He whipped the puck across to Boeser at the end of a long shift. He skated in on the right wing and leaned on a wrist shot, powering the puck past Koskinen, who thought he had the angle covered, for the 2-0 lead.
- The Canucks took the lead on another delay of game penalty. Boeser set up along the left side and centred for Goldobin, who took the puck off his skate and relayed it to Pettersson. A patient Pettersson kept his eyes on Goldobin the whole time, forcing Koskinen and the penalty kill to expect a pass, then whipped the puck top corner. Like the Juggernaut, Pettersson’s shot was unstoppable, as long as the Oilers didn’t have a power-dampening mutant around.
- McDavid finally got on the scoresheet late in the third period, taking advantage of a rare moment when Edler didn’t have Tanev on his right side. Gudbranson had just come on the ice to replace Tanev and didn’t pick up Chiasson heading to the net. McDavid did, however, slipping Chiasson a backhand pass that he fired just inside the far post to bring the Oilers within one.
- A couple minutes later, Horvat sealed the game for the Canucks, capping off an impressive defensive effort with a well-deserved empty net goal. Roussel played a big role in the goal, pressuring the point to force a turnover to Edler, then getting the puck to Horvat in the neutral zone. Combining their animal nicknames of Rooster and Ox made the goal a Cock and Bull story.