Sunday December 1 - Edmonton Oilers 3 - Vancouver Canucks 2
Back in Vancouver but with barely a moment to get their feet under them, the Vancouver Canucks fell victim to Edmonton's Big Two as Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid guided the Oilers to a 3-2 win in the back half of the teams' weekend home-and-home series.
Here are your highlights:
It didn't take long for Loui Eriksson to fall off the throne he ascended with his first goal of the year in Edmonton on Wednesday. It's not a stretch to suggest that the result of Sunday's game hinged on the two second-period penalties that Eriksson took — Vancouver's only two infractions of the game. Draisaitl scored on both — first, erasing the Canucks' 2-1 lead less than two minutes after Josh Leivo had put them ahead for the first time in the contest, then tallying what proved to be the game winner less than a minute into the third.
That being said — both penalties were drawn by Darnell Nurse. And both had a certain degree of, shall we say, theatricality about them.
With two points each on the night, McDavid and Draisaitl both cracked the 50-point plateau in their 29th game of the year. If they can keep this up, they could both break 140 points this year — not just a cut above Nikita Kucherov's 128-point campaign in 2018-19, which was amazing in itself, but no player has even gotten into the 130s since Mario Lemieux put up 161 points back in 1995-96.
As for the Canucks...
After his strong performance on Saturday, I had no problem with the team going back to Jacob Markstrom in net, even before we found out that he was granted a leave of absence on Monday to go back to Sweden for his father's memorial service.
I know the numbers generally suggest that goalie performance dips in the second half of a back-to-back, but I think circumstances also need to be considered. Though Markstrom had been ill during the road trip, he also hadn't played for nearly a week before taking the net in Edmonton — where he was very good in a reasonably easy night, when he faced just 30 shots.
Edmonton got just 28 shots on goal on Sunday, so I certainly don't lay the loss at Markstrom's feet. And perhaps the work that Thatcher Demko did at Sunday's morning skate will help set him up for this week?
Needless to say, those seven goals against in Pittsburgh last week were not kind to Demko's personal numbers. In one night, he went from a 2.45 goals-against average to 2.92 and from a .919 save percentage to .907.
Demko's now 0-2-1 in his last three starts — and will almost certainly be counted on to carry the load until Markstrom returns.
Michael DiPietro was recalled by the Canucks on Monday and will likely get a chance to get some rest and do some skills work during a relatively light week on the big club's schedule. The Canucks continue their homestand against Ottawa on Tuesday, when Alex Burrows will be inducted into the Ring of Honour. After that, they won't play again until Saturday afternoon, against Buffalo.
The Canucks are taking a well-deserved day off on Monday, so it'll be interesting to see how the roster ends up looking against Ottawa. Already thin at centre with Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle's absences now approaching two weeks, call-up Tyler Graovac was injured early in the first period on Sunday — presumably from blocking a shot with his foot.
After the game, his prognosis was bleak.
Since Sutter and Beagle haven't had a full practice yet as they work through their injuries, I'd be surprised if either of them is available on Tuesday — and the Utica Comets aren't overflowing with depth down the middle, either.
J.T. Miller seemed like he'd be best equipped for an emergency move to the middle, especially since he's already so good on draws. But he's also really good in his role on the wing. Would it be too much of a subtraction to put him at centre?
This is a situation where it's too bad the NCAA rules don't allow for emergency call-ups. Tyler Madden is back from Northern Ireland as he continues his outstanding sophomore season at Northeastern, and is interviewed by Rick Dhaliwal for his column in The Athletic this week:
I've seen Madden play enough that I don't think of his size as an issue — and I'm pretty sure that's because he doesn't think it's an issue.
In his interview, Madden also praised Canucks' 2019 draft pick Aidan Mcdonough.
“He’s on my line right now. He is unbelievable, he is one of the reasons why I am producing. We think on the same level, we know where each other is on the ice."
Madden also told Dhaliwal that he will give consideration to turning pro at the end of this season, "but right now my focus is winning a national championship.”
Before Sunday's game, Alex Edler was already ruled out for a Tuesday return. After his week in Utica, Antoine Roussel could draw in.
Talking further about prospects — neither Jett Woo or Carson Focht were among the names announced by Hockey Canada on Monday for its World Junior Selection Camp, which begins next week in Oakville.
I wasn't surprised to see Jett Woo left off the list. He has had a so-so start to the season — and his knee injury prevented him from making an impression at the Summer Showcase several months ago.
I thought Carson Focht might get a crack down the middle, as a responsible older guy who has really advanced his game over the last year and a half. Focht also added another special moment to his personal highlight reel on Sunday, when he scored the goal that triggered the Calgary Hitmen's epic Teddy Bear Toss.
I think both Focht and Woo's chances were hampered by Hockey Canada's decision to go very young this year. In a tournament where even 18-year-olds often don't play big roles, the Canadians have named seven 2020 draft-eligible players to the 31-player selection-camp roster
That draft-eligible list includes two of 10 defensemen — Jamie Drysdale and Braden Schneider — and big Quinton Byfield, who is having no trouble at all holding his own as a 17-year-old centre in the OHL. He has 50 points in 28 games with the Sudbury Wolves.
The Canadian roster could also still get a boost from one or more pivots currently attached to NHL teams. On the announcement broadcast on TSN, Bob McKenzie said he thinks Joe Veleno, currently with Grand Rapids of the AHL, is likely to join Team Canada. He thinks the odds are much longer for Barrett Hayton of Arizona, who has now played 14 NHL games, and Kirby Dach of Chicago, who has now played 20 NHL games. Both have now burned the first year of their entry-level contracts and are playing meaningful roles with their teams.
Here's a crazy thought. Maybe the Canucks should temporarily fill their hole down the middle by getting Focht signed to his entry-level deal and recalling him from the Hitmen? They could use him for nine games without burning a year of his contract, and they have three available contract slots under their maximum of 50 NHL deals.
Defenseman Noah Dobson could also return for his second World Juniors. He is with the New York Islanders, but has played just seven NHL games this year — and just one in the last three weeks or so. Bob McKenzie said the Islanders have him primarily on a strength/training program, and the first year of his entry-level deal has not been burned, so they might be much more likely to allow him to join the Canadian group when the pre-tournament games start in Europe at the middle of the month, to get some playing time against high-level competition.
So — Canucks fans won't have a rooting interest in Team Canada this year, but still should have some players to watch. Dhaliwal reports that Team Sweden will announce its roster on Wednesday, and coach Tomas Monten had plenty of praise for Nils Hoglander. Vasily Podkolzin should also return to play with Team Russia.