With the advent of December, the Canucks’ November nightmare is finally over. It remains to be seen whether the Canucks can pick up the pieces and put them back together in the months to come.
Before the month from hell began, I suggested that surviving November would convince me the Canucks were a playoff team. Did they survive? Well, sort of.
The Canucks started November in second place in the Pacific behind the Edmonton Oilers, and sixth in the entire NHL in points percentage, with an 8-3-1 record. The one caveat was that the Canucks had an easy schedule in October, with plenty of rest between games and a series of lesser opponents.
November, on the other hand, was a gauntlet, with Hawk from American Gladiators waiting for them at the end. 15 games in 30 nights, against some of the best teams in the NHL, complete with a six-game road trip to wrap up the month that took them across the continent.
It went poorly, but not quite as poorly as it could have.
The Canucks were 5-7-3 in November, rescuing the month from disaster by going .500 in that final six-game road trip. There were highs, such as back-to-back wins over the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals, and some ugly lows, like the 8-6 debacle against the Pittsburgh Penguins a couple games later.
Technically, they’re surviving, but not thriving. They’re still in a playoff position, but only just: they’re currently tied with the Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames for the second wild card spot. They’re just 7 points out of first in the Pacific; of course, they’re also only 6 points out of last place in the Western Conference.
At this point, it seems impossible to predict what the rest of the 2019-20 season holds for the Canucks. They could just as easily go on a roll and storm up the standings as hit a losing skid and slide into the basement.
Speaking of impossible to predict, the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks’ opponent on Sunday night, are still first in the Pacific Division. As Diondre Cole would say, what up with that? I did not see that coming, but I did see the Canucks play the Oilers, because I watched this game.
- One of the issues when you’re a team that likes to line match and you’re facing Connor McDavid and the Oilers is that McDavid is seemingly always on the ice. It must be like how the Power Rangers feel: they defeat a monster, only to have Rita Repulsa throw her staff and make the monster grow. “Didn’t we just shut down McDavid 20 seconds ago? Why is he back? And why is he taller than the Shangri-La now?”
- McDavid played over 21 minutes at even-strength alone, plus a couple more on the power play. In addition, Leon Draisaitl played on a separate line, giving the Canucks a matchup headache. Travis Green used Bo Horvat’s line to match up against both the McDavid and Draisaitl lines when he could, but the Canuck that spent the most time out against McDavid at 5-on-5 was actually Elias Pettersson, who held his own in the power-against-power matchup.
- With Alex Edler out with an upper-body injury, Oscar Fantenberg drew into the Canucks lineup for the first time and had a decent game in limited minutes on the third pairing. Meanwhile, fans got the tall-guy/short-guy pairing they’ve been begging for, as Quinn “Baby Yoda” Hughes paired with Tyler “The Mandalorian” Myers, leaving Jordie Benn and Chris Tanev as the shutdown pairing.
- It may have been too much to ask for Benn and Tanev to shut down McDavid. Tanev made some really nice defensive plays on the Oilers captain, particularly in the first period, but that pairing was also on the ice for all three Oilers goals. Of course, given the way McDavid has been playing this season, holding him to just two points each is pretty much shutting him down.
- The Oilers opening goal came after Benn got caught on the wrong side of McDavid, leading to a defensive breakdown as players scrambled to cover open Oilers. Tanev moved to check McDavid then scrambled out to front Darnell Nurse in the high slot when the puck came to him. Unfortunately, Horvat and Loui Eriksson made like Yakko and Wakko Warner and also fixated on Nurse, which left Josh Archibald, who Eriksson had covered a moment earlier, wide open for a tap in at the side of the net.
- J.T. Miller had another great game and made a fantastic play on the 1-1 goal. With Riley Sheahan doing his darnedest to check him, Miller did a half-lap of the offensive zone, protecting the puck with aplomb before feeding Quinn Hughes cross ice. Hughes alertly spotted Brock Boeser on top of the crease instead of shooting himself and Boeser kept his stick on the ice like Red Green always told him to, shoveling the puck into the open net.
- Boeser got a stick in the chops for his troubles on his goal, as Ethan Bear whacked him in the mouth with his stick as he scored. Since Boeser was bleeding, it would have been a double minor for high-sticking if it was called, which would have put the Canucks on the power play even with one of the minors negated by the goal, according to rule 15.3 in the rule book. Thing is, Boeser was on one knee at the time, so it wasn’t really a high stick, even if it wasn’t a low stick either: it was an in-between stick, but not like the ones you put on the conveyor at the grocery store.
- Tyler Graovac left this game after blocking a shot with his foot and could be out for a while, which means the Canucks are running out of centres. Unless Brandon Sutter returns soon, the Canucks might have to just J.T. Miller at centre or call up Lukas Jasek, a winger that the Comets have been using at centre at times this season.
- Loui Eriksson earned himself some good will on Saturday with his work on the Horvat line, scoring his first goal of the season. He looked good again on Sunday and provided the screen on the 2-1 goal, preventing Mikko Koskinen from seeing Benn’s shot. Koskinen gave up a rebound, and Josh Leivo pulled the puck to his forehand and went under the glove like he was modeling for a Spinal Tap album cover.
- Eriksson squandered some of that good will, however, by taking two rather silly penalties that led to the tying and game-winning goals for the Oilers. Perhaps he took the wrong lesson from Saturday, when his penalty led to a shorthanded goal for the Canucks. Really, he was just trying to help the Canucks offence.
- It didn’t help that Darnell Nurse embellished the hell out of both penalties. Did Eriksson get his stick up on Nurse? Yes. Was his tap on the shoulder anywhere near Nurse’s mouth, which he immediately grabbed in pseudo-pain? No. Did Eriksson stick out his leg and interfere with Nurse? Yes. Did Nurse need to make not just a meal of it but an entire Thanksgiving dinner, complete with stuffing? No.
- That was basically the game. Draisaitl scored two goals from the right faceoff circle off some great passing by the Oilers power play, and the Canucks couldn’t muster another goal.
- Pettersson put in the effort, however, doing whatever he could to tie up the game, including wiping out Ethan Bear on the forecheck. I haven’t seen someone run over a Bear like that since John Lithgow.