The Vancouver Canucks have scored seven goals in five winless pre-season games. The Edmonton Oilers scored seven goals against them on Monday.
A mismatch in lineup strength led predictably to a mismatch on the scoreboard, although the Canucks competed and stayed close for two periods before dissolving late in the third and losing 7-2.
The second-tier Canucks displayed more intensity and effort than many of the top players had in previous games, but still fell to 0-3-2. The team has a lot of work to do this week in its final two pre-season games to get ready for its National Hockey League regular season, which begins against the Oilers in Edmonton next Wednesday.
“You just want to see the right things being done,” coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters Monday morning. “That's probably why I was upset the other night. No matter who you've got in the lineup, you never want to get out worked.”
Unlike in Saturday’s lifeless 4-0 loss against the Seattle Kraken, the Canucks were not outworked by the Oilers. But they were outgunned, dressing a lineup that may have as few as five or six players back in Edmonton for the game that counts. And they were out-goaltended.
But by the end, it wasn’t the Oilers’ stars that sunk them — Conor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined for one assist — but a hat trick by NHL-hopeful Dylan Holloway and a pair of late goals by Warren Foegele.
Nils Hoglander and Conor Garland scored for the Canucks, who were tied 1-1 halfway through the game and trailed 3-2 until Tyson Barrie was left unchecked on an outnumbered rush late in the second period.
The Canucks close out their pre-season with home games Wednesday, in Abbotsford against the Oilers, and Friday at Rogers Arena against the Arizona Coyotes.
“I think we'll get down to our team pretty soon and I think we'll be fine after that,” Boudreau said before the game-day flight to Edmonton. “I've got a lot of faith in this group. I told them that today: I think they're a really good team and, you know, we're just going to ramp it up pretty soon.”
Better be very soon.
AN A ON D
After losing meekly in Seattle with five NHL defencemen in their lineup, the Canucks on Monday didn’t have anyone on the blue line guaranteed to be playing opening night, although it’s hard to imagine that Kyle Burroughs won’t be on the roster given his solid, combative pre-season.
But it looked for much of the game like Christian Wolanin, the 27-year-old journeyman signed as a free agent to boost organizational depth, was the best defenceman on either team.
Logging top-pairing minutes and quarterbacking the first-unit power play, Wolanin was all over the ice and set up both Canucks goals, including a beautiful no-look dish to Hoglander for a power-play marker that tied the game early in the second.
Wolanin also hit a crossbar and a post while finishing with five shot attempts, three blocks, 22:12 of ice time and an expected goals-for of 57.6 per cent at five on five.
Barring further Canuck injuries, he still isn’t making the NHL lineup. But it was an impressive performance that will have been noted by the Canucks and others.
NO PUSH FROM BELOW
Although there was re-assuring effort shown by the modest lineup, it has been disappointing in the pre-season that none of the Canucks prospects, besides Swedish League free agents Linus Karlsson and Nils Aman and veteran minor-league centre Sheldon Dries, has made a serious push for NHL employment.
Speedy, hit-seekiing winger Will Lockwood had his best game on Monday, but hasn’t done nearly enough. Winger Danila Klimovich, so good at the rookie tournament in Penticton two weeks ago, looks lost among NHL players and was minus-three with a 9.7 xGF%. Defenceman Jet Woo is already assigned to the American League, and Brady Keeper has a long way to go to work back from last season’s broken leg. And we’re not sure goalie Mike DiPietro is still in the organization.
None of these players, with the possible exception of Lockwood, was expected to make the Canucks this fall. But all teams want to see their prospects pushing upwards, trying to force their way to the NHL or at least make roster decisions difficult. That hasn’t happened.
Minor-league goalie Arturs Silovs has been good, but the competition for depth jobs seems to be almost entirely between the NHL depth players who were already on the projected roster.
One year ago, on the eve of last season, DiPietro firmly held the No. 3 spot in the organization. He was the presumed minor-league starter, a Canucks injury away from playing in the NHL. He was a key prospect, Now he is the distant No. 5 in the organization, an after-thought who has played just a single pre-season period – mopping up for the Canucks’ travelling split-squad on the opening night of exhibition games.
Collin Delia, a 28-year-old minor-leaguer signed in July as a free agent to push for playing time with the Abbotsford Canucks, played the full game against the Oilers. He made some strong saves, but allowing seven goals on 36 shots is never going to be good enough, even if the team collapsed in front of him at the end and allowed the Oilers to score three times in the last three minutes.
But that he got the start at all was significant.
The Canucks’ final two warmup games will be handled largely — possibly entirely — by NHL goalies Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin. So the auditioning in goal may be done for now. And DiPietro is last.
No wonder he is looking for a fresh start elsewhere.
THE MARK OF LAZAR
After Boudreau’s pre-game call to action, one of the best Canucks was experienced centre Curtis Lazar, who was signed in July to be Vancouver's fourth-line centre but played higher up the lineup against the Oilers.
He led by example, which is what the Canucks expected when they grabbed the 27-year-old free agent who has logged 404 NHL games but figured out how to be an everyday, depth contributor only during the last couple of seasons with the Boston Bruins.
Lazar was so engaged physically he drew a roughing penalty from Draisaitl and apparently frustrated McDavid enough on another shift that the best player in hockey cross-checked Burroughs. Lazar finished with four shots on net.
He had been playing right wing during the pre-season, but Boudreau swapped him and Jason Dickinson, moving Dickinson to the wing, and got Lazar’s A-game at centre.
“Curtis Lazar, I thought you could tell he played on a winning, championship-type team,” Boudreau said after the game. “And I thought Pods (Vasily Podkolzin) was an awful lot better than he was the other night. Good, quality playing from a couple of those guys that really gave themselves a chance.”