Oilers Need to Make the Most of the Depleted Canucks

Post-Publishing Note: Game is expected to be postponed. Article will be updated when more information is known.

The last time the Edmonton Oilers played a hockey game, the trade deadline was coming up in a few days. The team had generally been playing well, but the ever-changing schedule forced them to play their provincial rival, the Calgary Flames, on the day that a memorial service for the recently deceased Colby Cave occurred. The Oilers understandably were out of sorts that evening, dropping a 5-0 decision, and while one can question the National Hockey League’s decision to schedule that makeup game on a day the team had put aside for such an event, the Flames cannot be faulted for taking advantage of a distracted opponent.

Matthew Tkachuk, Mikko Koskinen
A previous meeting in the Battle of Alberta. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

The same can be said for the Oilers’ next game, versus the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, April 16. Vancouver is officially the league’s hardest-hit team when it comes to COVID-19 cases. The Canucks, despite adhering to the NHL’s policies, fell victim to one of the very contagious variants and had 21 players test positive when all the testing was said and done. The league naturally canceled all of their upcoming dates for the required quarantine period, juggling the schedule around to hopefully allow Vancouver to play their full 56 games. With Friday’s matchup being their first since the initial case appeared, the team may not have their legs fully under them and the opportunity is there for Edmonton to take advantage.

Vancouver Will Be Shorthanded

The Canucks were already dealing with injuries to top-end forwards Elias Petterson, Tanner Pearson and a number of others. Adding to that is the fact that the recovery timeline from COVID-19 varies greatly. Some players might not be ready for game day and others might play despite lingering effects (though not without negative test results, naturally). Edmonton, on the other hand, has had several days of rest, lost no players out of their lineup at the deadline, and should be looking to remove the taste of their shutout loss to the Flames from their mouths.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks is dealing with a non-Covid injury. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Amazingly, despite missing scheduled games with both Montreal and Vancouver, the Oilers aren’t behind the league in games played. That fact, combined with the unreal season captain Connor McDavid (23 goals, 46 assists) is having, means he is still comfortably holding the lead in the league scoring race. Likewise, Leon Draisaitl (22 goals, 31 assists) sits in second, though Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is only a handful of points behind. This game will be an opportunity to increase those point totals for both players, especially as the Canucks’ fitness levels are tested as the game drags on.

Related: Oilers Roster Remains Imperfect Following Quiet Deadline

On the back end, Tyson Barrie’s point totals have fallen slightly behind some of the league’s other elite defensemen, but he could easily catch up with a big night on the score sheet. His defensive partner, Darnell Nurse, has recently been the topic of Canadian Olympic team discussions, so he will have no difficulty finding a little extra motivation, not that he needs it. While the Oilers back end will be looking to score, the Canucks have a difficult night ahead of them. Slowing down the Oilers’ best players isn’t easy on any night, and their likely shorter-than-normal list of available players can only add to their troubles.

It’s a Long Season

Way back in January, these two clubs met in what was each of their first game of the 2020-21 season. On that night, Vancouver still looked something like the club that went on a strong 2020 playoff run, while Edmonton couldn’t seem to get out of its own way, with mental errors costing them chances against, and ultimately, the victory. Now the positions seem reversed. Vancouver stares up the standings at a virtually unattainable fourth playoff slot, and Edmonton, though they’ve had trouble beating the Scotiabank North Division’s best teams, still has a chance at taking the No. 1 seed.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canucks have plenty of enviable pieces on their roster. Emerging young offensive talents and a quality netminder, signed long term, are all positives for the team’s future. That being said, 2021 does not appear to be their year. Edmonton, despite a quiet trade deadline, has a relatively good shot at a Conference Final appearance. The differing trajectories of the two teams, along with the Canucks’ recent difficulties, mean this game should be all but decided before puck drop. It’s up to the Oilers to make sure that decision sticks.

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