After being intimidated by Matthews on Saturday, what was left of the Canucks was exploited Monday by McDavid, who appears to be in a hurry to reach a historic 100-point record in the National Hockey League’s pandemic season.
The Edmonton Oilers superstar, who started 13 points before an unthinkable century with seven of 56 games to go, only appeared when it counted with two goals and two assists in a 5-3 win over the exhausted Canucks .
McDavid’s ability to flex and generate goals felt like it was stacking up after Canucks coach Travis Green admitted Monday morning that Elias Pettersson’s mysterious injury left Vancouver without a game-breaker .
Matthews, who might have chased 50 goals in the shortened season if he hadn’t appeared in multiple games with a wrist injury – and completely missed four games – netted two goals in Win 5 -1 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
“I thought we played two really strong periods and a game breaker scored two goals, and you miss that,” Green told reporters when asked for a Matthews-Pettersson comparison. “It’s not an excuse, but I’m not going to sit here and say that we don’t miss that in our roster. They make a difference, they create chances, they easily relieve pressure, not just in the offensive zone but in your own zone. But we can’t dwell on it and we haven’t.
And then McDavid slips into town and it’s impossible not to notice the disparity between game breakers again.
JT Miller tries to carry the Canucks on his back, Brock Boeser can finish, Bo Horvat leads by example. But Vancouver has no one up front who can turn a game or conjure up a goal like Pettersson, who has been out since March 2 with a wrist injury that was originally supposed to be a daily problem.
By your accounting methods, the Canucks were missing eight or nine forwards on Monday.
The bottom half of their forward group is filled with pop guns like Jimmy Vesey (zero points in 10 games as Canuck), Travis Boyd (zero in nine), Matthew Highmore (none in eight), Jayce Hawryluk (one goal in 19)) and Zack MacEwen (one in 26). The injured players they replaced include Antoine Roussel (one goal in 35 games) and Jay Beagle (one in 30).
You can imagine then the challenge for Green to replace Pettersson, whose top six spot has been mostly occupied in the last three games by minor league call Kole Lind. Rookie Nils Hoglander (one point in his last seven games) has been in the top six all season after the Canucks somehow allowed winger Tyler Toffoli to sign a free agent contract in Montreal, where he has scored 28 goals in 48 games this season.
Miller and Boeser had combined for 28 goals until each added one more on Monday. But Miller’s nice breakaway goal from Darnell Nurse’s giveaway was only the Canucks’ third in 12 games. And Boeser scored for the second time in 11.
While McDavid is extraordinary, the game followed what has become a disheartening pattern for the Canucks, who lost six of seven after emerging from the COVID-19 crisis in April with a pair of unlikely wins.
The Canucks competed and skated at the start against the Oilers, then seemed to pick up as they only managed six shots in 35 minutes before a modest flurry at the end.
But Vancouver was passed and never looked in danger of winning after Tyson Barrie skated free from winger Canuck Tanner Pearson after a faceoff and smashed a puck under goalie Braden Holtby to break a draw 1 -1 to 18 seconds only from the start of the intermediate period.
McDavid got the second assist on the goal after setting Jesse Puljujarvi for Game 1 3:41 of the first after a roll from Vancouver defenseman Nate Schmidt.
McDavid scored unassisted to make it 3-1 at 4:33 pm of the second period after Bo Horvat mishandled a pass in the neutral zone and added another in an empty net with one minute remaining of the third.
Schmidt had the other goal for the Canucks, who made the game seem closer than it was when Boeser passed Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen after a faceoff victory by Horvat as Vancouver skated six against five at the end of the third.
“Against a team like this, especially against a line like this (McDavid, Puljujarvi and Leon Draisaitl) doing really well, the turnovers are going to kill you,” Schmidt said. “Give the good players time and space and they will play. It’s been tough the last couple of games, but you have to find a way to win. You have to find a way to earn these. “
Having just started an 11-game forced duck march in the final 17 days of the season, the Canucks will have another shot at playing against McDavid on Tuesday. And then again Thursday and Saturday in Edmonton.
“I don’t think the effort is really our problem,” Miller said. “I feel like we are working hard in every game. We’ve had the injury problem lately, a lot of new faces, (but) that’s no excuse, we want to win. We don’t play badly, we do good things. But we have to do more if we are to win against these teams. These guys… are ready for the playoffs and these games are tough.
And not likely to get any easier.