One of the interesting little mini-battles that caught my eye in Tuesday’s 4-2 Oilers win over Los Angeles was the conflict between Kings captain Dustin Brown and Edmonton’s third line. Brown caught third-line pivot Anton Lander with a hard check early in the game, and Lander and his linemates seemingly never let that go.
The Initial Play
The initial setup here is a routine defensive zone play. Defenceman Brandon Davidson is the first man back to retrieve a dump-in, and he’s being pressured by L.A. pivot Jarret Stoll. Anton Lander is watching, and thinking about going to the corner to get the puck.
Davidson rolls the puck into the corner, and Lander advances to get it. He’s in a race with Brown here, and while he has a step he won’t have much time; he’s going to get thumped right after he reaches the puck.
Lander reaches the puck and makes a quick pass to Tyler Pitlick at the top of the zone to start the rush the other way. Predictably, Brown crushes him with a heavy hit.
Not Letting Go
The next shift out, Brown tries to carry the puck out of his own end. Pitlick responds by circling around in front and landing a pretty decent hit on Brown along the boards.
Matt Fraser decides to join in a moment later with the puck having moved all of a foot or so; he joins the battle along the boards and makes sure to finish his check on Brown in the process.
Fraser isn’t finished. A little later on, he sees Brown go to carry the puck behind his own net. He steams over and shoves Brown hard to the ice.
Pitlick isn’t finished, either. A few shifts later, Pitlick sees Brown coming out of the corner with the puck in the Oilers’ end of the rink and takes advantage of the opportunity to level him with a hit.
These weren’t the only hits on Brown in the game. He had a running battle with Keith Aulie and my game notes also show that Lander took advantage of an opportunity later in the game to hit him as well (I didn’t note the timestamp and the Rexall scorer didn’t catch it, so I couldn’t go back and find that hit).
This isn’t a big thing; we can even debate how important it is to winning a game in the grand scheme of things. But the Oilers have a reputation (at least in Edmonton) of backing down when faced with a physical challenge. They didn’t do that against Los Angeles, and this particular example of Fraser and Pitlick taking advantage of opportunities to exact a little payback for their linemate is a good demonstration of what lots of hockey people like to see from their teams and what the Oilers have at least at times lacked in recent years.
It was the exact right way to respond to the challenge. They stayed within the rules, made good hockey plays and in the process made sure to thump a guy who never passes on an opportunity to hit his opponents. It was a textbook example of smart but physical hockey and standing up for a teammate.
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