Little did we know that blowing leads would become an early-season trend for the Canucks — a trend that peaked in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, where Vancouver coughed up a three-goal lead with 15 minutes to play.
So when the Canucks found themselves with a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes in Edmonton on Saturday night, we asked Tanner Pearson, did the word “Pittsburgh” even need to be spoken inside the Canucks dressing room?
“No,” he said. “No one really said anything — we all knew the job that had to be done.”
Or, as defenceman Jordie Benn so eloquently put it, when asked about protecting leads, “You want to be aggressive, but at the same time you’ve got to be thinking about where you are on the ice. You can’t be too horny out there.”
Having been on the road for two weeks, that wasn’t a problem for the Canucks, who closed this one out like a team that has learned how to win. Vancouver walked into Edmonton on the tail end of a six-game road trip — minus bottom-six centres Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle — and whipped the first-place Oilers 5-2.
On a night when Elias Pettersson and Leon Draisaitl each went pointless, the third-line left winger Pearson had two goals and four points — and Loui Eriksson scored his first goal of the season. Bo Horvat was a horse, setting up the final three Canucks goals in a game that Vancouver rather needed, considering the seven-point deficit it had behind Edmonton heading into a back-to-back weekend.
Now, a regulation win Sunday in Vancouver and the Canucks are three points out of the Pacific lead.
“The performance today, I was really impressed with,” said goalie Jacob Markstrom, who was better than his counterpart Mike Smith to be sure, though he was tested less. “The way we handled ourselves for 60 minutes, that’s really a positive thing, to not lay down after that Pittsburgh game.”
The Canucks will likely be without second-pairing defenceman Alex Edler on Sunday at home. He left the game after two periods with an upper body injury.
The keys to victory were two-fold: three Canucks goals from the bottom six and the first snipe all season from the star-crossed Eriksson, and the Horvat line (with Eriksson and J.T. Miller) not only checking Connor McDavid’s unit successfully, but outscoring them.
“I talked with Loui last week and talked about his game a little bit,” said head coach Travis Green, whose $6 million winger has been healthy-scratched at times. “I felt like when I put him back in, I’d give him a different look than playing with the fourth line. I thought tonight was a good night to do that and as it turned out, they end up scoring, that line.”
As for canceling out the McDavid line, “You almost need two lines that can play against them, for how much they play,” said Green. “So Bo played a little bit against them but Petey did as well.”
Down the hall, Oilers head coach Dave Tippett sees a team that’s hit a tepid stretch after a fairly stingy opening one-third of the schedule. They’re loose, and missing second-line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, out with a hand injury.
“There are times when you just have to have a little reset of the mind,” Tippett observed. “You look at early on in the year and it was all about defending and goals-against. The last couple games we haven’t defended nearly as well as we’d like to as a team.”
Nugent-Hopkins’ absence on the Oilers’ league-leading power play is noticeable. The unit moved the puck far too deliberately Saturday on a rare 0-for-3 night.
“Teams are talking about coming here and not taking penalties against us,” Tippett said. “So the few times that they do you have to make them pay. And they get something on the power play against you that gives them a boost.”
They’re back at it on Sunday. After a poor effort by Edmonton in its first game back from a long road trip, it will be the Canucks’ turn to try and buck that trend at Rogers Arena.