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Photo Credit: © Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

That’s Hockey

Six goals, two fights, great passing, hard hits and some actual animosity.

The first period of last night’s game between the Oilers and Bruins is how hockey should be played.

Too often we get caught up in over analyzing the game and focusing only on mistakes, rather than remembering it is supposed to be entertainment.

Last night was a pleasure to watch.

It started very quickly.

Jordan Eberle delivered a world-class pass to Patrick Maroon and he ripped home his 23rd goal of the season. The Oilers second PP unit had an excellent game.

Less than a minute later, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Maroon performed the exciting Tic-Tac-Goal. Watch the replay. McDavid receives the pass in midair, controls it, all in one motion and delivers a perfect pass to Maroon. High-level skill is fun to watch.

David Desharnais picked up his fourth point in six games, all of them at even strength, after he made a nice rush and then slide a pass right on Benoit Pouliot’s tape for his second goal in as many games.

It was 3-0 just over eight minutes in and the building was rocking.

However, the Bruins didn’t roll over, instead they charged back.

They responded with a pretty PP goal of their own, as Brad Marchand kept pace with McDavid in the race for the Art Ross and slid a sweet dish to David Pastrnak.

Five minutes later, Marchand scored his league-leading 37th goal, off a nice feed from Patrice Bergeron and it was 3-2.

The period ended with two fights 50 seconds apart. Maroon had scored twice and delivered some big hits earlier in the period and the Bruins were irate. The Human Crane, Zdeno Chara, grabbed Maroon earlier in the period, but the Oilers leading goal scorer was more interested in gaining his second hat-trick of the season against Boston than fighting. His mindset changed eight minutes later when Adam McQuaid hammered him from behind into the boards, and the two big men dropped the gloves. A fight in the heat of the moment is much better than a staged one.

Late in the frame Zack Kassian and Chara fought, although Chara, who is freakishly strong and tough, waited until Kassian started to skate away before he grabbed him. When fans saw the replay the building erupted again in boos. It is amazing how much more energy is in the building when there is real animosity on the ice.

However, the scoring wasn’t over.

Anton Slepyshev displayed his baseball skills batting one home and McDavid moved back into a tie with Marchand with 79 points with 51 seconds remaining in the frame.

The first 20 minutes had a playoff atmosphere and were highly enjoyable to watch.

The second period produced five more goals, lots of chirping and whacking, and the Edmonton Oilers scored seven goals in consecutive games for the first time since December 4th and 7th, 1988.

The Oilers PP finished the game 3-for-6, against the league’s second best penalty kill.

The Bruins’ PP was also 50%, going 2-for-4, against a struggling Oilers PK.

Marchand and McDavid each scored three points and remained tied atop the NHL’s scoring race with 79 points.

The win moved the Oilers back into third in the Pacific, one point ahead of the Calgary Flames and one back of the Anaheim Ducks.

Fourteen goals and consecutive wins should extinguish any thoughts of the Oilers missing the playoffs, but I’m sure a few worriers won’t exhale until it is official. Regardless of where you stand on the playoffs, I don’t think any hockey fan could say last night’s game wasn’t entertaining.

The NHL needs more games like that. Emotion, intensity and skill are a great combination and when they are on display the NHL is better for it.

PARTING SHOTS

  • The need for a proven PP D-men is much lower now than it was in October. They would still like a right-shot defender, but unless he can play top-four minutes at EV, I don’t see the Oilers needing to go out and acquire a supposed PP specialist. Oscar Klefbom continues to develop offensively. He has a cannon of a shot and his passing inside the offensive zone has improved. The Oilers PP is now fifth in the NHL at 22.2%. They’ve scored the eighth most PP goals, despite sitting 22nd in powerplay chances.
  • I don’t understand why people keep mentioning possibly recalling Jesse Puljujarvi. Why would you put an 18-year-old rookie with 28 games experience and only one NHL goal, which was scored on October 12th, into your playoff lineup? It makes no sense. The Oilers top-three lines are set. The third line has played well. Benoit Pouliot has awoken from his season-long slump at the right time and David Desharnais has been very good, while Zack Kassian has been consistent all season. Pouliot has rediscovered his offensive forechecking tenacity and that’s led to more offensive zone time and scoring chances. The combination of speed, size and skill on that line is crucial for some potential playoff success. There is zero reason to upset the top lines by inserting an 18-year-old rookie, who has yet to establish himself, into the lineup at the most important time of the season.  And that is by no means an attack on Puljujarvi. I think he’s going to be very good, but after years of watching the Oilers rush young players I’m stunned some people actually think adding him to the lineup now in place of a more experienced player makes sense.
  • Anton Slepyshev had another strong game. The biggest hurdle for him, along with Drake Caggiula and Jujhar Khaira, moving forward will be finding the consistency in their game to bring that effort every night. Tyler Pitlick is a great example of a player who finally figured it out this season, but it took him many years. And it isn’t about scoring. Of course that helps, but it’s about making the right play, being competitive along the boards and at the offensive and defensive blue lines. Todd McLellan singled out Slepyshev today about his recent play. “He has played well his last few games. We’ve asked from those types of players to be consistent, to give us more than two or three games, and in Anton’s case he will likely get another opportunity to build on what he’s done. We want to see that (build on game) to happen,” said McLellan.
  • One advantage Matt Hendricks has over the young players vying for ice time on the fourth line is his experience and ability to win faceoffs. Unless one of the Oilers left-shot centres starts improving in draws down the stretch, which seems unlikely, Hendricks could find himself in the lineup ahead of Caggiula, for instance, because he can win draws. Hendricks’ biggest challenge now is his puck handling ability. He had a tough game in that regard versus Dallas, and he needs to get back to being reliable with the puck like he was in February. Effort isn’t a concern with Hendricks, it’s his execution with the puck.
  • The Oilers have 12 games remaining, but they only play five teams. They face the Canucks and Kings three times, starting this coming Saturday and Monday. They face the Ducks, Avalanche and Sharks twice. So far this season they are 2-1 versus Anaheim, 1-0 against Colorado, 1-1 vs Los Angeles, 1-1-1 against San Jose and 1-0-1 vs. Vancouver. The Oilers are an impressive 23-9-6 against the western conference this season. Seven wins in their final 12 games, all against the West, is very doable.

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