— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) October 18, 2014
The Vancouver Canucks, as they did too infrequently last season, successfully closed out a game in which they narrowly led in the third period defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 on Friday to remain undefeated on the season. It helps, of course, that all three of the team’s victories have come against woeful, Alberta-based clubs and the real test will come on Saturday against the very legitimate Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still, the Canucks banked the points they needed to bank and looked pretty decent doing it.
Read on past the jump.
Friday night’s game got off to an uneven, slow paced start. The Canucks were narrowly the better team in the first 20 minutes, but for the most part didn’t do much offensively until the last five minutes or so. As the period wound down, the Canucks managed to generate chances by cycling the puck down low, and Brad Richardson and Henrik Sedin had some glorious opportunities late in the frame.
Richardson, it should be mentioned, served as the club’s permanent third-line center and took the bulk of the club’s defensive zone draws (13 of 20). He did well on faceoffs, as you’d expect, but he also shanked a few chances and lost possession a few times when Linden Vey and Zack Kassian were engaged in an otherwise productive looking cycle.
That’s really par for the course from Richardson. We’ve all seen enough of his game at this point to know that he’s a very capable bottom-six player who is out of his depth as a full-time third-line center. That’s where he’s set to lineup for the forseeable future though, in part because Vey is struggling too much in the circle to hold down that spot. It’s a suboptimal situation for the Canucks, though it also present a pretty intriguing opportunity to recovering top-prospect Bo Horvat. If he can hold his own on draws, presumably that third-line centre spot might be his for the taking.
Also in the first period, Canucks defender Ryan Stanton left the game and didn’t return with a lower body injury. Willie Desjardins said after the game that the injury doesn’t appear to be too serious, which is good news. The club just doesn’t have the blue-line depth to lose Stanton at this point, though we should probably expect to see Yannick Weber get into the lineup against the Lightning on Saturday.
One other first period note: with a few seconds remaining in the frame, Kassian took a major league run at Justin Schultz, missed, and was assessed a two minute minor for tripping for some reason. Apparently the referee threatened to give him a four minute minor for kicking on the sequence. There’s no other way to put it: that’s garbage, and a reputation call. Kassian is clearly going to have to be more selective about when he throws the body, because the officials obviously have their eye on him, and tonight’s incident makes that plain.
In the second frame the Canucks took control of the proceedings, which was doubly impressive because they briefly lost two-way ace defender Dan Hamhuis when he was hit hard in the nose by Mark Arcobello’s stick while Arcobello was being checked. Hamhuis missed roughly eight minutes on the game clock, had a nasty cut on his nose, and ultimately was sporting a visor upon his return:
Looking like a sophomore, Hamhuis logged 9:19 in the third period to lead all Canucks defenseman. That’s some warrior schtick from the Olympic Gold Medalist.
Let’s get to the goal, because it was pretty great. Henrik Sedin recovered a rebound that Ben Scrivens deflected to the corner and passed the puck behind the net to Daniel Sedin. Sedin drew two Oilers defenders (Teddy Purcell and Mark Fayne), which left him an easy flip to Radim Vrbata for the no doubter. It was all the offense the Canucks would need.
Let’s take a look at that goal in .gif form because there’s a couple of things worth pointing out:
So Daniel, at the outset of this clip, is being checked by Teddy Purcell, who ends up on all fours looking at the celebrating Canucks by the final frame of the above .gif.
As Scrivens directs the rebound safely to the corner you’ll notice that Purcell looks – and even pivots – briefly in Henrik’s direction, only to see Nikita Nikitin chase him into the corner. At this point Purcell has already lost his mark, an issue that’s compounded by Daniel going the long way around the back of the net. Vrbata meanwhile decides to follow Daniel to the back of the net, which leaves Purcell doubled up with Fayne in the slot. They don’t know it yet, but they’re in no-man’s land. With their dual circling of the net Vrbata and Daniel have created an enormous amount of confusion and you can see both Fayne and Purcell hesitate. They both anticipate Vrbata coming out with the puck, and when he doesn’t, they both take the bait from Daniel. That was their final mistake. By the time they recover Vrbata is wide open and on his strong side. Scrivens didn’t have a shot.
That’s some absolutely clinical persistence from the twins, of the sort that we’ve become accustomed to when they play the Oilers.
We should also highlight Henrik giving his stick to a young fan in a Canucks jersey who was hit by a puck during the second period. The Canucks later invited the young fan, identified as Daniel by Sportsnet’s broadcast, to the dressing room where Henrik signed the stick. There’s any number of reasons why the twins will see their numbers in the rafters of Rogers Arena, like, a season or two after they retire from the NHL. Part of it is that they’re very probably the best players in franchise history, but a big part of it is also that they’ve consistently proven themselves to be excellent human people, in addition to being great players.
From there the third period was a bit of a slog. The Canucks had a few opportunities to put it away – really the Sedin/Vrbata line should’ve had at least one more goal on Friday – but mostly they just played with the lead, and shut it down. The two teams combined to record just 10 shots in the third frame, including Daniel’s empty netter, which probably suited Vancouver just fine even if the Oilers recorded the majority of the shots.
Overall it was a solid team win over a very focused minnow. It wasn’t a great performance and Vancouver’s fourth-line got absolutely man-handled while only the top-line looked dangerous with any consistency, but it’s early yet, and the Canucks got the job done despite playing an extended stretch of the game with just four defenders. That’ll play.
Now we’ll see how they fare against a serious NHL team on Saturday night…