It ain’t pretty, but the Canadians came out on top tonight!
This morning, I took a look at the game preview for this matchup and had to just kind of laugh to myself.
The Avalanche were the league’s feel-good darlings through the month of January, when the long-maligned Jonathan Bernier led them to a ten-game win streak in the absence of Semyon Varlamov (a stark contrast to the hot mess that they offered up during his injury last year).
As February has dragged on, though, they’ve started to stumble – first losing Tyson Barrie, then Nathan MacKinnon, and now Erik Johnson. Bernier himself is also out with a concussion, leaving them with Andrew Hammond (I KNOW) as their number two on the bench.
I assumed it would still be a tough fight, though, with the Oilers putting up absolutely baffling performances as the year has worn on. And sure enough, it was one hell of a close matchup – but in the end, Edmonton’s relentless offensive push edged ahead and earned them the win.
FINAL SCORE: EDMONTON OILERS 3, COLORADO AVALANCHE 2 (OT)
The game started out looking like the Avalanche may be able to take home a win when they generated some strong offensive pressure right off the bat, but Connor McDavid was able to give just as much as the Oilers were getting.
It looked like it would be a battle of the top lines for a little bit, with the Avalanche relying heavily on Nathan MacKinnon to generate their chances and McDavid taking on some quality offensive responsibility himself.
As the period went on, though, the strong start by Colorado started to diminish – and despite Nikita Zadorov admirably stepping up in the absence of Erik Johnson, the team sorely showed their defensive weaknesses with a 19-shot effort by Edmonton through the first 20.
Nothing ultimately materialized through the first twenty, though, even with MacKinnon’s offensive efforts and Edmonton throwing the puck at Varlamov every chance they got.
Of course, things would get going almost the moment the second period kicked off…
Sometimes, you watch a player score a goal and you just have to watch it over, and over, and over again.
In that vein, here is the never-ending loop of Leon Draisaitl’s goal just over two minutes into the period:
There is nothing about this goal not to like.
After collecting the puck along the half wall to Varlamov’s left, Draisaitl took the puck along and out to the point, moving across royal road before moving in on Varlamov from the opposite side of the ice.
From there, he proceeded to make pretty much all of Colorado look silly as he danced around all of the team’s top line – first evading MacKinnon, then Mikko Rantanen and finally Gabriel Landeskog before flipping the puck right past Varlamov with a quick backhand chip.
Varlamov didn’t start moving back to the center of his crease until the shot had already been released, leaving his short-side wide open for Draisaitl’s shot – but no matter the excuses, it was an absolutely incredible tally to witness.
Although both sides would have some quality looks as the period went on, the real highlight came with about six minutes left to play in the second.
That’s right: I’m talking about the Zack Kassian Goal.
Mark Letestu gets credit for the primary assist in a game his family considered may be his last in an Oilers uniform here at Rogers Place, which should hit you right in the feels (even if the lack of a throw-down brawl between Kassian and Duncan Siemens left you wanting more).
It’s always nice to see Kassian find the back of the net, and his top-shelf rebound gave the team a solid 2-0 lead with less than 30 left to play.
The Oilers just don’t like to leave the fans with much confidence for long, though, because here came ther Avalanche!
Colorado would get their first of two successive goals with less than 20 seconds left in the period, as undersized blue liner Samuel Girard rips one from the point to somehow find its way in to ruin Cam Talbot’s shutout.
Oh, then came the third period…
It blew my mind when the Oilers were beating Boston just a few nights ago, but I watched with both fascination and horror as they managed to not only blow their lead, but also their chance at even getting a point in the final period alone.
It seemed like the fans were in for a miserable repeat on Thursday night, when the Avalanche found the back of the net a second time less than a minute into the third frame to tie up the game.
The Oilers found themselves scrambling when the Tyson Jost line sent the puck up the ice with a nice passing sequence, executing one of the smoothest zone entries I’ve seen from their depth all year due to some incredible vision from Alex Kerfoot to kick things off.
Talbot overcommits outside of the blue paint, trying to cut down the angle for Tyson Jost in the corner and finding himself high and dry when Jost passes the puck back to Colin Wilson in front of the empty net. By the time Talbot heads back into his crease, the puck is already behind him, and the game is tied :
Although Edmonton tries to even things up by edging Colorado 11 shots to 9 (and 24 to 15 in shot attempts), they aren’t able to get it done – even with an impressive McDavid breakaway late in the game – and both teams pick up at least the extra point as the game heads to OT.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) February 23, 2018
Although the overall feel of the extra minutes was incredibly sloppy, Leon Draisaitl strikes again as he magically weaves through the Colorado players on the ice to face Semyon Varlamov head-on.
But wait! Once Varlamov commits to saving his shot, he laughs his way to the bank as he slides the puck neatly over to McDavid, who is hanging out by the left post and able to tap the puck in neatly while Varlamov sprawls helplessly on the ice.
- I’m always a fan of a good Leon Draisaitl goal, and the one in the second period certainly didn’t disappoint. That singular effort was the kind of performance that gives teams fits, and it’s a nice reminder that Dr. Drai would be on pace for a career-high in points if he were to play a full 82-game campaign.
- That being said, his goal – and McDavid’s OT tally – were also a harsh reminder that the team is almost embarrassingly top-heavy in scoring, even with the Zack Kassian effort. McDavid has 71 points, Draisaitl has 54, and the next highest scoring player on the team… is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has just 31 points and counting. Milan Lucic went another game without a goal or point, and Jesse Puljujarvi is set to finish the season with just 20 points (albeit in only 65 games, assuming he plays out the rest of the season in the NHL). For perspective, Arizona’s Brendan Perlini has more goals than Puljujarvi has points, and in just 10 more games; if he can find his scoring touch soon, that would be lovely.
- The Oilers were done a bit of a disservice getting Varlamov at this point in the season. He does best when he’s rolling on a few consecutive starts, but his peak performance seems to fall in a dangerously small window in recent years. He plays well only when given a consistent workload, but too many consecutive games and he always seems to end up injured; Edmonton got him once he’d warmed up from his last injury and before the heavy workload got to him again, which resulted in a 43-save night. A lot of those shots early on seemed to be perimeter attempts, but the game could have been quickly swayed in the other direction – offensive depth or not – if Varlamov was even a few more starts into this current stint.
- On the other side of the ice, Cam Talbot seems to be figuring it out a bit, but he still doesn’t look like the player Edmonton picked up a few seasons ago. I’m curious if he’ll be able to shake it off this summer – because if not, the Oilers need to look at a tandem backup, not just a career veteran number two, far more than they need to pursue their dreams of OEL.