It has been 13 years since the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks met in a game that meant a lot in the NHL standings. It was March 25th, 2006. The Canucks entered the game in 7th spot in the western conference with 82 points, while the Oilers were in 8th place with 80 points. LA was 9th with 79 and San Jose was 8th with 78. All four teams played that night and heading into the game the Canucks had 11 games remaining, the Oilers and Kings had 12 while San Jose had 14.
The Oilers defeated the Canucks 3-2 on goals from Ryan Smyth and Sergei Samsonov, and Steve Staios scored the winner two minutes into the third period. The Sharks and Kings also won so the standings at the end of the night had Edmonton and Vancouver with 82 points, LA with 81 and San Jose with 80. The Sharks finished on a tear going 10-3-1 in their final 14 games and finished 5th in the conference. Edmonton went 7-4-1 and finished eighth, while the Canucks stumbled in the back stretch going 4-5-2 and finished 9th. The Kings ended up 10th going 5-7-0.
Edmonton and Vancouver fans still have a healthy rivalry, but you haven’t played a meaningful head-to-head matchup in 13 years. That changes tonight. Enjoy.
1. Edmonton and Vancouver are tied with Anaheim for 9th in the western conference with 47 points. The Minnesota Wild defeated the Kings in a shootout last night and hold the final wildcard spot with 49 points, while Colorado has the first wildcard spot with 50. The Canucks defeated the Oilers on December 16th and 27th by identical 4-2 scores. Brock Boeser had three points in the first game and the Canucks scored four goals in the first period in the second meeting. Elias Pettersson will be a game time decision, and whether he is in the lineup of not, the Oilers can’t afford to lose three in a row against a team they are battling for a playoff spot. These are the types of games players love to be in and fans love to watch. It’s been a long time since these teams faced off in a meaningful game, and both fanbases should enjoy it while also developing a healthy hatred for the opposition.
2. Suddenly Milan Lucic has more goals in 2019, three, than the two he produced in 2018. It was remarkable to see Lucic suddenly stop scoring. As I outlined a few weeks ago, Lucic produced, on average, one goal every four games for the first 10.5 seasons of his career. Then in 2018 he produced two goals in 82 games. The 2018 year was awful offensively for him. It was more than a player showing signs of aging. It was a massive outlier. I looked up other players and could not find a forward whose goal/game ratio went from 1:4 to 1:41. There was no gradual decline, it was him skating to the edge of a cliff and falling off. With two goals last game he has three in his last four, and three goals in the first seven games of 2019.
3. Lucic had nine goals and 26 points in the first 36 games of the 2017-2018 season. He was right on pace with his one goal every four game ratio. Then he just stopped scoring. He missed numerous open nets and in some games in March and April of 2018 he looked disinterested. He scored one goal the remainder of the season, and then only once between October-December of 2018. Lucic’s effort was much more consistent this season despite his slump reaching new levels of unproductiveness. I don’t know how much he will produce the remainder of the season, but if he manages even a 1:6 goal/game ratio the Oilers would be ecstatic. Can he produce nine goals in the final 36 games? History says he can, and I’m curious to see what he does.
4. Lucic’s 2018 struggles illustrate how much of NHL success is mental. He didn’t suddenly lose all his skills, but he played like he had. He struggled making the simplest pass. I spoke to Lucic at length after his two-goal performance and as always he was very candid and upfront. I give Lucic a lot of credit, because throughout his dreadful slump he never shied away from the media. He didn’t hide. And after his best offensive game and first multi-goal game as an Oiler since April 6th, 2017 against San Jose, when he scored a hat trick, we talked about confidence.
5. “The first goal, and I’ve talked about it before, when you have confidence you aren’t thinking, you just shoot it hard and it found a way in,” said Lucic. “It was nice to score again so quickly after the San Jose game. I’m not afraid to say I had l lost my confidence. It is hard to explain, but you never want to lose it and you can’t just magically get it back. The best players in the world come to the rink cocky, and not in a bad way, but they have swagger and they believe they will make a difference in the games. You can see it. I had that swagger for a long time, I’m not saying I’m like them, but I was a consistent scorer and I knew I could produce, but I lost that feeling and it was difficult.”
