Draisaitl conquers Canucks’ tough defence to restore Oilers’ division lead

VANCOUVER – The leading scorer in the National Hockey League until he was passed last week by teammate Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl did almost nothing Sunday at even-strength.

Halfway through the game, he did not have a shot on target for the Edmonton Oilers. When it was over, shot attempts were 22-9 for the Vancouver Canucks at even strength when Draisaitl was on the ice. The Canucks could hardly defend the superstar any better.

And yet, Draisaitl still made the difference in the game, scoring on consecutive power plays after penalties late in the second period to Canucks’ Loui Eriksson that were indefensible. Draisaitl’s bad days are better than most players’ good ones. The Oilers won 3-2.

“Obviously, it’s not a pretty game, not a pretty win,” Draisaitl said. “But no one is going to ask how we won this game at the end of the day, so it’s a big two points for us and … it was a gritty effort throughout the whole lineup.”

Draisaitl tied the game late in the second period on a one-timer from McDavid, then won it on another quick release just 46 seconds into the third as the Oilers evened their weekend home-and-away series against the Canucks.

“I like the way we dug in,” Edmonton coach Dave Tippett said. “You know, it’s funny how it goes. You think about that, they caught us the first game at home off a road trip and we caught them the first game at home off the road trip. I was happy our guys competed hard. Our goaltender was good, our big guys really played well tonight, so there’s a good two points and then we move on.”

After his team lost 5-2 Saturday in Edmonton, Tippett split Draisaitl and McDavid on to different lines. Unfortunately for the Canucks, they were reunited for Sunday’s power plays.

Eriksson, always a lightning-rod for displeasure in Canuck Nation, carelessly let his stick ride up on Darnell Nurse’s shoulder in the neutral zone during an icing and was called for high-sticking at 13:24 of the middle period. And at 18:47, Eriksson was whistled for interference on Nurse in the Oilers’ zone.

The Edmonton defenceman sold both calls, grabbing his face on the first one and whirling theatrically off Eriksson’s “pick” on the second while yelling loudly enough to be heard in the press box.

It’s the NHL; every call is subjective – like the double-minor for high-sticking Edmonton defenceman Ethan Bear wasn’t assessed when he bloodied Brock Boeser’s mouth as he scored late in the first period.

Again, because it’s the NHL, every team gets calls it doesn’t like. The Canucks just failed miserably to kill theirs.

“I thought we dominated most of the game, but we’ve got to get the kills there to make the difference in the game,” Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev said. “I thought we played well (but) they got two power-play goals there and that was the difference.”

McDavid teed up Draisaitl’s tying goal at 13:51 of the second, one period after assisting on Josh Archibald’s redirection of Nurse’s pass that made it 1-0 for Edmonton. Boeser tied it on a beautiful passing play with Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller, and Josh Leivo’s rebound goal against Mikko Koskinen briefly gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead at 12:06 of the middle frame.

McDavid’s first point got him to 50 for the season – in 29 games. Draisaitl’s second made him the second NHL player to that threshold. The twin Hart Trophy candidates are seven points clear of the NHL’s third-leading scorer, Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand.

“They’re the best two players in the league right now and they capitalized on their power play,” Canucks penalty killer Jordie Benn said. “They both can see the ice like most guys can’t. Even when you think they have nothing, they see something.”

“Hey, you know they make stuff happen out there,” Tippett said. “I thought they both were really good tonight. Connor really had his legs tonight, and playing them on opposite lines, we asked them to carry some guys with them and they did.”

McDavid registered two shots in 23:31 of ice time, but finished with an even-strength shot share of 48.7 per cent.

The win allowed the Oilers to restore their seven-point lead on the Canucks in the hyper-tight Pacific Division after Vancouver inched closer on Saturday.

It also ended a brutal scheduling stretch for both teams. The Canucks ended a six-game road trip on Saturday, so Sunday’s contest was their seventh-straight preceded by travel.

“Even-strength tonight, I thought we were the better team,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “But they just capitalized on their opportunities on the power play. They’re first and second in the league (in scoring) for a reason. If you give them enough opportunities, they’re going to bury it.”

Nobody needed to ask who he was talking about.