When watching the career highlights of Wayne Gretzky, you could be fooled into thinking he scored most of his 894 goals against the Vancouver Canucks.
Gretzky scored more points (239) against the Canucks than any other team, but actually did score a few goals against some others.
Gretzky’s first National Hockey League goal was against the Canucks, and so was his 500th, and his 802nd, which beat the career record of Gordie Howe that most people thought was untouchable before The Great One came along.
Watching these highlights, you are reminded how great Gretzky was and how opposite-of-great most of those Canucks teams were that he pillaged throughout the 1980s.
No matter how hard they try, the current Canucks will never be able to forget this awful pandemic season, and now they will be reminded of it whenever Connor McDavid’s career highlights are run.
The best Edmonton Oiler since Gretzky reached an unthinkable threshold on Saturday when his one goal and three assists in a 4-3 win against against the Canucks gave him 100 points with three games to spare in this never-to-be-repeated 56-game regular season.
McDavid finished his four-game, six-day series against Vancouver with 13 points. He is doing to the Canucks what Gretzky did more than a generation ago – but with far fewer accomplices. In nine games against Vancouver this season, McDavid has eight goals and 21 points and, yes, we double-checked that because it just sounds stupid.
As a young NHL reporter in the 1990s, I saw a journalist in Tampa breathlessly asking Canucks coach Ricky Ley what he thought of the fine and victorious performance Petr Klima put in for the Lightning.
Simmering, Ley looked at his questioner, took a deep breath, said between clenched teeth “I don’t give a f— about Petr Klima,” and slapped the cinder-block wall behind him. Lesson learned.
But sometimes, you’ve still got to ask.
“I mean what are you going to say?” Canucks coach Travis Green said Saturday. “He’s a great player. He had another good night. He’s a hard player to stop. I think their top line and (Leon) Draisaitl combined for almost 20 shots tonight. And when your team is a little bit tired and you’ve got some guys out with injury, it becomes even harder to stop a guy like that with his speed. He’s a great player.”
Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko, who was actually pretty outstanding as the undermanned and overworked Canucks hung with the Oilers, was less effusive when asked how he’ll remember this game.
“I’m not going to be a fan until I’m croaking,” he said. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Demko is 25 years old. Hopefully, he’s got another 60 or 70 years to get used to what McDavid did to the Canucks this week.
But the second most impressive thing that occurred in the series was that the COVID-surviving Canucks, who had lost six straight games and were missing eight lineup regulars while starting a finishing kick of 11 games in 17 days, pushed back at Edmonton over the final two games. They won 6-3 on Thursday and rallied twice to tie Saturday’s game before Draisaitl scored his second of two power-play goals on a lateral feed from McDavid in what is essentially an unstoppable sequence.
“For sure I’m proud of our group,” Demko said. “I’ll always be proud of our group. You know we were dealt a tough hand. I think everyone knows that. Obviously, we’ve had some injuries coming out of COVID like I think the players expected to see happen (because) guys are not really physically probably ready to play. We have some guys stepping up right now that have been grinding away here practising and being on the taxi squad, and I think they’re doing a good job of stepping in and trying to do their best to contribute. We’re all doing our best here. And obviously, we’re all competitors and it’s tough when you don’t win. We all want to win every night, but we’re doing our best to compete and trying to get wins along the way.”
McDavid was the difference in the game. But the Canucks’ power play could have been.
Vancouver went 0-for-5 with the man advantage, dropping the Canucks to 1-for-29 in the season series. The Oilers’ power play is 11-for-34.
“Special teams was the difference tonight for sure,” Miller said. “I’m trying not to be too negative, but we’re not clicking right now. I don’t want to dive into it more than that. We’re just not on the same page.
“This happens sometimes; it sucks. We talk about creating momentum as a five-man unit. There’s a lot of games where we do a lot of good things and don’t score, (but) tonight wasn’t one of those. It’s rough right now, but we’re going to work hard to try to get out of it. We’re playing a new opponent next game, so sometimes that helps.”
The Canucks visit the Winnipeg Jets for two games, starting Monday. No McDavid.