6. “I’m not going to go into 2018 anymore, but we have lots to play for in 2019 and so do I. Right now getting the two points is the most important thing for our team, but it was nice to contribute. It feels good and it is amazing how different you play when you have confidence. You don’t think as much, you just play,” said Lucic. I understand why he doesn’t want to look in the past anymore, because there are very few positives for him, or the Oilers, from the 2018 calendar year. The Oilers playoff hopes would increase significantly if Lucic could remain an offensive contributor the remainder of the way.
7. A funny scene unfolded at the end of practice yesterday. I was standing behind the net, where the zamboni enters, watching the Oilers skate. The formal part of practice had ended and all the D-men were doing a shooting drill right in front of me. They were taking shots from the blueline, some were one-timing passes that came from the coach in the corner, while others were just taking stationary slapshots. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid skated over and after Draisaitl spoke to Adam Larsson, Draisaitl lined up to take a slapper…standing still. He looked very awkward and all the defenders and Draisaitl started laughing. In the room afterwards, I asked him when was the last time he took a slapshot standing still in a game.
“I don’t think I ever have. I can’t even raise the puck on a (stationary) slapshot I think, honestly. It is pretty impressive how guys score from back there (blue line), because unless it has eyes, or somehow trickles in from back there, I don’t think I could ever score from there,” said Draisaitl.
8. Very few forwards take slappers in games, never mind score goals with a slapshot. The rare breeds like Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine can, but when you think about it, for many of the top point producers, slapshots aren’t part of their arsenal. For Draisaitl he rarely took slapshots as a kid. “I was never shooting. I never really cared about shooting the puck too much. Obviously, I worked on it and I knew I had to improve my shot, which I did, but to me passing was always way more fun. I’d way rather watch someone score and see how excited they are. I enjoyed more making a nice pass that led to a goal. I’ve always been a pass-first guy.”
9. He has become more of a shooter the past few years. Not in slapshot form, but his snapshot and wristshot have become very good. What work has he done to improve his shot?
“Sometimes it is not improving your shot, sometimes it is about the position you put yourself to not give the goalie a chance to stop the puck. A lot of people think the guy with the hardest shot score the most goals, and there is some truth to that with Ovechkin and Tarasenko, they have great shots, but some of the best goal scorers don’t have the hardest shots in the world they just know where to put it, they know when to shoot it and they get in positions where the goalie can’t stop it. Improving your shot isn’t just about the velocity, it is about accuracy, and when you release it. I’ve studied that more than just trying to make my shot harder,” said Draisaitl.
10. Tobias Rieder is lucky Lucic struggled as much as he did because it took the focus of Rieder. He doesn’t have a goal this season, and he was pointless in 20 games prior to his two assists Monday night against Buffalo. Rieder is in a similar outlier situation to Lucic. Rieder scored 13, 14, 16 and 12 goals in his first four seasons, but he has zero in 33 games this year. Zero. He only has points in five games. He has produced two assists four times this season, which is good, but having one point in his other 29 games is brutal. Maybe his two points will give him a boost. In his first four years he averaged 14 goals and 29 points. Is he capable of scoring six goals down the stretch? He is, and like Lucic, if he can end his horrific outlier season soon, he too could be a major boon for the Oilers’ depth scoring.
From peewee to the pros, Albertans loves the atmosphere, energy, and life lessons that take place at rinks across the province. And where there’s an arena, you’ll find an ATB branch nearby—with our team members cheering and fundraising along with you. See more information at ATB.com.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Can the Oilers Improve?
- Nurse Emerging as Offensive Threat
- GDB 44.0: Home Jekyll or Home Hyde
- Playoffs, NHL Awards and Penalties
- GDB 43.0: Dynamite Defence
- McDavid drawing penalties at a much lower rate
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/16/2019 – 9:30 am MST