On Friday night the Vancouver Canucks spanked the Edmonton Oilers with a 4-0 victory that wasn’t as closely contested as the score might indicate. It was probably Vancouver’s most thoroughly dominant performance of the season.
At the end of it Zack Kassian made waves by probably mocking Sam Gagner’s jaw shield (y’know, the one Gagner wears to protect his jaw after Kassian broke it with a vicious errant stick this past September). It was such a controversial move by Kassian that it soaked up all of the postgame oxygen overshadowing the fact that the Canucks have won six in a row, have given up one goal in their last three games, and that Dale Weise scored a power-play goal…
Read past the jump for more.
The Edmonton Oilers have been playing better hockey of late, but they were on the second game of back-to-backs (they played the flu striken Boston Bruins close on Thursday night) and still don’t really have any serviceable top-pairing defensemen who can hang with the likes of the Sedin twins, or Kesler, or Zac Dalpe apparently.
That correlation of factors led to a lopsided affair as the Canucks controlled 24 shot attempts in the first 20 minutes to just 6 for the Oilers. In all Vancouver controlled 81% of shot attempts with the score tied, outshot the Oilers 34 to 18 at even-strength despite leading for much of the game, and out-chanced the Oilers 26 to 10 (according to Jonathan Willis).
Vancouver’s special teams units continued to dominate. The Canucks’ penalty-killers permitted only a single shot against in four minutes of 4on5 time and frustrated Edmonton enormously on entries with their passive 1-3 formation in the neutral zone. Meanwhile Vancouver’s power-play continued to regress with two goals. Jason Garrison managed three assists on the night, so he’s already broken his career high for assists (set during his contract year with Florida in 2011-12) which is neat.
Among Vancouver’s defenders, Chris Tanev also had a particularly strong game for the Canucks. His pairing with Dan Hamhuis drew the primary matchup against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron and Jordan Eberle, and with Tanev on the ice the Canucks attempted 25 shots to just 7 attempts against. Those are some stratospheric results at even-strength, and it’ll be really interesting to see how Tanev and Hamhuis fare against Boston – and presumably the David Krejci, Milan Lucic line – on Saturday.
Most importantly for Vancouver: the team managed their most important players’ minutes rigorously in preparation for a game against a legitimate NHL team tomorrow. Ryan Stanton received the second most ice-time at even-stregnth among all Canucks defenseman, which tells you all you need to know. Henrik Sedin played just a hair over 16 minutes, Daniel played fewer than 20, and Kesler only just broke the 20 minute mark. So Saturday’s game against Boston is "the second of back-to-back games" in name only.
As a result of these metered minutes, Tortorella actually rolled with his fourth line an appreciable amount, and Dalpe, Jeremy Welsh and Weise played prety well all things considered (though Dalpe was the only Canucks forward who was "even" in terms of shots on goal controlled at even-strength). I would very much like to see those three get some run as Vancouver’s fourth-line, having three energy guys who can skate on the fourth unit seems like it could potentially be useful.
But it all comes back to Zack Kassian, who managed a goal and even remorselessly taunted the player he maimed only a few months ago. Kassian has seemed to be playing much better of late, wearing smaller players like a house coat along the boards and just generally being a belligerent menace. The underlying numbers aren’t there yet, neither is the consistency, or the trust of Vancouver’s coaching staff – but Kassian’s scoring at a very efficient clip, and looks to be tangibly improving for the first time in his Vancouver tenure.
Obviously the Canucks have long believed they needed a presence like Kassian can bring on their roster. Against a team that likes to play rough (like the Bruins do), it’ll be fascinating to see how Kassian’s latest baby steps hold up.
Finally: let’s all make sure to enjoy the moralistic ‘hot sports takes’ ruminating on Kassian’s trash talking that are sure to permeate on the internet over the next 12 hours! The hate: embrace it.
Extraskater.com is the best site on the internet and provided most of the numbers in this gamer.