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Scenes from morning skate: DeSmith starts for Canucks while McDavid sits for Oilers in big Pacific Division tilt

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
1 month ago
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The race for the Pacific Division title comes down to the final week of the National Hockey League season. Tonight, the first-place Vancouver Canucks (48-22-9) will try to extend their lead over the second-place Edmonton Oilers (48-24-6) when the teams meet at Rogers Place in the Alberta capital. 
The Canucks enter the night with a three point lead however the Oilers hold a game in hand. As it stands right now, Vancouver holds the tiebreaker meaning Edmonton has to finish ahead of the Canucks to take the division crown. 
The Oilers will be without captain Connor McDavid, who will miss a third straight game with a lower-body injury.

What we saw

While intrigue swirled around Thatcher Demko’s status for this game, Casey DeSmith gets the start in goal for the Canucks. He hasn’t played since suffering his fourth straight loss in a 6-3 setback in Los Angeles last Saturday. He has allowed six goals in each of his last two starts.
Brock Boeser, who took a pair of maintenance days earlier in the week, was back on the ice with his teammates for this morning’s skate. It appears Boeser will reunite on a line with JT Miller and Pius Suter. 
Elias Pettersson will centre Nils Höglander and Ilya Mikheyev, while Elias Lindholm gets a turn between Conor Garland and Dakota Joshua. Vasily Podkolzin looks set to draw back in on the fourth line with Teddy Blueger and Sam Lafferty.
It’s a matter of perspective: the Canucks have picked up points in four of their last eight games or dropped five of their last eight (3-4-1). Either way, they have alternated wins and losses over their last seven outings dating back to a March 28th defeat against Dallas.
While the Canucks still lead the NHL in first goals scored with 50, they have fallen behind in six of their last eight games. Their March 31st game against Anaheim is the only time in that stretch the Canucks have managed to build a 2-0 lead or hold a two-goal lead of any kind.
The power play is heating up with goals in five of the last six games. Over that time, the Canucks are seven for 20 (35%) with the man-advantage.
Quinn Hughes has had a hand in nine of the Canucks last 15 goals scoring four times and assisting on five others in the last five games. He set up all three goals on Wednesday against Arizona to push his point total to 91 for the season. That’s already 15 more than he had last season with three games remaining.
JT Miller carries a nine-game point streak into action tonight. He has 3+9=12 over that span. This is his second nine-game point streak of the season.
Like the Canucks, the Oilers are coming off an overtime loss to Arizona. Despite holding a 40-23 edge in shots, Edmonton fell 3-2 on home ice when Matias Maccelli scored at 1:35 of OT. Adam Henrique and Darnell Nurse scored for the Oilers while Calvin Pickard made 25 saves. Stuart Skinner had the night off, but will get the nod in net tonight. Skinner is 35-14-5 on the season with a 2.59 GAA and a .907 save percentage. He starts the day tied for second in the league in goalie victories.
The Oilers are 27-8-4 on home ice. Their 159 goals as the home team ranks second in the league behind Colorado and their 33.3% power play at home is the best in the NHL.
Zack Hyman leads the Oilers with a career-high 53 goals. Evan Bouchard is having himself a season with 17 goals and 79 points from the blueline. He is fourth among all NHL defencemen in scoring trailing only Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar and Roman Josi. Of Leon Draisatl’s 41 goals on the season 21 have come on the power play. Only Florida’s Sam Reinhard (27) has scored more this season. Draisaitl has a point in 21 straight games against the Canucks.
The Canucks took the first three games of the season series from the Oilers. All of the games were played in the first three weeks of the season, including the home openers for both clubs in mid-October. Quinn Hughes had eight points in those games. Brock Boeser had six goals, including a career-high four on opening night.
After tonight, the Canucks have a home game on Tuesday against Calgary and finish their regular season in Winnipeg on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Oilers host San Jose on Monday and then wrap up their schedule in Arizona on Wednesday and Colorado on Thursday.
Today’s referees: Corey Syvret and Garrett Rank

What we heard

Canucks assistant coach Mike Yeo on head coach Rick Tocchet skipping the morning skate due to illness: “Game time decision. He’s obviously a little under the weather. It’s just a little bit more precautionary than anything else right now just until he knows he’s feeling better. Just keep it out of the dressing room for now.”
Mike Yeo on the stakes tonight: “You tell the players have it on their mind and that their players have it on their mind. Obviously at this time of year everybody is trying to gear up for the playoffs and make sure their game is in order and they’re feeling good going into the playoffs. But that said, there is a pride factor and there is an element of you obviously want to finish high in the standings and have home ice for as long as possible. I expect a pretty exciting atmosphere tonight.”
Quinn Hughes on facing Oilers without McDavid: “Obviously, it changes things. He’s one of the best out there if not the best. They still have a really, really good team. You saw what they did to Vegas two nights ago so we’ve got to be ready.”
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