Craig MacTavish: Canucks making it tough on McDavid and Oilers

J.T. Miller has done a great job matching up against McDavid, and Vancouver made some big adjustments in Game 5 win to take series lead

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What do I see with Connor McDavid who has just one assist in his last three game?

I see J.T. Miller playing really well against him. He’s bumping him all the time, he’s swinging up ice with him. In the open ice, he’s blocking McDavid so he doesn’t get his speed up.

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He’s done a fantastic job. He’s big and strong and has a physical advantage over McDavid. Just like McDavid has a skill advantage over Miller.

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Miller hounding McDavid

I mean McDavid’s trying to get it going. The effort is incredible. He’s expending a ton of energy to make it happen but it’s difficult to find open ice. Every time he swings with the puck, they’re bumping him. And the Canucks are good down low with the size and mobility of their defence.

I applaud McDavid’s effort but it’s time to get him some relief from Miller and I’m sure the coaching staff will try to do that (at home with last change).

Would I put Connor, Leon (Draisaitl) and (Zach) Hyman back together again?

That’s a good question. I think what they should do is start McDavid and Draisaitl apart like they did in Game 5 and then put them together if need be. I think you have to get McDavid a match up with (Elias) Lindholm to start and have Draisaitl against Miller. Draisaitl is bigger and Miller’s a handful.

And Hyman, who has just one assist in his last foru games has had a tough time. He doesn’t have the strength advantage down low like he normally does because he’s up against (Tyler) Myers and (Carson) Soucy. And at times (Nikita) Zadorov.

Those guys, all of them, are cycle-busters and Hyman bases what he creates, a lot of it, through the cycle. He’s normally stronger on the puck and more agile (against defenders) but that area of success has been reduced by the size and mobility of the Vancouver defensive corps.

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Now, let’s look at the power play (0-for-5 in Game 5 after being 5-for-10 before that).

Vancouver made adjustments.

They had a highly pressured penalty kill and when you’re not used to that, sometimes it takes a period or more to adapt. With pressure, your chances offensively are fewer… their defence has a lot of range and they’re strong on their sticks, and the Oilers weren’t sharp.

What you try to do is shorten the length of the play-making. You have to make a couple of tight two-on-one plays and when you do that, it leads to bigger two-on-one’s. But credit Vancouver, they went after the Oilers hard and the Oilers weren’t quite at the level of play making we normally see from them.

Stick with Picks

My assessment of adjustments for Game 6?

I would probably say no to changing the goaltending.

Pickard is the more athletic, skilled goalie but he doesn’t fill the net like (Stuart) Skinner, who is visually bigger for me.

Pickard is athletic but it looks like there’s holes for the puck to go in, but they haven’t done it. You have to give credit to Pickard. He’s not shying away from the moment, he’s not fearful at all, and he’s played two really solid games. I’d probably be hesitant to make a change there but that’s up to (goalie coach) Dustin Schwartz and (head coach) Kris (Knoblauch).

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As for line changes? Yeah a possibility. Vancouver did it to great effect in Game 5. They took out three players, (Ilya) Mikheyev, (Sam) Lafferty and (Linus) Karlsson and put in (Phil) Di Giuseppe, (Vasily) Podkolzin and (Nils) Hoglander.

Di Giuseppe, Podkolzin and (Nils) Aman were a really good line for them.  Di Giuseppe was fantastic, a bull on the forecheck and offensively really strong on the puck. He’s a really underrated player. I didn’t see him coming back in (after missing two games with his wife’s pregnancy) and making that big an impact.

From the other side, it was nice to get some support from the fourth line with the (Mattias) Janmark goal off a really good play with (Connor) Brown. I felt Brown made more of an impact offensively than he’s been for awhile. That’s a great sign.

Do they take (Corey) Perry out?

I would certainly think about it. His effectiveness has been reduced more than it usually is. Sometimes it’s hard with an aging player when you’re playing seven minutes. Maybe one of Sam Gagner or Sam Carrick is better prepared for that. I’m sure it’s a consideration.

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What I didn’t like was the Oilers second period, at all (out shot 17-4). It was pretty pedestrian. The Oilers didn’t execute enough plays, for sure, on the wall, or on their breakouts. Time and again it got stalled and the Oilers couldn’t even get into the neutral zone. They turned pucks over.

But give the Canucks a lot of credit. They kept the Oilers in their own zone for most of the second period.

They talked before Game 5 about adjusting the forecheck and the additions they made with Di Giuseppe, Podkolzin and Hoglander, they’ve all got good speed and they can get in on that forecheck

As the series goes on, the Oilers are playing against a heavy, strong team that is posing challenges. Miller, for sure. How do you get him off his game?

He’s got a level of seriousness that is impressive for me, how he approaches the game. He’s definitely the engine for their group. He knows what he has to do against McDavid and it’s not an easy job. So how do the Oilers help McDavid out to get Miller off his game. Probably going to be difficult. Lindholm is really good, too, effective on faceoffs.

I keep coming back to (trade deadline pickup Adam) Henrique for the Oilers. They miss him, a lot. He’s a guy who could help to neutralize Lindholm’s effect but if he’s unavailable, that’s unfortunate. He’s a smart hockey player. He would help on the faceoffs.

Do I think Oilers can win? Yes, absolutely.

Right about now, the will has to be really, really high to win. If either team gets that will pecked away, it’s an advantage for the other team. Right now, the Oilers are more vulnerable for that because the Canucks are coming in after proving they had that will in Game 5.

Just a great series.

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