In a game the Edmonton Oilers absolutely, positively had to win to prolong their playoff push, Taylor Hall threw his teammates on his back and carried them to an 8-2 butt-kicking of the Calgary Flames with what might be the best performance of his NHL career.
Leaders do that. Money players have that knack. Franchise guys find a way when it matters most. In just his third season with the Oilers, you can tick all three of those boxes when it comes to Hall, who is leading a charge down the stretch that has fans buzzing and wondering if their team’s playoff drought might actually end after six seasons.
The waxing of the Flames has the Oilers on a five-game winning streak and into a playoff position for the time being, and that winning roll has everything to do with Hall, who has 15 points in his last six games and 41 points in 33 games – he’s moved into the top-10 in NHL scoring.
Hall had plenty of help of course in the form of linemates Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had four points, but it was No. 4, without any doubt, who drove the bus in a win that saw the Oilers fall behind 2-0 early before scoring eight straight goals.
What we’re seeing unfold right now – and it holds true even if this particular playoff push comes up short – is Hall, still only 21, putting his stamp on this team far faster than even the most optimistic fan could have hoped during a rebuild that’s taken longer than the faithful would like.
It’s a stunning juxtaposition.
WHILE I’M AT IT
. . . Hall aside, the Oilers pulled away in this one by taking a page out of the book the Detroit Red Wings have long relied on by turning the other cheek when the Flames tried to take the game to the alley. Three power-play goals in the second period, by Nail Yakupov, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, put the Oilers up 5-2 through 40 minutes.
Overmatched physically by a sagging and frustrated Flames team that’s headed the wrong direction in a big hurry, the Oilers didn’t try to answer blow for blow. They used their heads instead of their fists – they don’t have much choice, given the make-up of this roster.
While I’d still like to see the Oilers tweak their line-up between now and next season by adding players who can better handle the physicality of teams like the Flames, making them pay on the scoreboard, as the saying goes, works just fine as long as the power-play clicks as Edmonton’s has this season.
. . . That said, ready and willing and Mike Brown again showed that there’s value in having a physical element. While he got his nose bent in a scrap with Steve Begin, his willingness to pay the price early when the game could have got away from the Oilers helped turned the tide.
Buckle up. Helluva ride to come.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.