ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — It wasn't perfect but head coach Bruce Boudreau saw his Vancouver Canucks take a step in the right direction on Wednesday.
After starting the pre-season 0-3-2, the Canucks finally posted a win, downing the Edmonton Oilers 5-4.
“It’s not complete yet," Boudreau said of Vancouver's performance. "There was a lot of scrambly plays in our own zone which we really have to clean up. And they will be cleaned up. But I saw a lot better things going on tonight with the defence and with the forwards coming in to support them.”
Elias Pettersson scored twice for the Canucks (1-3-2) while Conor Garland added a goal and an assist. Nils Hoglander and Tanner Pearson also found the back of the net, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes each contributed a pair of helpers.
“We know how we started our pre-season, and we talked about it, that we need to put (a) good effort for 60 minutes," Pettersson said. "And I think we did that. Of course, there’s stuff we can work on and get better at. But overall, we’re happy with our game.”
Connor McDavid led the Oilers (4-3-0), scoring and notching an assist, while Zach Hyman and James Hamblin added short-handed goals. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also scored for the visitors and Markus Neimelainen recorded a pair of assists.
Canucks netminder Stuart Martin stopped 18-of-22 shots and Stuart Skinner made 26 saves for the Oilers.
“That was a competitive game. We were in it right until the last second," said Edmonton head coach Jay Woodcroft. "There were some good moments for us.”
Special teams on both sides of the puck got ample work in on Wednesday.
The Canucks went 3 for 8 with the man advantage but also gave up a pair of short-handed goals. Edmonton was 0 for 2 on the power play.
“I thought our penalty was working hard, did some good things," Woodcroft said. "But when you give their skill that much time … in the end, it’s asking too much, it’s a bridge too far.”
Vancouver's power play finally began clicking in the third.
Pettersson put away his second goal of the night 9:45 into the period after Hyman was sent to the box for interference.
The final frame got off to a frantic start with a plethora of penalties and goals at both ends of the ice.
Nugent-Hopkins levelled the score 6:16 into the third on a strange play. The veteran forward missed his first chance but still managed to get a shot off from his knees, and the puck sailed through traffic and past Martin to make it 4-4.
Vancouver took a 4-3 lead with a power-play tally minutes earlier when Pettersson sent a one-timer past Skinner for his first goal of the night.
“When Petey gets that shot going, it’s pretty dangerous and the power play can be dangerous," Boudreau said. "But in this league, it's such an even league that the power play’s usually the difference maker. So if our power play scored one more goal than theirs, then I think that was the difference.”
Each side was down to four men when Garland forced a turnover at Vancouver's blue line earlier in the third. The winger streaked into Edmonton territory, putting a shot past Skinner to give the Canucks a 3-2 lead at the 1:52 mark.
The Oilers responded just 28 seconds later.
McDavid charged down the ice and slid a pass to Hamblin down low. The winger sent a backhanded shot past Martin to even the score at 3-3.
A scary play left Hoglander in a heap behind the Oilers' net in the second period.
The Swedish winger went down hard after being clotheslined by defenceman Darnell Nurse. Hoglander lay on the ice for a few moments before a trainer came to check on him, and he eventually skated off on his own, holding a towel to his face.
Hoglander missed the rest of the second but returned to start the third. Nurse was handed a double-minor for high-sticking on the play.
It was Edmonton that found the back of the net on the Canucks' man advantage.
Hyman won a foot race to the puck in the Oilers' zone and popped a shot over Martin's pads for a short-handed goal that gave his side a 2-1 lead.
The advantage was short-lived.
Pearson scored 67 seconds later, tipping in Hughes' blast from the blue line.
The Oilers levelled the score midway through the second thanks to their captain.
Nurse sliced McDavid a pass and the superstar drove in alone, turning aside Hughes, and sending a shot sailing over Martin's shoulder 7:05 into the middle frame.
“You always get the surprise of how fast he is," Pettersson said of McDavid. "But I like to play against (high-skill players). I mean, he's one of the best in the world, if not the best. So I like the challenge playing against him and I’m happy we got the win.”
The Canucks opened the scoring 17:14 into the game seconds after the Oilers killed off a penalty.
Ekman-Larsson rang a shot off the post and Hoglander, stationed at the side of the net, withstood some pressure to get the rebound and shovelled it in behind Skinner. His second goal of the pre-season put Vancouver up 1-0.
Both sides will wrap their pre-season campaigns on Friday, with the Canucks hosting the Arizona Coyotes and the Oilers entertaining the Seattle Kraken in Edmonton.
The Canucks and Oilers will face off in Edmonton to open the regular season on Oct. 12.
NOTES: Wednesday's game was played at a sold-out Abbotsford Centre, the home of Vancouver's American Hockey League affiliate, the Abbotsford Canucks. … Vancouver's victory came after the Oilers trounced the Canucks 7-2 in Edmonton on Monday. … The hometown crowd had little love for Edmonton winger Jake Virtanen. The 26-year-old hails from Abbotsford and spent six seasons playing for the Canucks but was booed several times throughout the game.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press