Monday Musings: Canucks present different challenges for Oilers, but Edmonton is the favourite

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
For fans of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks waiting impatiently for their second round series to begin, chew on this nugget my late father once told me: “The worst part of life is waiting. The best part of life is having something that is worth waiting for.”
I don’t need to remind Oilers fans of the pain of 2007-2019, when their team made one playoff appearance. Canucks fans have only experienced the second round once in the past 13 years, and that was in 2020, when they couldn’t attend games in the bubble in Edmonton. Waiting a few more days for the second round series is much better than the alternative of not being in the second round.
1.  The Oilers and Canucks haven’t met in the playoffs since 1992, when Edmonton won in six games. Their other meeting occurred in 1986 when the Oilers swept their first-round best-of-five series 3-0. There really isn’t much of an on-ice rivalry between these two organizations, and hopefully, this playoff matchup will ignite one. And the fan rivalry isn’t deep, either. I’m sorry, but a few morons swearing or making racist remarks to the other fanbase isn’t a rivalry. It is ignorance. The vast majority of fans on either side have no actual reason to dislike the other team. Both teams have never been good at the same time.
2. This is only the second time both teams have been in the second round in the same season. The other was in 1992 when Vancouver won the Smythe division with 96 points, and the Oilers finished third with 82. The Oilers beat the Canucks in six games with Bill Ranford pitching a 26-save shutout in game six.
3. Most regular seasons the Oilers and Canucks haven’t even been within five points of each other when both made the playoffs. They were five points apart this year, three points separated them in 2001 and 2006, they were two points apart in 2002 and there was a one-point gap in 2020 when the season ended abruptly in March due to COVID. There hasn’t been much off an on-ice rivalry.
4. I understand Canucks fans didn’t like the Oilers in the 1980s and early 1990s, when they beat them for fun. It was the same for Oilers fans from 2007-2015 when the Henrik and Daniel Sedin crushed Edmonton. Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows would torment Oilers fans with their antics, but the games weren’t close. The animosity was simply due to their style of play. That should change this series, and hopefully it is the beginning of an actual on-ice rivalry. Both franchises could use another heated rival.
5. The problem is I don’t think this series will be that close, at least in games won and lost. I view Edmonton as the better team, especially with Thatcher Demko injured. Even if he was healthy, I don’t think it would be enough for the Canucks to win. They can’t match the top-end skill of the Oilers, they don’t have the playoff experience and they don’t have as much depth. Vancouver had five forwards score a goal in its opening round win over Nashville. They played six games. The Oilers had eight forwards score a goal in their five-game series victory over LA.
6. Edmonton enters with a significant advantage on special teams. Their powerplay was 45% (9-of-20), and they scored twice within a few second of the PP expiring. Vancouver was 15.4% (2-of-13) against Nashville and both goals came in game three.
The Canucks’ PK was quite good v. Nashville at 90.9% (killed 20 of 22), but Vancouver also took the most minors of any team in the opening round. If Edmonton gets 22 PP chances in this series, they will likely score at least eight goals, probably more. And Edmonton’s PK was perfect in round one killing off all 12 of LA’s power plays. The Canucks and Kings’ PP% in the regular season was almost identical with Vancouver at 22.7% and LA at 22.6%.
7. The Oilers’ PP didn’t just get hot for one playoff series.  Over the past three playoffs the Oilers’ PP is 36.7% (40-of-109). Here is their PP% over those series:
2024: 45% (9-for-20) in five games v. LA.
2023: 39.1% (9-for-23) in six games v. Vegas
2023: 56.3% (9-for-16) in six games v. LA.
2022: 18.1% (2-for-11) in four games v. COL
2022: 20% (4-for-20) in five games v. CGY
2022: 36.8% (7-for-19) in seven games. v. LA.
8. The Canucks will need to be very disciplined if they don’t want the Oilers’ PP to beat them like it did the Kings. LA averaged 4.00 times shorthanded (TS) per game in the first round, only the Rangers, at 4.40, were penalized more. You will hear the Canucks, and many analysts state Vancouver needs to stay out of the box, but that is easier said than done. Vancouver was shorthanded the 10th-most times in the regular season and were shorthanded 22 times in the opening round. For them to suddenly not take penalties will be difficult.
9. Vancouver will be a tougher challenge on special teams than LA was. I’m stunned how stubborn LA was and how the team didn’t really adjust. Their PK remained passive far too long. They allowed the Oilers to win faceoffs and get into set plays off the draw far too frequently. And their PP was equally stubborn. Edmonton opted to take away the pass from Drew Doughty to Adrian Kempe, yet Doughty didn’t shoot from the top. Vancouver’s PP has three main concerns. They like to have JT Miller on the left flank, set up Elias Pettersson for the one-timer on the right side and the Quinn Hughes “sifter” from the point. He is very good at getting it through and creating chaos as Brock Boeser crashes down low. Boeser had 16 PP goals in the regular season.
The Oilers’ PK forwards will have to be quick and very aware. Doughty was a right shot and it took him a bit longer to make the pass to the right side to Kempe, but Hughes is a lefty and he will be able to move it across to Pettersson much faster. This will present a new wrinkle for the Oilers penalty killers. And expect Vancouver’s PK to be much more aggressive and not allow the Oilers to have so many set plays off of faceoffs.
10. The regular-season meetings between these two teams means virtually nothing. Three of the games occurred in the first 12 games of the season and Edmonton was playing terribly, while Vancouver was playing a different style than they do now. The Canucks have become more defensive-minded in the second half of the season. They aren’t as passive as LA, in regards to a 1-3-1, but Vancouver doesn’t play run and gun like they did early in the season. Colorado got dominated by Winnipeg in the regular season. It didn’t matter in the playoffs. In 2021, in the all-Canadian division, Edmonton dominated Winnipeg,  but then lost four straight to the Jets in round one. The regular season meetings are inconsequential once the puck drops on Wednesday night.


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