EDMONTON — It was about toughness Tuesday night at Rexall Place. Toughness that sat out of the Vancouver Canucks lineup for the first time in 679 games, and toughness that just does not exist in Edmonton’s game anymore.
In the end it was one of those no-hitters that proved to us why the stats so often lie. In a 2-1 win that did not assuage Canucks fans concerns over the state of their team’s play, the off-ice officials inexplicably counted 28 hits for Edmonton against 13 for Vancouver.
This, folks, was a no-hitter.
Vancouver winger Zack Kassian waltzed into Rexall Place after having carelessly busted Oiler Sam Gagner’s jaw with his stick in a preseason game on Sept. 21, and then openly mocked Gagner’s plight in Vancouver on Dec. 13 in a Vancouver rematch.
Kassian would finish Tuesday’s game with the winning goal, and in need of neither ice bag nor hot tub. Had he played the game with a piece of fine blown glass from one of those Granville Island artisans resting on his shoulder, it would have been intact when he reached the post-game dressing room.
“He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to fight,” repeated Oilers captain Andrew Ference. “Luke (Gazdic) went over and talked to him. You want him to just jump (Kassian)? You guys would be the first ones to (write about it).”
Yes, an Oiler could have fought Kassian to show their unity. But it didn’t have to be a fight.
Someone could have levied a body check at Kassian, but that didn’t happen. At least act like Gagner — who has fought tougher men than Kassian in defence of his own — a teammate whose honour was worth putting a glove in someone’s face.
Alas, head coach Dallas Eakins’ response to the Oilers systemic lack of physicality was similarly phrased to Ference’s. He liked their physical game, actually. Was happy with the level they were at Tuesday.
After years and years of players like Kassian taking out Oilers players with impunity and then rolling through town like a visit from the Queen, it has become acceptable in Edmonton, it seems. OK then.
This was the Oilers fifth straight loss — the fourth losing streak of such length this season. They have lost 37 of their 53 starts this season, yet taking an ill-timed minor penalty is still of greater concern in Edmonton than showing an opponent that you aren’t going to be a pushover anymore.
So the Canucks were free to operate as they always do at Rexall, controlling the play for the first half of the game, despite the loss of their head coach John Tortorella to suspension and captain Henrik Sedin to injury. They are a vastly superior team — as the records make obvious — but as much as this was a movie we’ve seen countless times before, there was a new wrinkle here for all but one of the Canucks.
Only Daniel Sedin had ever played an NHL game without his brother Henrik. Not another player in this Canucks lineup had, before Tuesday night, when Henrik missed his first game since March of 2003.
Said Kevin Bieksa before the game: “This is going to be the first time I have not walked down the hallway without Henrik directly in front of me, (Bieksa) yelling his name. Burr hasn’t. Kes hasn’t. Danny is the only one, 700 games ago or whatever it was.”
It was 679 games to be exact, since Henrik had missed a game. The incredibly durable Swede has missed only 11 games of a possible 1001 starts since he came to the National Hockey League for the 2000-01 season.
Eleven games missed in 13 seasons, while playing against the top defensive pairings night in, night out. Daniel, meanwhile, has sat out 44 games in his entire career.
You want toughness?
“A lot of times, in North America, the perception of what tough is fighting. How big and strong you are,” Bieksa said. “But taking punishment, enduring it. Being durable. Playing through pain and injuries, that’s the definition of tough.
“These guys (the Sedins) don’t shy away from the tough areas. They’re not perimeter players. They’ve made a living playing the cycle, playing in the other team’s end down low. Usually the biggest, baddest defencemen on the other team are taking runs at them. They absorb a lot.”
They absorb a lot on many nights, though Henrik might have made it through this visit to Edmonton with what we are guessing is a rib injury from a Martin Hanzal cross check.
Rexall Place is where the injured come to heal, and the guilty come to go unpunished.
Where the visiting trainer can forget the ice bags at home, and no one notices. And where the Canucks come to win.