Vancouver Canucks Taylor Pyatt beats coverage from Edmonton Oilers Jason Smith to score on Jussi Markkanen. (CP/Jason Scott)
The Edmonton Oilers are trying to figure out what's going wrong.
Daniel Sedin had two goals and an assist as the Canucks continued their strong post-Christmas play, trouncing the Oilers 6-2 Saturday night.
With their third consecutive victory over a divisional opponent, the Canucks (20-18-1) took over sole possession of first place in the tight Northwest Division, one point up on the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild. The Canucks swept a home-and-home series with the Flames earlier this week.
"It was a huge game for us," said Canucks defenceman Mattias Ohlund, who added two goals. "We've been a pretty inconsistent team this season and hopefully in this stretch of
games we are realizing how we have to play.
"The last three games have been huge for us."
Sami Salo and Jan Bulis also scored for the Canucks, who have 15 goals in their past three games after scoring just nine goals in their previous five.
Markus Naslund, who chipped in with two assists, said the pair of recent wins over Calgary and their effort on Saturday against the Oilers is more indicative of the team's abilities.
"When the whole team's in on the same page and we have that energy we are a good team. We have done a lot of line-juggling and it seems like we are able to score a lot more with the combinations that we have."
Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Shawn Horcoff replied for the Oilers (18-17-2), who slipped three points back of the Canucks and have won just two of their last nine games.
"Obviously we are fragile right now," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "Positionally we were all over the place tonight. And now our penalty killing is breaking down on us.
"We have to build back and realize that our systems are our salvation."
Despite the recent struggles, Horcoff said the Oilers have the experience needed to stay in the mix for the division lead.
"It's tough with it being this tight," he said. "We're not even halfway yet and we are already talking about how important these games are. That's what happens when the division is as tight as it is.
"We have to persevere. We've been through this before."
The Canucks struck first in the game as a bouncing puck found Bulis who had an easy tap in past Edmonton goaltender Jussi Markkanen.
The Canucks added to their lead on the power play just two minutes into the second, after Sedin deflected a point shot out of mid-air into the top corner past Markkanen.
Vancouver doubled its lead with a pair of goals late in the period. One second after an Oilers penalty had expired, Salo blasted a shot glove-side past a partially screened Markkanen.
Less than two minutes later, the Canucks struck again on the power play when Toby Petersen whiffed on a clearing attempt and the puck went right to Ohlund, who quickly beat Markkanen.
Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo ended his own shutout bid 40 seconds into the third when he mishandled a puck behind the Canucks net. Ryan Smyth fed it in front to Pouliot who chipped the puck in.
The Canucks restored the four-goal bulge at 15:02, as Ohlund took a pass on his way out of the penalty box and beat Markkanen with a backhand shot.
Horcoff and Sedin traded goals with less than four minutes remaining to close the scoring.
The Oilers return to the ice again on New Year's Eve as they travel to Calgary for another chapter of the Battle of Alberta. The Canucks play next in Calgary on Tuesday.
Notes - Potential all-star Rory Fitzpatrick got an assist on Sedin's second goal, his first point of the season. Fitzpatrick, a journeyman defenceman, has been the subject of an internet campaign aimed at getting him voted into the all-star game. ... Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of a historic hockey moment on Edmonton ice. On Dec. 30, 1981, Wayne Gretzky scored five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers to get to a record 50 goals in just 39 games. ... Forward Jeff Cowan made his Canucks debut in the match after being claimed on waivers earlier in the day from the Los Angeles Kings.