I Watched This Game: Oilers keep slim playoff hopes alive, Canucks don't

Canucks 2 - 3 Oilers

Pass it to Bulis

It would truly be something if Sam Gagner somehow helped the Edmonton Oilers make the playoffs this season.

The Canucks decided they didn’t need Gagner this season, a year after signing him to a three-year, $9.45 million contract. It was understandable, given how the Canucks constructed their roster, with a clear delineation between the offensive-minded top-six forwards and their defensive-minded bottom six. If they couldn’t shelter him in a depth role, they would need to do so in a top-six role, and the Canucks were leaning towards using their youth in those roles.

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Gagner spent the bulk of the season in the AHL, but not with the Canucks affiliate in Utica, where he could have been a veteran mentor for the Canucks’ prospects, or at least a skilled playmaking centre for their wingers, something they’ve lacked all season. Instead, Gagner was loaned to the Toronto Marlies, where he had 37 points in 43 games.

That’s not a big deal, by any means. Gagner got to play close to his hometown of London, Ontario, and the Canucks kept a roster spot open for a prospect in Utica, though they’ve somehow still had trouble finding playing time for their prospects.

It is odd, however, that Gagner only got a brief call-up to the Canucks this season when injuries struck. The Canucks have needed skilled wingers to play alongside Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, as well as Adam Gaudette, all season long. Evidently, Gagner wasn’t considered a serious option, so the team turned to other acquisitions: Josh Leivo, Ryan Spooner, and Tanner Pearson.

Spooner, of course, was acquired from the Oilers for Gagner. Both were in the AHL at the time, but have been given a new NHL start with their new organizations. And Gagner has picked up where he left off in Edmonton five years ago, tallying 5 points in 10 games after his assist in this game. Don't get me wrong, trading Gagner was the right move if they weren't going to play him in the NHL. It's just, maybe they should have just played him in the NHL and, if they still didn't want him, trade him as an NHL player with a bit more value rather than at his lowest point.

Since acquiring Gagner, the Oilers are 6-2-2, jumping up the standings in the Western Conference. Gagner, at least, believes they could still make the playoffs: “I think there is belief in here….there is still opportunity for us to get back in it and that’s exciting for us.”

Is it going to happen? Not bloody likely. The Oilers are seven points out of a playoff spot and would have to leapfrog the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes to get there. But it’s enough to make you wonder what would have happened if Gagner was on the Oilers all season, giving them another skilled winger to play with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Which also makes you wonder what would have happened if Gagner was on the Canucks all season. It’s not that Gagner’s a gamebreaking player, by any means, but what if the Canucks had a veteran that could put up a few points, instead of a guy like Tim Schaller, who, well, can’t?

I pondered some what ifs in my head as I watched this game.

  • Gagner nearly scored on the opening shift of the game when he chased down an Oscar Klefbom dump in off the end boards and swatted a shot on Thatcher Demko. Thankfully, Demko squeezed his short-side shot, or Gagner could have been en route to his second-career eight-point game with the confidence boost that would have given him.
  • Gagner still got the Oilers on the board first, taking advantage of some insider information from his days with the Canucks: Derrick Pouliot isn’t very good. Pouliot had possession of the puck below the goal line, ready to begin what looked like an easy breakout. Gagner attacked aggressively, however, putting his stick on the puck before taking the body, and quickly centred for a wide open Alex Chiasson for the quick finish.
  • Another former Canuck made it 2-0 later in the first after a failed Canucks power play. Zack Kassian finished off a fantastic pass from McDavid after the McDiculous one blew past Alex Edler at full speed. Tyler Motte had position on Kassian at the blue line, but then stopped skating, allowing Kassian an unimpeded path to the net.
  • Is this a bad time to mention that Tyler Motte has the worst on-ice goal differential at 5-on-5 of any Canucks forward at minus-14? Is there a better time to bring that up? When’s the right time?
  • Josh Leivo had a pretty fantastic game, even if he got held off the scoresheet. He was constantly involved offensively with the Pettersson line and had a game-high six shots on goal. He and Darnell Nurse were tussling all game, but Leivo ended up getting the worst of it, taking a crosscheck in the ribs where he didn’t have any padding. Nurse was probably mad because Leivo told him he had, like, five chapsticks in his drawer. Vicious chirping.
  • I had to laugh when John Garrett suggested heading into the third period that the Canucks had done a good job shutting down McDavid. He had two pretty assists at that point: the Kassian set up at top speed and the lovely dish to Ryan “Ted-Anthony” Nugent-Hopkins that made it 3-0. The hyphenated one just had to angle his blade to place the tip under the bar where the bartender hides it to keep from splitting it with the rest of the staff.
  • Loui Eriksson didn’t look good on the Nugent-Hopkins goal, as he completely misread the situation. He didn’t realize that Edler wasn’t covering Nugent-Hopkins, but was charging into the slot to challenge McDavid, who was open with the puck. As Nugent-Hopkins scored, Eriksson was coasting behind him. Like socks with sandals, it wasn’t a good look.
  • I liked Nikolay Goldobin in this game, which has been a running theme of late. He was dishing out some lovely passes, particularly in the second period, but what was particularly noteworthy is how he was getting the puck to deliver those passes: nice defensive plays in his own zone. He was picking off passes like a young Paul Krause.
  • The Canucks had some great chances in the second period, but when they finally scored, it was a garbage goal. Boeser bounced a puck towards the net and Mikko Koskinen tried to sweep it into the corner with his stick. Instead, he whiffed on the puck and knocked it back behind him, where it sat in the crease for Jay Beagle to poke it in. Terrible goal, but they all look the same on the back of a hockey card.

 

 

  • Alex Edler scored his second goal in as many games to bring the Canucks within one. After an ineffective power play had expired, Edler threw a wrist shot towards the net and somehow got it past Koskinen. Both Leivo and Horvat were in the shooting lane, but didn’t get a stick on it. Like a restaurant near a church on a Sunday afternoon, the tips were non-existant. 

 

 

  • Edler finished the game with a whopping 29:25 in ice time, had four blocked shots, four hits, 12 shot attempts, and five shots on goal. I'm pretty sure he also drove the Zamboni at the intermissions, sold cotton candy in the stands, and played the organ during commercial breaks. 
  • Derrick Pouliot had a rough game. When he wasn’t losing the puck to the forecheck, he was making the worst power play drop pass of all time. He turned completely around, saw an Oilers penalty killer right behind him, held the puck for a moment, then still passed it and turned it over. I’m still flabbergasted.

 

 

  • In the midst of their power play struggles, I jokingly suggested on Twitter that they respond to any power play by immediately taking a penalty so they could play 4-on-4, where they might have more luck scoring goals. Unfortunately, the Canucks seemed to see my suggestion and take it literally. Troy Stecher took the Canucks off the power play in the second period with a holding penalty on Kassian, then a gormless too-many-men penalty took them off the power play in the third period as they attempted to complete the comeback. Memo to the Canucks: more gorm, not less.
  • Thatcher Demko was solid in his third start of the season, making 31 saves on 34 shots. His two biggest saves came against the Oilers’ two stars, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, robbing both of them on clearcut breakaways. He stopped a McDavid five-hole attempt late in the second, and made a spectacular toe save on Draisaitl in the third. If the Canucks had come all the way back, those two saves would have been a big reason why. Alas, they didn’t, so those saves will be lost to the sands of time, never to be remembered.
  • Finally, someone needs to take Boeser to a concert and teach him how to headbang, because this is embarrassing. Come on, man.

 

 


 

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