Vancouver will go nuclear for Game 7, says Canucks insider. Will Edmonton Oilers respond in kind?

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This in from Canucks insider TSN’s Farhan Lalji, news of how the Vancouver Canucks intend to respond in Game 7 to the loss of star forward Brock Boeser. In previous games in Vancouver against the Edmonton Oilers, Boeser was counted on as a two-way ace to team with star forward J.T. Miller and winger Pius Suter to face Edmonton’s top line led by Connor McDavid. But with Boeser out, that line match-up — so fundamental to Vancouver’s home success against Edmonton, with the Canucks winning two out of three games — is not possible.

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What is possible, though, is the Canucks going nuclear, putting their top two forwards Miller and Elias Pettersson together to face the McDavid line in Game 7.

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As Lalji has reported, it will be difficult to replace such a player as Boeser, who not only scores but is counted on to check to top players.

Here is a link to Lalji’s full report

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Elias Lindholm will reunite with Connor Garland and Dakota Joshua and could be the match-up line against McDavid’s line, Lalji said, but then added: “I do think  (Elias) Pettersson and (J.T.) Miller are going to see extensive minutes together so that they can provide some additional offensive support.”

Presumably Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet would match up the Pettersson/Miller combo against Leon Draisaitl’s line with Dylan Holloway and Evander Kane.

In this high-stakes coaching duel, how will Edmonton Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch respond?

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My take

1. Vancouver has the last change on home ice so Tocchet has that trump card when it comes to line-up matches. Against this weapon, Knoblauch finally has the four best, most balanced and most effective two-way lines that he’s managed to put together the entire season.

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The question for Knoblauch is whether he’ll stick with those lines or go back to a trio of Draisaitl, McDavid and Zach Hyman on the top line, Edmonton’s own nuclear option. This might be a game of nuclear vs nuclear.

2. McDavid has regularly faced Miller in Vancouver, where Tocchet gets to play his trump card. In Games 1, 2 and 5, the Vancouver home-ice games, Miller’s 5-on-5 ice-time against McDavid has been 10.6, 14.5 and 9.8 minutes. Tocchet has played this card again and again, trusting his big, rugged and smart centre to have what it takes to thwart McDavid.

In Edmonton, Knoblauch has tried to get McDavid away from Miller, with McDavid facing off against the Canucks centre 7.9 minutes in Game 3, 4.2 minutes in Game 4, and 3.9 minutes in Game 6. Of course, the Oilers lost Game 3, when Miller played more against McDavid, but won Games 4 and 6, when McDavid faced Miller less. It would appear, then, that any strategy where McDavid plays less against Miller works to Edmonton’s advantage.

3. Is Tocchet going to abandon the Miller vs McDavid match-up now, when it’s worked so well in the past in this series?

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Hmm.

I have my doubts, but it could well be that Tocchet will match  the Lindhom line against McDavid, and then have his Miller-Pettersson nuclear combo against the Drai line, hoping that the Draisaitl line will implode defensively, as Drai’s line did facing the Jack Eichel line in the crucial Game 6 loss to Vegas last season.

If Tocchet does match-up Drai vs Miller, Draisaitl will have the biggest defensive responsibility of his career, at least since facing off against the Eichel line. Containing Miller and Pettersson will be a major chore for Draisaitl and Evander Kane.

One thought: if Tocchet does indeed go Miller line vs Draisaitl line, will Knoblauch respond by shifting a more defensive winger, like Mattias Janmark, to play with Draisaitl and Kane?

4. Miller and Pettersson did not play much together this year, just 175 minutes at 5-on-5 between the playoffs and the regular season. They have been handily outshot on the ice together, but they have outscored the opposition 15 to nine goals. That’s a sizeable margin. You can see why Tocchet might well be going to his own nuclear option. If Pettersson and Miller can combine to out-score Edmonton by a goal or two at even strength that will go a long way to the Canucks’ winning Game 7, especially if the Lindholm line can at least saw it off against the McDavid line.

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5. When teamed up with RNH and Hyman in the playoffs, McDavid has done exceptionally well. In 34 minutes, the trio has outshot the opposition 23 to 10 and outscored them five goals to zero. This line appears to be a solid bet. In 29 minutes together, the Draisaitl, Evander Kane and Dylan Holloway line has also done well, 20 to 17 on shots and four goals for to one goal against, so another solid bet.

5. All that said, in the one game that Edmonton beat Vancouver on Vancouver ice, the Oil’s 4-3 Game 2 win, Knoblauch went nuclear, playing McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman together, and the threesome were dominant. That wasn’t the case, however, in Game 3, where the Oilers went with the McD-Drai combo but lost on home ice.

But there’s no sure things for the Oilers here. The McDavid, RNH and Hyman line was also mediocre in Edmonton’s Game 5 loss in Vancouver, so it’s not like going with that trio that did so well in Game 6 is a certain master stroke for Game 7 in Vancouver.

6. A final consideration for Knoblauch? He’s finally put together two solid shut-down lines to back up his top lines. The Ryan McLeod-Derek Ryan-Warren Foegele line did well in the playoffs last season and had a solid Game 6, even as McLeod lost his footing and position on Vancouver’s loan goal against.

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The line of Sam Carrick, Connor Brown and Janmark was also solid on defence. As I see it, it’s a win for the Oilers any time that Knoblauch can get one of these two checking lines out against the Miller or Lindholm lines. Edmonton’s bottom lines can defend well enough, tire out these lines, and free up the McDavid and Draisaitl lines to face Vancouver’s bottom two lines.

7. How will it play out? I don’t expect Knoblauch to go with McDavid and Draisaitl together, not unless Edmonton is sinking in this game. Vancouver has suffered a major blow in losing Brock Boeser, forcing Tocchet to adjust, possibly moving away from his effective Swede line of Lindholm, Pettersson and Nils Hoglander. It’s likely best to leave the scrambling just now to Tocchet and for Knoblauch to stick with lines that worked so well in Game 6.

Make sense? How do you see it?

8. And in remembrance of TSN’s Darren Dutchyshen, a profile of him from 1990 when he was just a kid starting out in Edmonton, the brash, smart-talking and loveable pride of Porcupine Plain.

Read it here

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Dutchy
TSN broadcaster Darren Dutchyshen has died at the age of 57. Postmedia files

At the Cult of Hockey

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