Defenceman Derrick Pouliot’s third-period goal gave the Canucks a 2-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers, extending Vancouver’s win streak to three games and causing public-safety warnings about rioting draftists.
Pouliot’s winner was set up by Nikolay Goldobin, while the best Canuck was first-year starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, who at 28 is no longer young but still important to the team’s rebuild. Even grinder Tyler Motte, who has done little since his acquisition a month ago at the NHL trade deadline, had his most effective game as a Canuck playing head-to-head against Connor McDavid.
The Oilers’ superstar, who scored Edmonton’s goal out of thin air and could still win the Hart Trophy as well as the scoring race, did his talking on the ice.
Just as occurred last season at Rogers Arena, the Oilers’ captain was not made available to Vancouver media curious about what the best player on earth might have thought about his team’s third straight loss.
That left more attention on Gaudette, the 21-year-old NCAA scoring champion and Hobey Baker Award finalist who signed Monday with the Canucks after his third season at Northeastern University.
“I didn’t feel too nervous out there,” Gaudette said. “I felt pretty comfortable. The game is definitely a little bit stronger out there, definitely a little bit faster, but I didn’t think it was too much [for me]. I think I’m going to be able to adjust.”
Gaudette certainly doesn’t lack confidence, even if he appears to lack the strength that will be required to thrive in the NHL. His first game was notable mostly because, well, it was his first game.
He registered two shots and one hit in 10:39 of ice time, and played just one shift in the final nine-and-a-half minutes.
Gaudette first touched NHL ice at 2:17 of the first period, and at 2:20 Milan Lucic nearly scored for the Oilers but was stopped point-blank by Markstrom.
To be fair, the bad line change wasn’t Gaudette’s fault and the rookie did immediately recognize the danger and tried unsuccessfully to close the gap on Lucic, but a goal-against three seconds into your first NHL shift would have been an inglorious start in pro hockey for the 2015 fifth-round pick.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like that,” Gaudette said. “First guy I saw was Lucic coming back door, and I had to try to pick him up. I just tried to get in there.”
To save Gaudette the embarrassment of a debut shift even shorter than Nikita Tryamkin’s 12-second twirl two seasons ago, Green left him on the ice as the second centre for the ensuing defensive-zone faceoff.
Before his shift ended, Gaudette shot wide from about 40 feet, knocked down the puck behind the Oilers net and was then bulldozed by Edmonton defenceman Darnell Nurse. Still, nobody got hurt or scored on.
His debut generated a lot of pre-game buzz, and that youth-driven energy the last couple of weeks has helped resuscitate the Canucks.
Pouliot, the 24-year-old defenceman in his first full NHL season, skated away from the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, took a soft pass from Goldobin and beat Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot with a pump-fake forehand to break a 1-1 tie at 2:00 of the third period.
Sam Gagner, who had allowed McDavid to skate past him and on to Andrej Sekera’s lob to score the Oilers’ first-period goal, tied the game from Daniel Sedin’s rebound at 15:14 of the second after Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson over-skated the puck.
Markstrom finished with 35 saves and suddenly has won four straight starts while stopping 127 of 132 shots.
“Gaudette was playing his first game tonight, and it’s such a thrill for him that as a team you kind of rally around that,” Gagner said. “The other night, it was [Ashton] Sauntner playing his first. These are definitely fun moments to be a part of and it does give you some enthusiasm.
“I like the way we’re playing right now. It builds some confidence in the process, and hopefully we can build on that going into next year.”
The Canucks collapsed at the end of last season, losing their final eight games to fall to 29th place in the NHL. Now, they’ve won four of their last five games and have moved seven points clear of last-place Buffalo. Some fans who were angry when the Canucks fell out of playoff contention this winter are now even more enraged that they’re ruining their draft-lottery odds.
“I don’t think as a player you can ever go into a game thinking about that,” Gagner said. “You play every game to win. It’s a privilege to play in this league, and every time you get an opportunity to play a game you go out there to compete and try to win. If it’s anything but that, it breeds a culture you will never win with.”