Oilers 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)
OK, everybody, maybe it’s time to take everything we thought we knew about “schedule losses” and throw it all into the compost pile.
The Edmonton Oilers, who so often have aggravated home fans by losing games where they have the rest advantage in their favour, have consistently turned the tables when it is they who should be at a disadvantage. They proved it again on Sunday afternoon with a pulsating 4-3 overtime win in Carolina, their fourth game in four different cities, all in under 120 hours of real time. With the win the Oilers extended their remarkable record in the second of back-to-backs to a perfect 6-0-0 on the season. In the process, they also upped their mark in road matinées to 5-0-0 with 18 goals for, just 7 against.
As has been the case all week, this was an all-hands-on-deck effort by the Oilers, playing without captain Connor McDavid and four other regulars. It was a young version of the line-up that got it done; with Sam Gagner joining James Neal and Kris Russell on the sidelines, every single skater on the team was under 30. They did lean heavily on the veteran between the pipes, 37-year-old Mike Smith, who at least came in rested after Mikko Koskinen got the job done in Florida on Saturday afternoon. Did I mention all hands on deck?
The Oilers return home from their 3-game roadie not merely surviving but thriving. Their impressive 4-point weekend coupled with Vancouver’s surprising home loss to Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon have boosted them back into first place in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division.
#6 Adam Larsson, 6. Another afternoon in the trenches against the toughest of the toughs. Didn’t win all the battles but more than his share. Dished out his usual punishment but also absorbed some, notably a play when he sold out to get the puck to centre before shooting it in, taking one for the team in the process. Took a penalty, but of type “good” as it defused a scoring chance. It’s been some time since I’ve seen him skate as freely as he’s been lately.
#12 Colby Cave, 5. Played 10 minutes of keep-it-simple hockey, and was mostly successful other than the careless penalty he took in the offensive zone midway in the third. 0 shot attempts, but didn’t give up a lot other than that one powerplay. Involved in one good sequence that led to good chances for each of his linemates.
#15 Josh Archibald, 9. An outstanding game in every aspect. He and his sidekick Sheahan played 4:36 of the 6 minutes the Oilers were shorthanded and got the job done, spending some of that time cycling the puck in the good end of the ice. Co-led the team in hits (3), blocks (2, and shots on goal (3), while his line dominated possession, the Oilers outshooting the ‘canes 7-2 during his 13+ minutes at 5v5. Took a penalty but drew two at the same time, having aggravating two opponents into tackling him. Put the Oilers ahead with a terrific play to keep the puck in at the line, give-and-go with Benson, and roof a clinical finish past James Reimer. Earned himself a shift in overtime and made the very most of it, potting the game-winner from the exact same spot on the ice, this time low to the stick side on Reimer.
#16 Jujhar Khaira, 6. Made a terrific one-handed chip to Draisaitl to set up the first Oilers goal just 1 second after the expiration of a powerplay. Had an excellent sequence with his usual linemates Cave and P.Russell that led to 2 chances in rapid succession. Took a clumsy penalty in the third when he lost his balance and wiped out an opponent.
#23 Riley Sheahan, 7. Did a lot of heavy lifting on an effective second line, and with his partner Archibald did the lion’s share of the penalty killing (also 4:36 = 77% of the team’s time on the kill). 2 shots, 2 takeaways. Nearly scored to extend the lead late in the third, but his shot at the wide open net was contested by the excellent Jaccob Slavin who did just enough to tip Sheahan’s drive off the crossbar.
#25 Darnell Nurse, 7. Another strong game in an excellent weekend which saw him log north of 23 minutes in both games. His pairing with Bear largely kept play to the outside, moved it out of danger, and won the shots battle 11-5 during his 19 minutes at 5v5. Earned an assist on Draisaitl’s goal. One of 3 Edmonton defenders beaten by Svechnikov’s sharp pass on the game-tying tally. Made a giant play in overtime by overtaking Martin Necas of a partial breakaway, sliding on the ice to cut out his pass to a second open Hurricane, and then hook the puck out of danger while at ful lstretch. A rare game with 0 shots on net, but 2 blocks, 2 hits, and decent boxcars of 0-1-1, +2.
