So, it wasn’t always pretty, but all’s well that ends well. Final score: 3-2 Oilers
Before we get into the game proper, let’s take a look at the ramifications of Edmonton’s win. First off, it pushes the team to 101 points, which is the club’s best total since 1986-87. That’s arguably less important than what it means for the Pacific division in the playoffs, though.
This win guarantees home ice to the Oilers in the first round. They will now finish either first or second in the Pacific.
Edmonton owns the tie-breaker if they finish the season with the same number of points as the Anaheim Ducks. That means tomorrow, if a) the Oilers get a win of any kind over Vancouver and b) the Ducks lose in regulation to Los Angeles that the Oilers would win their division, guaranteeing home ice through two playoff rounds. The last time that happened? Also 1986-87.
Nashville’s loss tonight locks Calgary into the Pacific wild card slot, leaving the Predators to take on Chicago in the first round. In other words, if the Oilers can take away first from Anaheim, the bonus is a first-round Battle of Alberta. Which, objectively, would be awesome.
Now, as for the game itself. I thought we could look at the team’s performance line by line, with half an eye towards potential playoff ramifications.
Maroon / McDavid / Draisaitl
- McDavid keeps right on McDavid-ing. He’s the beating heart of the power play and picked up point No. 98 there. There was a great shift in the first where this line owned the puck in the offensive zone, though they couldn’t turn all that possession into chances, and he was at the centre of it all.
- There were some moments for the other two, more for Draisaitl than Maroon, but on the whole it wasn’t all that remarkable a night for unit. It was telling to me that McDavid had some of his better moments when he got caught on the ice with players from other lines.
- Maroon’s been a little funny on this line, alternating between ridiculously hot and ice cold. Hitting the post on an empty net at point blank range is the kind of nutty thing that happens when he’s cold; it kept McDavid from point No. 99 and made the game’s end a lot closer than it otherwise would have been.
Lucic / Nugent-Hopkins / Eberle
- The first period was absolutely terrible for this line, with Vancouver out-chancing Edmonton by a 5-0 score with them on the ice. Nugent-Hopkins in particular had some issues, though some of the problem was being sent out with the Nurse/Benning tandem.
- The second period was a lot better. Obviously Eberle scored the 1-0 goal (and Lucic had a huge part in it at the blue line though at least initially he wasn’t credited with a helper) but it was more than that. They stemmed the bleeding and pushed back offensively.
- The one-on-one battle between Lucic and Troy Stecher after Lucic came out of the box in the third was something to see. Pakarinen got the goal, but that’s exactly the kind of play everyone wanted to see from Lucic when he was signed. They’re coming a lot more often of late.
Pouliot / Desharnais / Pakarinen
- This unit has not been functioning well for some time, and on Saturday it started off sans Kassian and with Pakarinen as his replacement. That’s an awfully small change when the problem is actually at centre, but Todd McLellan’s options are limited there as long as he plays Draisaitl at RW.
- Pakarinen didn’t do his team any favours with a fairly blatant interference penalty in the second period. Edmonton had dominated the middle frame until that minor, and then Vancouver fired four chances in relatively quick succession, with the fourth chance the 1-1 goal.
- Pakarinen did do his team a favour on the 3-1 goal, getting up ice at the end of the penalty kill in a hurry and wasting no time getting a rebound shot away. Whatever his warts, he’s a shoot (or hit, for that matter) first, ask questions later kind of guy and that’s got value.
- I though both Pouliot and Desharnais were shades of vanilla in this one, though Pouliot does add value to the penalty kill. I also liked his desperation defensive zone clear with Vancouver’s net empty.
Caggiula / Letestu / Kassian
- If you were to tell me right now that Kassian was going to double his goal total from this year next season, I’d have no trouble believing you. Tonight only rated a 5 or 6 on a 10-point “I can’t believe Kassian didn’t score” scale, but he keeps carrying the puck to the net and just missing execution by a hair.
- The player I’m sometimes reminded of watching Kassian this season is his former Vancouver teammate Alex Burrows. I saw a lot of Canucks hockey in 2006-07 and he was absolutely cursed – goalposts, goals called back, near misses, you name it. He finished the year with three goals. He had 12 the next season.
- Letestu scored a power play goal. Again. It’s been fun watching him embraced this season as the power play weapon he’s been his whole career (his point/minute entering this season were basically bang-on with Jordan Eberle) even if he owes McDavid some of the credit.
- I’m a Caggiula skeptic in a lot of ways, but he does do little things. He works hard to get back defensively, he has a smart stick in the neutral zone; it’s hard not to like that kind of player. He kind of reminds me of a bunch of different players who were depth guys for McLellan in San Jose, people like Chris Tierney and Matt Nieto.
Klefbom / Larsson
- It wasn’t a banner night for this pair, but it didn’t have to be. Each player had a couple of bad moments but on the whole delivered solid play. Klefbom got into a bit of extra trouble when caught out with Benning.
Sekera / Russell
- I’ve been somewhat lukewarm to Russell all season but this is the kind of game where I can really get on board with the enthusiasm for this player. Outside of one minor mishap in the third he was rock solid defensively: physical, in good position, quick with his stick, you name it.
- Fun side point No. 1: Russell and Sekera had the best Corsi on the team.
- Fun side point No. 2: Russell picked up the assist on Eberle’s first goal, which gives him six points in his last nine games. Not bad at all for a guy who had just seven in his first 58 contests, and perhaps an indication of a player willing to be a bit more offense-minded with the puck on his stick than he was early in the year. The Oilers will need that in the postseason.
Nurse / Benning
- This was really not a good night for this tandem. Nor is this a new occurrence. Both players have been markedly less effective post-injury than they were pre-injury.
- Benning’s the player who is the most concerning. He was so good in the first half of this season but he’s just not there now. Before he was quick and decisive with the puck; now he makes fewer good decisions and doesn’t make them all that fast. He’s worse defensively, though. There was one sequence in the second period where Jayson Megna blew by him and created all sorts of chaos, and due respect to Jayson Megna but that’s not the kind of thing that should be happening to a regular defender on a playoff bound team.
- Nurse had some coverage issues too (this pairing as a whole bled chances against) but I think he’d be helped immensely by some calm feet next to him. I like Mark Fayne for the job, especially in the playoffs, but failing that Eric Gryba should get another look.
- Talbot’s save percentage probably isn’t good enough for him to get a serious shot at the Vezina – Sergei Bobrovsky should and probably will win the trophy – but that doesn’t take away from the value he brings in playing well almost all the time. It lets the Oilers get away with a lot.
- In this one in particular, Talbot saved the first period. Edmonton was sloppy in the opening frame and came away with a 0-0 tie; this game might have played out very differently with a Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth in net.
- Having said that, April got off to an ugly start for Talbot. Assuming that Laurent Brossoit starts (as he absolutely should) tomorrow, it’s probably not a bad thing that Talbot exits the regular season on a high note, having stopped 29 of 31 shots (0.935 save percentage).
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