Canucks ‘keep it cool’ with confidence, composure in another win over Oilers

Quinn Hughes, Pius Suter and Brock Boeser scored in a 3:22 span of the first period and the Vancouver Canucks beat the slumping Edmonton Oilers 6-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.

VANCOUVER — In his pre-game media availability Monday morning, Vancouver Canucks coach Rick Tocchet gave a surprising answer when asked what has pleased him most about his team’s surprising start.

Tocchet didn’t mention the other-worldly play of stars like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko, who have been as good as anyone in hockey the first month of the season. He didn’t cite the Canucks’ league-leading offence or goals-differential, or the complete buy-in of players in his system, or the vast improvement in team defence.

No, the thing above all others that has pleased Tocchet is his team’s mindset.

“I think the mindset of the team,” he answered. “I think for me, every day is a different day. Maybe we’ve had a bad game — like maybe not the greatest game — or we’ve had a really good game, and the next day it just seems, I don’t know, like a business-like approach. And I give them a lot of credit. I don’t see the highs and lows around here. Yeah, you feel good about yourself confidence-wise. But it seems the next day, it seems like guys get back on track really quick. Sometimes you can get a little (like a) roller-coaster, but I haven’t seen that with his team.”

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And then the Canucks went out Monday night and poured more points into their National Hockey League account and more misery on the Edmonton Oilers, winning 6-2 despite getting outshot 19-2 in the first 10 minutes.

The game was played at Rogers Arena but, really, it was decided in the players’ heads. Between the ears, it wasn’t close, one team brimming with composure and self-belief, the other as fragile as a Jenga tower and about as chaotic when it tumbled — as everyone knew it would.

The mindset that Tocchet mentioned was as important as Hughes, the Canuck defenceman whose four points give him 20 in just 12 games, or another two goals from Brock Boeser or Demko’s 40 saves. 

OK, maybe Demko was more prominent, but Monday’s game doesn’t go the way it did without the headspace each team currently inhabits. At 9-2-1, the mind is a haven for the Canucks; it’s a torture chamber for the Oilers.

“For sure, it’s a big confidence thing,” Canuck centre Pius Suter said after his goal broke a 1-1 tie at 13:22 of the first period with yet another shot that Oiler goalie Stuart Skinner should have saved. “Under pressure, you keep it cool and maybe weather a storm a little bit for a few minutes. We stuck with it and just got a little bit more moving.”

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The Canucks skated much better after the first 10 minutes, as their bodies got back to the level of their minds.

“We all know how they were going to come prepared to play, and they did,” Canuck centre J.T. Miller said. “They executed really well. I think they were a little more ready than we were, a little quicker to pucks, a little stronger on pucks. Demmer really kept that game in check for us, no question. And then. . . we kind of started to flip it.”

And was confidence a factor in playing their way out of the first 10 minutes, when Mattias Ekholm scored on the power play for Edmonton and the Oilers could have led by three or four goals were it not for Demko?

“Absolutely,” Miller said. “It’s nice to see the results. I feel like in years past we’d do all the right things and come out on the wrong end of it. We’ll enjoy tonight and then flip the page and go to the next game.”

Asked about the Canucks’ resilience, Demko said: “I think that’s been something that we’ve grown in a ton this year. It doesn’t matter what comes down the pipe, next shift the next group of guys try to find a solution and try to change the momentum. Sometimes it takes a few shifts in a row, which we ended up doing eventually and getting momentum back on our side.

“I think as a group, we’ve brought the same mindset to every game. The more we do right now to kind of take some pressure off here as the season goes — that’s not to say that we don’t have a ton of work to do — (but) I’ve been really impressed with our group as far as staying the course, just day in and day out, not taking your foot off the gas.”

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The Canucks head full-throttle to Eastern Canada for games against the Senators, Maple Leafs and Canadiens, starting Thursday in Ottawa. 

Now 3-0 this season against Edmonton and 14 points ahead of Connor McDavid’s team, Vancouver has outscored opponents 23-5 while winning its last four games. 

Their three goals in 3 ½ minutes midway through the first period on Monday, to lead 3-1 while being outshot 19-7, eradicated the Oilers’ early momentum and decided the game, even if Leon Draisaitl’s goal at 7:38 of the second period briefly brought the visitors back within one.

But Canuck fourth-liner Nils Hoglander buried a rebound to make it 4-2 at 10:52 after Oiler defenceman Evan Bouchard was caught on a two-on-one and then failed to fully backcheck when he could have caught Hoglander.

By the third period, the Canucks were getting power-play goals from Boeser and J.T. Miller while McDavid was taking a roughing minor and Draisaitl was hurting his team with a 10-minute misconduct, and Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft was breaking the dumb-o-metre by taking a bench minor and game misconduct for verbally accosting referee Kevin Pollock with 6:47 remaining.

And all the Jenga blocks rattled off the coffee table and scattered as the Canucks calmly watched.

“We’re playing consistent,” Vancouver defenceman Carson Soucy said. “Our forwards are just doing such a great job tracking and that makes it easy for us to be moving the puck north. We’re a really a good team down low, and we’re getting the puck down there and the results are kind of just showing themselves.

“Anytime you’re on a little win streak it’s awesome, especially at home. And, obviously, kind of a little rivalry here (with Edmonton) so winning always feels a little better. But yeah, it’s just fun. We just want to keep it going. We’re playing some good hockey.”

Which gives them the confidence and eagerness to play more.

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