Canucks vs. Oilers: Unplugging Edmonton’s potent power play a priority

The Oilers went 9-for-20 on the power play in their first-round series win over the Kings. That’s 45 per cent efficiency. That’s a problem

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It’s not just one thing. It’s everything.

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If it was only denying that cross-ice, power play laser pass through the seam that finds Leon Draisaitl in his sweet one-timer spot, the Vancouver Canucks wouldn’t have as much to contend with in their second-round NHL playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers.

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It opens with Game 1 and Game 2 on Wednesday and Friday at Rogers Arena.

The Oilers went a gaudy 9-for-20 with the man advantage in their first-round series win over the overwhelmed Los Angeles Kings. That’s an eye-popping 45 per cent efficiency. That’s a problem.

Draisaitl and Zach Hyman have three post-season power-play goals apiece and Connor McDavid has eight assists. McDavid quarterbacks the first unit from the left point with Evan Bouchard, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is between Hyman and Draisaitl.

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Heads will have to be on swivels, sticks must be in lanes and bodies must be sacrificed to stop the damage. Draisaitl went 18-8 in first-round playoff draws and he kicks pucks back to McDavid to start the mayhem.

If that isn’t enough, McDavid is a zone-entry master with his blazing speed.

Former Canucks assistant coach Glen Gulutzan is a master of the whiteboard. He will script Bouchard bringing the puck up 30 feet and then dropping it to McDavid. By that time, Draisaitl has moved into the slot for a one-timer, while Nugent-Hopkins sneaks down low for the tap-in.

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Rick Tocchet knows his club must play hard and smart against the Oilers and avoid penalties in the playoff series. Photo by George Walker IV George Walker /AP

“There are a lot of things in the way we play, but there are going to be some tweaks,” Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said Sunday. “There are two things with their (Oilers’) power play.

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“They give you a lot of different looks and the one underrated thing they do is they attack. Everybody talks about star power, but it’s more their concepts and they go to the net hard. We have to be on our toes to counter that.”

It’s why you can’t read much into the season series. The Canucks won all four games, but the first three were played in the first five weeks of the season. The Oilers stumbled out of the gate and the series summation is somewhat misleading.

The Canucks outscored the Oilers 21-7 and had a 41.2 to 25 per cent advantage on the power play. They were also 95.1 per cent on the penalty kill while the Oilers were just 81.1.

However, the Oilers got their act together after a sluggish start.

They strung together eight and 16-game win streaks. They finished fourth in goals per game (3.56) and the power play was also fourth at 26.3 per cent. McDavid won the scoring title with 144 points, Hyman had 54 goals and Draisaitl 41.

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To their credit, the Canucks can deploy a vastly-improved penalty kill to counter the Oilers. It surrendered just three goals in 12 chances during a six-game series win over the Nashville Predators.

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Arturs Silos gets a hug by top penalty-killer Teddy Blueger after backstopping the Canucks to a Game 4 overtime win on April 28. Photo by Brett Carlsen /Getty Images

The Canucks also killed 13-consecutive power plays in four games heading into the post-season and finished at 79.1 per cent efficiency to place 17th. In November of 2021, it was an abysmal 63.8 per cent and kept frustrated penalty-kill specialist Jason Dickinson up at night.

Acquiring those with a pedigree to deny power-play goals was crucial for the Canucks.

In Elias Lindholm, Pius Suter, Sam Lafferty, Filip Hronek, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole and especially Blueger, the Canucks don’t have to tax J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes with added minutes.

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Blueger and Lindholm are deployed as the top pair and developed quick chemistry. It’s not surprising. Blueger is aggressive and disrupts power play flow and Lindholm is strong in the faceoffs and reads the game exceptionally well.

Whether Canucks assistant coach Mike Yeo calls for the traditional diamond defending alignment, an umbrella or hybrid formation, they’re working.

“We’ve got some great goaltending and for the most part our structure has been dialed in,” said Blueger. “Getting consistent time with Lindy (Lindholm) has helped in just reading off each other. We’ve executed well with faceoff plays and clears and assignments.

“If you start with a clear that’s a big advantage and Lindy being so good on the (faceoff) dot helps a lot. And his intelligence makes it easier for me.”

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Here is the Canucks vs Oilers Round 2 playoff schedule:

• Game 1: Wednesday, May 8, 7 p.m., in Vancouver
• Game 2: Friday, May 10, 7 p.m., in Vancouver
• Game 3: Sunday, May 12, TBA, in Edmonton
• Game 4: Tuesday, May 14, TBA, in Edmonton
• Game 5: Thursday, May 16, TBA, in Vancouver*
• Game 6: Saturday, May 18, in Edmonton, TBA, in Edmonton*
• Game 7: Monday, May 20, TBA, in Vancouver*
*If necessary

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