#29 Leon Draisaitl, 8. Yet another brilliant game from the league’s hottest player, who produced a goal and 2 assists to extend his lead in the NHL scoring race to a startling 13 points. Buried his only shot on net of the game, converting Khaira’s slick pass with the deadline quick release Oilers fans have come to know and love. Earned a primary assist on Yamamoto’s powerplay tally, and another on the game winner when he roared up ice against Sebastian Aho, held the puck while Archibald joined the play, and delivered a perfectly-timed backhand feed to set the winger in alone. 10/22=45% on the dot, best on the team, but included a couple of lost faceoffs that led to the first two Carolina goals. Showed his sick stick skills when he whacked a puck out of mid-air to defuse a dangerous situation in front of his own net. Got hauled down in overtime by Andrei Svechnikov on what I saw as an egregious non-call, but Smith came through with a huge stop against the Aho breakaway that resulted. In the four games without McDavid this week, the Oilers scored 14 goals in which Drasiaitl produced 3-7-10. Now has 2+ points in 12 of his last 16 games, just an incredible heater.
#39 Alex Chiasson, 6. A solid performance included 2 very dangerous shots on net, the second of which led to what appeared to be a slam dunk rebound for Sheahan before Slavin saved the day. Reliable on the defensive side of the puck. The Oilers’ oldest skater at age 29.
#41 Mike Smith, 7. His game got off to an ominous start when he couldn’t find Trevor Van Riemsdyk’s 62-footer through traffic just 12 seconds in. But he dialled in thereafter and delivered a solid game that included a number of clutch saves in the third and especially overtime, when he robbed fabulous Finns Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho on clearcut breakaways. 31 shots, 28 saves, .903 save percentage.
#49 Tyler Benson, 7. As good as he was on Saturday, he was even better on Sunday. Very reliable with the puck in all three zones, moved it smartly and with purpose even when under pressure. Also played well on the defensive side of the puck, notably one sequence when he covered the point for a pinching d-man, came back hard and rode his man off the puck. Earned his first NHL point, a primary assist on a nifty return pass to Archibald on the 3-2.
#52 Patrick Russell, 5. Had yet another great chance to score his first NHL goal after a terrific o-zone cycle, but his redirection from the low slot was rejected by Reimer. Otherwise played 10 low-event minutes, with 3 hits and a whole lot of mucking and grinding.
#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 6. Tied the game at 2-2 when his quick release on the PP beat Reimer cleanly, hit the post, but ricocheted back into the goal off the netminder’s skate. Posted an uncharacteristic -3 on the day, with the last of these being scored by his man. 3 shots, 6 shot attempts to lead the team in both categories. Also drew a penalty that helped lead to the 1-1 goal when he was first high-sticked, then cross-checked in the neck by Svechnikov.
#60 Markus Granlund, 5. Stepped into the line-up for the first time in 8 weeks and delivered a decent two-way performance. His best moment was a gorgeous stretch pass that sprang Chiasson and Sheahan for a pair of great chances.
#74 Ethan Bear, 6. Another 22 minutes of solid two-way hockey that saw the rookie defend well, steal a few pucks, and move the disc with precision and purpose. Did get beat wide by Svechnikov on the 3-3 to take a bit of the shine off a strong performance. Did take a bad icing with 2 minutes left in regulation that led to some nervous moments involving a mismatch against tired Oilers. But while rookie mistakes of that nature are inevitable, as the year progresses he is putting out more fires than he starts, such as the big defensive stop he made late in overtime.
#77 Oscar Klefbom, 5. Logged a monstrous 30:57 a day after playing 25:45. A bit of a sketchy game at times, starting with an icing and an own-goalie screen that together led to the first goal just 12 seconds in. Altogether was involved in 6 Grade A scoring chances against and just 1 for, including getting burned for a pair of breakaways. But spent plenty of those 31 minutes getting the puck moving in the right direction as well.
#82 Caleb Jones, 4. Played just 9 minutes and spent most of them behind his own blueline, the Oilers being outshot 7-1 during his watch. Did manage to saw off on the scoreboard at 0-0.
#83 Matt Benning, 5. Similar shot shares as Jones, though to my eye Benning was the stronger member of the partnership and put out a few fires along the way. Drew the penalty that resulted in the 2-2. Went at it hard in a physical battle with the feisty Svechnikov.
#91 Gaetan Haas, 5. His speed was noticeable in the transition game, though not much offence was generated as a result. His best rush resulted in a wraparound pass that handcuffed Granlund. Played a shade under 10 minutes during which not a lot happened in terms of scoring chances let alone goals. Just 2/8=25% on the dot.
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 5. Played “just” 22:22, about a 10% reduction after three straight games in the 24:50 range, but didn’t have a lot left in the tank. Was beaten by Aho on a footrace that saw the Finn go in alone to score the second ‘Canes goal. 5 shot attempts, 1 takeaway, and plenty of sound plays.
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