Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a damned strong hockey team. Final Score: 6-3 Lightning
With this being the last game before the Christmas break, the Oilers had the opportunity to play in front of a rowdy Rogers Place crowd provided that they could give them something to cheer about. A lot of us started our holidays yesterday and the idea of getting a little bit tipsy and watching the Oilers win a hockey game sounded pretty damned fine. The problem, of course, is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in the NHL right now and beating them takes a lot of skill and a little bit of luck at the best of times. Closing out a win with so many key pieces missing on the back end was going to be a tall order for the Oilers no matter how you looked it. Fortunately, at Christmas time, magic is in the air so I was coming into this thing with the hope that I’d see the Oilers score enough goals to outrun any mistakes and that we’d all head into the break with a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts.
So when the Oilers opened the scoring early in the first period on a beautiful goal by McNuge, I found myself drifting off into a world of flowering imagination where the boys were able to play keep away with the puck, run up the score, and turn this game into one of the most lopsided victories anyone had ever seen. I was thinking of the kind of magical display that only Connor McDavid or Santa himself could bestow upon us. Unfortunately, the Lightning ruined the fantasy after not only scoring to tie things up on the power play, something the Oilers hadn’t managed to do in what felt like years at that point, but also flexing the kind of depth that powered them to the dominant win that I was wishing the Oilers might get. The Lightning looked every bit like the team that’s running away with the Eastern and they showed just how much work is left to be done around here. And while the Oilers were finally able to break their power play curse with two big goals to the drought in style, it still wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Lightning’s explosive offence.
The Lightning were just too much to handle as they were able to claw their way back from two separate deficits, and the fact that the score was as close as it was is more a testament to Koskinen’s work than how closely things played out. To put it another way, this loss was a tough dose of reality when using it to compare how the Oilers perform against the NHL’s elite.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins opened the scoring after he finished off a beautiful give-and-go play with Connor McDavid in the slot that happened so quickly that it left the goalie with no chance. But the whole sequence started as a result of Jesse Puljujarvi’s fine forechecking work that freed the puck up for McNuge to do their thing.
- I don’t know what the hell is going on with Alex Chiasson this season but I’m going to ride this wave until it crashes. Chia’s son added to his career-best after he parked himself in the slot and scored his 16th of the season by deflecting Nurse’s point shot through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole. I don’t know what else we can say about Chiasson other than he seems to have magic in his hands right now.
- After not scoring on their power play in what’s felt like months, the Oilers were able to get two tonight with the second coming from Leon Draisaitl midway through the second period. Nuge fed the puck to Connor with speed and he circled the net and found a waiting Leon who snapped the puck over Vasilevskiy’s blocker to bring the Oilers to within one.
- I always love to watch Connor McDavid play against the best the league has to offer because he always seems to find a way to rise to the challenge and he did exactly that again tonight with a three-point night. Not to mention, he also had all kinds of scoring chances that just didn’t work so this could have easily ended with him getting four or five. Regardless, congrats to Connor McDavid on the 200th assist, Connor, and also for the 201st and 202nd.
- I was really interested to see how Jesse Puljujarvi was going to handle the challenge of not only being slotted with McNuge tonight but also going up against the other team’s toughest defenders, and I thought he fared reasonably well. As I mentioned above, had it not been for Puljujarvi’s puck pursuit the RNH goal never would have happened, and that aggressiveness on the forecheck is going to go a long way for the big Finn if he can keep it going consistently. I know he got bumped down the lineup in the third period when the blender came out but I liked the way he started the game up on the top line.
- Tonight was one of those nights where the Oilers really needed their power play to be a threat if they were going to win the hockey game, and while they were able to score two goals on three attempts it wasn’t enough to get themselves a point. Even so, getting two opportunities with the man advantages to click after going games without is certainly positive.
- Mikko Koskinen was back between the pipes tonight as he looked to resume his status as a human brick wall at Rogers Place. The guy has been a one-man dream crusher at home and the Oilers were going to need him to be against a very potent Tampa Bay offence. While he wasn’t able to lock things down against the high-flying Lightning offence, Koskinen did keep the Oilers in the game longer than they probably deserved to be. That said, I’m sure he will say after the game that he’d want to have a couple of the goals back, though I’m not sure which ones as Tampa was buzzing all night long. Koskinen finished the night with 39 saves and a .886 save%.
- The Lightning dominated the shot clock tonight, pumping 45 shots on net compared to the Oilers 28 going the other way.
