After a less-than-stellar preseason where they could only pick up two wins, the Vancouver Canucks will wipe the slate clean with a trip to Alberta to face the Edmonton Oilers for their first regular-season game since a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames in May. Here are three things that need to happen for them to start the 2021-22 season on the right foot.
1. Stay Out of the Penalty Box
The Oilers had the best power play in the NHL during the 2020-21 season and they stand to keep that crown in 2021-22. Anchored by the two-headed monster of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they scored 48 power play goals in 56 games and converted on 27.6 percent of their chances. During the 10-game series last season, they were able to score 11 goals on 37 opportunities. For people keeping score at home, that is a success rate of 29 percent.
During the preseason, the Canucks not only had problems staying out of the box, but they also struggled on the penalty kill. With the offseason losses of Alex Edler, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Loui Eriksson along with the current injuries to Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter, they can ill afford to be shorthanded in this game. The Oilers are just too good on the power play to let opportunities pass them by. If they take too many penalties, they will get burned eventually.
2. Contain McDavid and Draisaitl
Every team goes into a game against the Oilers hoping to shut down the superstar duo of McDavid and Draisaitl. Most of the time, they fail. Over six seasons in the NHL, McDavid has only failed to hit 100 points twice. He put together a staggering 105 points in only 56 games last season and is poised to do the same again this season. He also has three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Trophies, and three Lester B. Pearson Awards in his trophy case. Not to be outdone, Draisaitl has already hit the 500-point plateau in only 478 games and has one each of an Art Ross, Hart, and Pearson Award as well. So, shutting them down is usually a fool’s errand.
The only thing the Canucks can hope to do is contain them and limit their chances. Unfortunately, history is not on their side when it comes to doing that. In 31 career games apiece, McDavid and Draisaitl have a combined 31 goals and 89 points. Last season alone, they torched the boys in blue and green 15 times in 10 games. To have any chance at winning this first matchup, the Oilers’ current version of Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri cannot be given free rein of the offensive zone. Going back to the first key, also don’t hand them an extra weapon by giving them time on the power play.
3. Keep the Puck Away From Mike Smith
No matter how many times the Canucks have played against Mike Smith whether it be with the Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, or Calgary Flames, they still haven’t been able to figure out how to keep the puck away from him. Every team in the NHL knows how much he likes to play the puck. Yes, he’s good at it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep him from being a factor with strategic dump-ins and awareness when he has the puck on his stick.
During the preseason, the Canucks were burned multiple times on line changes when Smith decided to one-up the puck to a forward or defenceman hanging out at their blue line. In this game, they need to be aware of that and either keep players late or dump the puck softly into the corner where he can’t go out and get it.
Canucks March to the Playoffs Starts Now
The Canucks and Oilers met 10 times last season with the Oilers winning the season series 6-4. Going back to last season, the Canucks are riding a two-game winning streak after a 6-3 victory on May 6 and a 4-1 triumph on May 15. Elias Pettersson was not in the lineup for both of those games and will make his return to regular season ice for the first time since Mar 2, 2021.
The Canucks will need a hot start from Pettersson and Quinn Hughes if they hope to make any noise in the Pacific Division this season. It all starts here against the Oilers. If they can come out of this initial six-game road trip with a winning record, it will go a long way to building confidence that this team can be a playoff team in April.
Projected Line Combinations, Defence Pairings & Starting Goaltenders
J.T. Miller – Elias Pettersson – Alex Chiasson
Tanner Pearson – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland
Matthew Highmore – Jason Dickinson – Nils Hoglander
Justin Dowling – Juho Lammikko – Vasily Podkolzin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes – Tucker Poolman
Brad Hunt – Luke Schenn
Thatcher Demko: 3-6 all-time against the Oilers with a 3.04 goals against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV%)
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Zach Hyman – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Kailer Yamamoto
Warren Foegele – Derek Ryan – Colton Sceviour
Brendan Perlini – Ryan McLeod – Kyle Turris
Darnell Nurse – Tyson Barrie
Duncan Keith – Cody Ceci
Kris Russell – Evan Bouchard
Mike Smith: 17-11 all-time against the Canucks with a 2.69 GAA and .911 SV% along with four shutouts
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.