Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Round Two Preview

Seeing the Vancouver Canucks in Round Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is an unexpected delight for their fans. For fans of the Edmonton Oilers, their team’s presence is the bare minimum. But both can agree on one thing: at least they aren’t playing their first-round opponent!

Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks Round Two Preview

Oilers and Canucks in Round Two Again (Kinda)!

The idea was to create rivalries. Teams in close(-ish) proximity fomenting a great hatred of each other, leading to monumental playoff clashes! And now, these two teams battle again, with the Canucks eager to get revenge for their six-game loss in… uh, 1992?

Okay, so only five Oilers and three Canucks had been born the last time the teams met in the playoffs. Vancouver’s starting goaltender wouldn’t exist for another decade. Corey Perry had only begun to shave. So maybe these two don’t have a huge playoff rivalry. And for good reason.

Frankly, they’ve both often sucked. For much of their existence, the Canucks were a team for Wayne Gretzky to set career highlights against.* Come the 21st Century, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were passing circles around an old or unready Oilers squad. Now, finally, it might be different.

Edmonton has appeared in the playoffs regularly again, and Vancouver has set itself up with an efficient, younger squad. Both teams are looking for more but from very different directions. Let’s see how the Oilers and Canucks reached Round Two.

Kicking and Screaming and Firing

The Edmonton Oilers started the year off badly. There’s no other way to put it. Coach Jay Woodcroft had picked up 50 wins the previous season, but after losing in the second round – again – he was on thin ice. Starting 2023-24 with a 3-9-1 record doomed him.

Woodcroft was replaced by Kris Knoblauch, who not only righted the ship but guided the team through a 16-game win streak. The core of it, as always, sat scorers Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. But also young defenceman Evan Bouchard and goalie Stuart Skinner finding their game.

The Oilers almost caught the Canucks for top spot in the division, falling just short. As a reward, they faced the Los Angeles Kings – again. The Kings’ heavy, trapping game was even less effective this season than the previous two and Edmonton got past in five.

The games were a mix of blowouts, opportunism, and a surprisingly tight 1-0 match where Edmonton only took 13 shots on net. But there was little doubt where the series would end.

Zach Hyman continued being his regular-season, trigger-happy self registering seven goals in those five games. McDavid scored once with 11 assists, and Draisaitl went 5-5-10. The side stories of Bouchard’s nine points from the blue line and Skinner’s confident play deserve just as much attention.

A dangerous power play destroyed LA, and their penalty kill held the Kings off the scoresheet. That’s an accomplishment, as the Kings had the second-best penalty kill in the league during the regular season.

Not-So-Slow and Steady

Included in those thirteen games that ended Woodcroft’s tenure were three against Vancouver. The Canucks had the opposite season of Edmonton, enjoying a huge start early and not letting up for months. It took until February before they lost three consecutive games, and they only did that the once.

Vancouver’s opponent played a faster, quick-attack and high-pursuit game than Edmonton’s. The sizable Nashville Predators relied on a strong physical presence, too, hitting the Canucks on every shift. It was a rare moment Vancouver’s players didn’t pay a price for their chances.

That proved to be the Predator’s downfall in Game Four, but they managed something few teams have: to slow down Norris Trophy nominee Quinn Hughes. With Hughes moving at half his usual speed, they could break out more frequently on rush plays.

The constant pressure reduced Vancouver’s effectiveness on the cycle, and chasing Nashville’s players put them in penalty trouble. Nashville’s 22 power plays to Vancouver’s 13 would normally have spelled the Canucks’ doom.

But the Predators could only score power-play goals twice in six games. And now the Canucks are in the second round for the second time since their Stanley Cup Final run in 2010-11.

In large part, that showed how much had changed this year. Right from his arrival, coach Rick Tocchet hammered in on systems play. That, and management’s focus on acquiring strong defensive players, let them ride through the challenge.

The Other Challenge

The Canucks MVP from the Nashville series could well be goalie coach Ian Clark. His sterling reputation continues to be burnished by the play of his students, but this was something else.

After Thatcher Demko went out with a week-to-week injury, what was a sure strength became a weakness. Casey DeSmith provided what he had all season: “good enough to win” goaltending. Then when he was injured, rookie Artūrs Šilovs stepped up and claimed the net.

At this point, it’s Šilovs’ net to lose, but a determined Predators squad is not the Edmonton Oilers. Vancouver’s leading scorer, Brock Boeser, would be fifth in Oilers’ scoring. With Demko not expected to return for at least a week, Šilovs in the Canucks last line of defence.

With only a dozen NHL games worth of experience, he won’t be someone the Oilers will know well.

At the other end of the ice is Stuart Skinner, who unlike Šilovs has his own history in the playoffs. He shouldered much of the blame for last season’s second-round exit. While he didn’t steal any games, Edmonton played a much more wide-open game, leaving him vulnerable and relying on scorers.

Skinner’s very good regular season numbers didn’t hold up, though there was clearly no thought of replacing him. Calvin Pickard is an honest workman as backup, but not a starter for the second season. This year is his, and that fourth game against the Kings was a statement. Edmonton is not afraid to forgo personal stats to get the win.

Oilers or Canucks Beyond Round Two

The safe money has got to be on Edmonton, here. They have a deadly power play, a commitment to defence when needed, and game-breakers through the lineup. Good size, great speed and a lot of scoring talent up front has a very good top pair behind it.

Bouchard has veteran Matthias Ekholm beside him as a calm and constant presence with plenty of scoring touch. The whole team protects the supposed weak line, Skinner, and his play has been plenty good enough.

Vancouver, on the other hand, relies on a controlled pace and controlling the puck. If they thought Nashville had good breakouts, the Oilers are on a whole other level. Their speed is going to be a huge challenge, and they’ll need their set plays to cash in a lot more against Skinner than they did against Juuse Saros.

The Canucks “X-factor” is, as expected, in net. Šilovs is a mystery but has come up clutch in the highest-pressure situations available. The defence knows their job, and if point-per-game centre Elias Pettersson can find his confidence, he adds a new dimension to the game.

If Vancouver is looking for a weakness, nine of McDavid’s points were on special teams, as were seven of Draisaitl’s and five of Bouchard’s. But for that to work, they need to limit the number of times Edmonton goes on the power play. That’s going to be hard, as the team who is chasing usually takes the penalties.

And the Oilers are very, very fast.

However these games go, they will be a complete change from the previous round. The games should provide a lot more scoring chances, a lot more open skating, and probably a lot more scoring.

Maybe, just maybe, this whole playoff rivalry thing can work!

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