The Oilers were crushed by the Canucks this season. Here are 4 reasons why it doesn’t matter

Minutes after yet another loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Zach Hyman was asked how much he should read into going winless against a divisional foe with a possible postseason matchup looming.

The Edmonton Oilers winger didn’t hesitate with his response.

“Not at all,” he said. “(It’s a) different game in the playoffs.”

A 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Canucks on April 13 meant the Oilers had dropped all four games in the regular-season matchup. They were outscored 21-7 and demolished in the two contests in Vancouver — run out of the building by a culminative 14-3 score.

It was the tipping point for the Oilers missing out on their first division title since 1987. It’s why a hypothetical-turned-actual playoff series begins in Vancouver and not Edmonton on Wednesday.

Based on all that, it would seem the Canucks should hold a massive advantage over the Oilers.

But Hyman’s right on point.

The Oilers are favourites in this series and by quite some margin. What happened in the regular season means jack squat.

Here are four reasons why.

Season series often mean nothing

It’s nice to go into a playoff series having dominated your playoff opponent in the weeks and months prior. It sure beats the alternative. After all, those points matter in the standings.

However, there are countless examples of the team that got pummelled in the regular season turning the tables on their rivals in the playoffs. In some cases, they do so handily.

Look no further than one of this year’s Western Conference first-round series. The Winnipeg Jets beat the Colorado Avalanche in all three games this season. In their third-last game, the Jets routed the Avs 7-0 in Denver, an outcome that was pivotal to the Jets securing home-ice advantage for the upcoming matchup.

It didn’t matter a lick. Though Winnipeg drew first blood in the series, the Avalanche won the next four games and dispatched the Jets with ease.

The Oilers have been on the wrong side of his equation recently. They were 7-2 against the Jets, having won the last five games, during the truncated 2021 season. The Oilers were then swept by the Jets in their first-round matchup, albeit with three overtime outcomes.

Perhaps the most glaring example this century of a regular-season matchup getting flipped in the playoffs came in 2000-01. The Toronto Maple Leafs went 0-4-1 against the Ottawa Senators in the regular season and entered the series as the lower seed. They won Game 1 when Mats Sundin scored the contest’s only goal in overtime and never looked back, sweeping the Sens.

Let’s just say there are more important factors to consider heading into a playoff battle than the head-to-head games from early October to mid-April.

Three of the four games are ancient history

The Oilers and Canucks played three times in Edmonton’s first 11 games. Think of how much of a mess the Oilers were back then.

The season opener saw them get dismantled 8-1 in Vancouver. Jack Campbell started in net. Mattias Ekholm sat out because of a hip flexor/groin injury. The Oilers couldn’t do anything right. It was baffling to watch.

They lost a hard-fought 4-3 decision in the rematch three nights later before getting pasted again on the road on Nov. 6, this time 6-2. The Oilers fell to 2-8-1 after dropping their third game to the Canucks. Organizational changes followed.

Campbell was waived the next day and demoted to the minors when he cleared a day later. The Oilers lost in San Jose on Nov. 9, pushing them to a tie with the lowly Sharks for last in the league. That cost coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant Dave Manson their jobs.

Under Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey, the Oilers went 46-18-5 in 69 games — an NHL-best .703 points percentage from the time they were hired on Nov. 12.

Most of the season series couldn’t be more irrelevant.

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Connor McDavid handles the puck ahead of Canucks defenceman Carson Soucy. (Bob Frid / USA Today)

The Canucks haven’t seen peak McDavid yet

Connor McDavid recorded just three points — a goal and two assists, all on the power play — against the Canucks this season. Maybe they have figured him out. It isn’t likely.

The Oilers were a trainwreck in the season opener. Misfortune was arguably the biggest reason for their demise in the rematch; they outshot the Canucks 40-16. McDavid was four games into his return from an injury in the Nov. 6 loss and was out of sorts.

The Oilers captain was stuck in neutral early in the season. He had a very un-McDavid-like 10 points through nine games after the third loss to the Canucks. He’d go without a point in the next two contests to dip below the point-per-game clip.

However, McDavid eventually tied Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the NHL lead with 68 points at five-on-five after the coaching change and played four fewer games over that span.

Part of the reason for the games-played discrepancy was that McDavid sat out three games late in the season due to a lower-body injury. One of those games was the April 13 loss to the Canucks.

Considering McDavid’s first-round performance against Los Angeles — he had a goal and 12 points in five games — the Canucks should have their hands full.

The Oilers’ defence is much improved

The Oilers surrendering 21 goals to the Canucks in four games this season isn’t good. Let’s rephrase: It’s horrendous.

Their penalty kill was a huge part of that awfulness. It allowed the Canucks to go 7-for-17.

Here’s the thing, though: The Oilers are in a much better place defensively now than they were in the first few weeks of the season.

The Oilers averaged 2.68 goals against during the regular season after Knoblauch and Coffey were hired and Mark Stuart took over the penalty kill. They were fifth in the league in the department from Nov. 12 onward.

Included in that run was a 16-game winning streak where they allowed two goals or fewer in each of the last 14 contests.

As for the playoffs, the 12 goals they gave up to the Kings in five games represents a slight improvement — a 2.6 average. That’s with some terrible bounces that went against them. They were a perfect 12-for-12 on the penalty kill, too.

The Oilers should have the ability to at least contain the Canucks to a much greater degree than earlier in the season.

(Top photo of Zach Hyman skating in front of Vancouver’s Brock Boeser: Perry Nelson / USA Today)

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