THE FACE PALMERS
- Steven Stamkos tied the game up at one apiece after he settled into his power play office on the sideboards and waited for the puck to come to him. When it did, he wasted no time blasting it past Koskinen with a shot he had little chance of stopping. Frankly, the goal was extra annoying when you saw just how effectively the Lightning were able to move the puck around on their power play. Stamkos added another goal in the third period after he picked up a pass in the high slot and snapped a quick wrister up over Koskinen’s glove.
- When you give Nikita Kucherov multiple breakaways in a single game you know that he’s going to score on at least one of them. On the first one, Koskinen was able to make the save and bail his team out, but wasn’t able to pull off an encore when it happened again a few minutes later. Darnell Nurse threw a weird pass to Puljujarvi who wasn’t ready for it and the bobbled puck turned into Kucherov’s breakaway and goal. Tough sequence.
- Only moments after Kucherov scored to tie things up, JT Miller put the Lightning up by a goal after he was able to box out Drake Caggiula in the slot and deflect home a perfect centring pass by Erik Cernak. The Lightning scored two goals in 1:28 and the Oilers went from having the lead to trailing by a goal in an instant.
- Tyler Johnson finished off a 2-on-1 play by following up and knocking in a rebound that ended up laying in the slot. Koskinen made the initial save but couldn’t get bailed out by a teammate and Johnson scored Tampa’s fourth goal of the night. He later added an empty netter to seal the deal and squash any slim hopes of a comeback that we were feeling.
- Speaking of power plays, how frustrating was it to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning to basically whatever they wanted with their first PP of night. They moved the puck around effortlessly before sending it over to Stamkos who blasted it home to finish off a perfectly executed power play opportunity.
- The NHL site had the giveaways for the Oilers at 19 tonight, but I think that number is a bit light. Let’s call it Christmas generosity.
- In the game of eating beets after every loss, there are no worse cans than the ones that happen this close to midnight. What happens is that my stomach starts rolling at about 2 am that movement can result in anything from a room-clearing fart to the need to get up and handle some business. Overshare? Probably an overshare. As always, you can join in the conversation over on my Twitter account.
|10:15||Edmonton||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (12) ASST: Connor McDavid (31), Jesse Puljujarvi (2)||0-1|
|17:09||Tampa Bay||PPG – Steven Stamkos (19) ASST: Nikita Kucherov (38), Victor Hedman (16)||1-1|
|02:50||Edmonton||PPG – Alex Chiasson (16) ASST: Darnell Nurse (11), Connor McDavid (32)||1-2|
|13:00||Tampa Bay||Nikita Kucherov (16)||2-2|
|14:32||Tampa Bay||J.T. Miller (7) ASST: Erik Cernak (6), Alex Killorn (12)||3-2|
|04:17||Tampa Bay||Tyler Johnson (15) ASST: Brayden Point (25), Nikita Kucherov (39)||4-2|
|06:17||Edmonton||PPG – Leon Draisaitl (17) ASST: Connor McDavid (33), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (21)||4-3|
|15:03||Tampa Bay||Steven Stamkos (20) ASST: Nikita Kucherov (40), Anton Stralman (9)||5-3|
|18:35||Tampa Bay||EN – Tyler Johnson (16) ASST: Nikita Kucherov (41)||6-3|
I’m not holdin back anymore….but they make me tie my tie….I still won’t use a comb… I don’t play by anyone’s rules…..not even my own -Burke
— Bret Westergaard (@Westie_84) December 23, 2018
That’s the first mistake. Don’t look him in the eyes. Look at his tie. That always tells the truth.
— Allen (@rakramer79) December 23, 2018
— The Towel Boy (@TheTowelBoy) December 23, 2018
Alex Chiasson is the best goal scorer named Alex in the history of the NHL. Change my mind
— LB (@BHEP2016) December 23, 2018
Oilers head into the 3rd period losing
— Evan Hoogewoonink (@EHoogewoonink) December 23, 2018
To start off the Christmas Spectacular, Chris the Intern walked us through one of the weirdest dreams about Connor McDavid that I’ve ever heard. Why was it weird? Because even in Chris’ dreams, he was getting bullied out of spending time with the McMagic one by an unlikely source. Keeping up with Chris’ life of leisure, we broke down his appearance on the Kiss Cam from Tuesday’s game against the Blues and offered up some advice should he ever get on there again. Was it really the worst Kiss Cam attempt of all time? It could be. Don’t want to hear about Chris? No problem, the rest of the episode is about everything Edmonton Oilers.
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 12/22/2018 – 11:00 pm MT