Jesse Puljujarvi threw everything but his jockstrap at Henrik Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden today in his first game with the Edmonton Oilers since being summoned from the Bakersfield Condors. That’s good news, indeed, despite a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers that put an end to a modest two-game winning streak by the Oilers.
The loss is on an exceedingly dim elbowing penalty to Patrick Maroon and penalty killing that remains not remotely close to good enough, not on the lanky Finnish sophomore, who notched the second goal of his NHL career and his first of this season in his first game back. Puljujarvi scored the 1-1 goal in the first period, finished with five shots on goal and attempted six other shots – one that clanked off the goalpost behind Lundqvist.
Puljujarvi, 19, looked fleet-of-foot, confident and hell-bent on shooting everything he got his hands on while playing alongside Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In short, the big kid was pretty much everything the Oilers have been lacking on the right side so far this season – an actual threat to shoot and a threat to score rather than a position where pucks and passes go to die.
“I thought he was quite good,” coach Todd McLellan said. “I thought he had a lot of pep in his stride. He looked quicker to me, shooting the puck. I thought some of the things we asked him to do down there showed up in the game today. On an individual side of it, we’re happy for him. He had a good game and a good night. He should leave the rink confident and continue to play that way.”
Obviously, one game does not a season make and fans are going to have to be patient with Puljujarvi, as Jason Gregor pointed out Friday. Young players often run on a pure shot of adrenaline when they first get called up from the minors and it takes a few games to see if they’re feeling it beyond that quick burst. After all, it’s not like Puljujarvi was tearing it up with Bakersfield – he had 1-4-5 in 10 games when he call came.
That said, circumstances dictate that the window of opportunity is wide open for Puljujarvi, who had just 1-7-8 in 28 games with the Oilers last season as a rookie. Anton Slepyshev has been placed on injured reserve and Drake Caggiula is out with an injury. The right side needs a shooter. More important, a scorer. Puljujarvi looked like a reasonable facsimile of both against the Rangers.
If Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t been the Oilers best forward game-in and game-out this season he’s close. He looked right at home with Puljujarvi today. RNH had four shots against the Rangers and set-up Puljujarvi’s goal. With Lucic, who had an assist on a power-play goal by Connor McDavid for a 2-1 lead in the second period, on the left side, maybe the Oilers have the makings of a second line that can get something done. We’ll see.
“I feel good to come here,” said Puljujarvi, who played 15:37, more than four minutes more than the 11:15 he averaged with the Oilers last season. “I tried to work hard and help the team, but we don’t win. That’s not good.”
With the game tied 2-2, Maroon took a Darwin Award elbowing penalty late in the second period – he popped Ryan McDonagh in the mouth by the New York net right in front of the referee, getting the two minutes he asked for. That put the game up for grabs and Edmonton’s brutal PK on the ice. Rick Nash put New York ahead to stay at 3-2.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- With the Rangers scoring twice on the power play (Pavel Buchnevich and Nash) in three attempts, the Oilers close out the road trip against the Washington Capitals Sunday with their penalty killing operating at 69.8 per cent, dead-last in the league. The Capitals are ranked 15th on the power play at 19.6 per cent.