| October 13, 2022, 2: 45 AM
October 13, 2022, 2: 45 AM
EDMONTON — It’s like déjà vu for anyone who has watched this Edmonton-Vancouver rivalry over the past 15 years or so.
Remember Rexall Place, circa 2006 to about 2014?
The Vancouver Canucks would roll into Edmonton and throw their ‘B’ game out on the best ice in the league. Daniel and Henrik Sedin would score a couple on the powerplay, Roberto Luongo would hold on to the game until his team arrived — often about 40 minutes late — and Vancouver would leave Edmonton with two points on the strength of a 20-minute effort.
Edmonton fell behind 2-0 in the opening 2: 40 of the game, and 3-0 after 21 minutes. Then, they proceeded to score five unanswered goals in a 5-3, season-opening win over the poor Canucks, a team that deserved better than it got Wednesday night in Northern Alberta.
“It wasn’t according to anyone’s script, for sure,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “I don’t think we were sharp. I don’t think we were in sync early. We found a way to win the game, that’s a really good sign, but we can be better.”
McDavid (a hat trick and four points) and Draisaitl (1-2-3) torched the Canucks for seven points, and just like the old days when the Sedins’ powerplay was always a goal or two better than Edmonton’s, the Oilers won this on the strength of their special teams with a three-for-four powerplay, and a penalty kill unit that went seven for eight and potted a key shorthanded goal.
“It is not going to be perfect every night,” reasoned McDavid. “You are not going to have the game you want every night, and sometimes you get a win with your ‘B’ or ‘C’ game. It was certainly not our ‘A’ game to start, but we found a way to get our legs going and get ourselves back in it.”
We get it: It’s the first game of the season and there are some kinks to be worked out. But man, were the Oilers awful at five-on-five for the opening 40 minutes.
Honestly, the defence corps broke the puck out of their zone like a guy handing out candy on Halloween, with more pucks landing in Vancouver’s treat bags than on an Oilers teammate’s blade. The mistakes were so egregious, and came so often, that the Canucks were rewarded both on the scoreboard and by the referees, with Edmonton in desperation to defend their mistakes.
After 40 minutes, Vancouver led 28-15, and had seven powerplays to Edmonton’s two.
But the score? It was somehow 3-3, after a late-period sequence that saw J.T. Miller whiff on a one-time chance on the powerplay, before Darnell Nurse wired home a very similar puck at the other end to tie the game with 41 seconds remaining in the period.
It was goalie Jack Campbell who stopped two breakaways with the score at 3-1, worth remarking on in a game where Edmonton scored five straight from the 24-minute mark on. The Canucks had plenty of Grade A chances in the final 36 minutes and did not dent the twine.
“I was pretty fired up and they got two quick ones — two goals I’d like to have back,” Campbell said. “It just shows the resiliency in our team. They’re a good team over there. It’s not an easy league to come back when you’re down that early.”
Out in British Columbia, you could hear the gnashing of teeth as the best player in the world ran roughshod over a Canucks team that was the better club, five-on-five. It’s like the Gretzky years again — Edmonton has a cheat code, and with Draisaitl playing the part of Mark Messier, it’s once again Edmonton’s turn to dominate this rivalry after the Sedin-led Canucks had their time in the early 2000’s.
Edmonton went 4-0 versus the Canucks last season, and beat Vancouver on Opening Night of the 2021-22 season as well.
It was McDavid’s 11th career hat trick, while the four-point night gave him 701 points in just his 488th game. It’s a milestone that will slip past with little attention, despite the company such a career-scoring pace keeps.
McDavid is only the seventh player in NHL history — and the sixth fastest — to achieve the feat in less than 500 games, joining a who’s who list that includes Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Peter Stastny, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Sidney Crosby.
Just another milestone chalked up against a game but understaffed Canucks team, a group that should have been able to put this one away, leading 3-0 early in Period 2.
“It was just not a good start for our group, but I don’t think there was anything to that,” reasoned the Oilers captain. “It was the first game and maybe there was a little bit of jitters. Sometimes you have got to get in a real (game) to get your legs back under you.
“It maybe took us a little bit of time but we found a way to get it done.”