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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

CanucksArmy post game: Miller vs McDavid, the unlikely catalyst line, and the Botchford Project 2.0

Tonight, the Vancouver Canucks returned home to face off against the Edmonton Oilers.

It was Botchford Project night and three young aspiring journalists got to attend morning skate and take in tonight’s game from the press box.

CanucksArmy’s very own Clarissa Sabile was in attendance to take in the game, and was selected by the late Jason Botchford’s widow, Kathryn, as one of the recipients of this great initiative.

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I’ll have a story coming soon about the Botchford Project and Jason Botchford’s legacy in the coming days, but for now, let’s get into what went down on the ice at Rogers Arena tonight.

Lineup

First Period

The two sides traded chances early, with the Oilers’ first great chance of the period being denied by a sprawling Travis Hamonic, who managed to block the puck from going into a wide-open cage.

Then the Oilers got their second great chance of the period.

Big surprise, the first goal of the game was a direct result of Connor McDavid doing Connor McDavid things. 1-0 Oilers after a sweet pass from McDavid to Jesse Puljujarvi.

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The Oilers were in the driver’s seat for the majority of the first, but after a TV timeout with about eight minutes remaining in the first, something changed, and it came from three unlikely contributors.

The trio of Tyler Graovac, Jayce Hawryluk, and Matthew Highmore came out and got two good chances off on Mikko Koskinen. Not only that, but they stifled two breakout attempts by the Oilers with a strong forecheck and a level of tenacity rarely seen from any Canucks’ bottom six player these days.

This led directly to the J.T. Miller’s line being able to hop over the boards and feed Nate Schmidt at the point, who made no mistake in beating Koskinen to tie this game at one apiece. 1-1.

“Anytime you can get momentum from a group and anytime you can get something that’s gonna propel your other lines — no matter who it is, what D pair what line is out there doing it — it’s contagious and that’s the type of things that we talk about all the time,” said Schmidt. “You feed off each other and you feed off a shift like that where your guys are out there grinding and you know that they’re putting in the hard work and grinding them down. That allows your next guys to go out and, and have a chance at maybe a tired group and tired D-pair that have been out there for a while. It doesn’t show up as much on the stat sheet but that’s something that makes a huge difference for the guys that are coming over the boards next.”

This one remained tied heading into the second period.

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Second Period

As has become a trend lately, the Canucks gave up a goal just seconds into the middle frame.

It was the Victoria native, Tyson Barrie, who managed to beat Holtby and make it 2-1 Oilers with 19:42 remaining.

Quinn Hughes took a penalty shortly after, and the Canucks were in tough beating the Oilers’ potent first power play unit.

The Canucks killed it off and then were rewarded with a power play of their own after Josh Archibald took a tripping penalty.

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As Holtby made a mad dash for the bench on the delayed call, the Canucks got all the right personnel out on the ice and tried to take advantage of a tired Oilers group who they made every effort to keep the puck away from.

Despite extended zone time in the Oilers’ zone, they couldn’t convert and instead looked to keep up that pressure on the power play.

They moved the puck around the outside a lot but weren’t able to convert. The Canucks’ power play is a bit too stagnant and methodical, and without Elias Pettersson, they have one less weapon at their disposal.

This one remained 2-1 Oilers after the final TV timeout of the period at 8:12.

Then Connor McDavid happened.

The Oilers’ captain caused a turnover in the neutral zone, and quickly — and I really mean quickly — moved into the Canucks’ zone and wrister a puck underneath the left arm of Braden Holtby. 3-1 Oilers.

No more than a minute had passed before J.T. Miller broke into the Oilers’ zone, shielded the puck, and beat Koskinen with the niftiest backhand you ever saw to make it 3-2 Oilers.

With 44 seconds remaining in the second frame, the Oilers converted on a pretty passing play finished off by Dominic Kahun to make it 4-2 Oilers heading into the third period.

Third Period

The third period began with the two sides trading chances, and a huge stop by Holtby.

The Miller-Boeser-Höglander line had an extended period of time in the Oilers’ end but couldn’t create any chances that were good enough to beat Koskinen.

For the first eight or so minutes, this game felt like it was following a trend: if neither team’s top line was on the ice, there was going to be a whole lot of nothing going on.

Jimmy Vesey barrelling down on Josh Archibald along the wing only to lose the handle on the puck just isn’t the same as McDavid and J.T. Miller trying to one-up each other.

This likely means less than people will make it out to be, but prior to puck drop, Miller and McDavid had a lengthy discussion at center ice while their teams warmed up.

That’s just something you don’t see all the time — especially from Miller — and it likely wasn’t mentioned or seen on the TV broadcast, and I found it interesting.

Miller was asked about what was said in this conversation, and said it was “something private.”

Do with that what you will.

The two had a few battles throughout the night, and it appeared as though Miller was getting under McDavid’s skin a bit later in the game.

The two teams went back and forth for a bit, then with 3:29 remaining, the Canucks pulled their goalie and set up in the offensive zone with all their gunners out.

This included Brock Boeser, who received the puck off the draw and ripped home his 18th of the season to make it 4-3 Oilers.

The Canucks tried their best to complete the comeback, but Connor McDavid put the final touches on this one by burying the empty netter to make it 5-3 Oilers.

The Fancies

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Shorty is a man of the people.

The Botchford Project was a smashing success once again. Congratulations to all three of the recipients.

 

Wrap up and player of the game

JT Miller: JT Miller had a solid game. His effort level was through the roof, and he looked engaged all night. We likely won’t ever know what was said between him and McDavid pregame, but it will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow night.

The Canucks will be right back at it tomorrow night when they face off against the Oilers once again. We’re getting into the final stretch of the season now folks.