There’s no such thing as a bad win when you’re fighting for every point in the stretch drive, but some wins feel better than others and the Edmonton Oilers got one of those in a come-from-behind 3-2 decision over the Nashville Predators Saturday.
In coming back from a 2-0 deficit and winning it on a couple of third-period goals by Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers prevailed in the kind of game they’ll have to come out on top in down the stretch drive and in the playoffs. It was tight-checking and often greasy hockey, the type this edition of the Predators throws at opponents. The Oilers threw it right back.
This wasn’t about Draisaitl and Connor McDavid dangling and putting on a show in a last-goal-wins display of skill. This was about the Oilers sticking with it, carving out enough time and space to come back and getting the next save from Mike Smith when they needed it. Saturday wasn’t a crowd-pleaser by any stretch, but it was a coach-pleaser.
“We had talked about taking time and space away and we competed hard,” coach Dave Tippett said. “I thought both teams played real hard. Our power play came up big for us. You talk about working for your breaks, we had a couple of real good chances in the first and didn’t capitalize, and then at the end of the second we got a break on the first power-play goal.”
The Oilers caught that break when Kyle Turris kicked the puck into his net behind Juuse Saros – the goal was credited to Alex Chiasson – to cut the score to 2-1 with nine seconds left in the second period. Then came Draisaitl, who tied it 2-2 on a sweet cross-ice backhand feed from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and then won it when he one-timed a pass from RNH off the bar and in to make it 3-2.
The goals gave Draisaitl 31 on the season with 54 assists for 85 points atop the NHL scoring race. With 30-51-81 for McDavid, the duo is the first pair of teammates to have 80 points after 55 games in a season since 1996-97, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it. The last time two Oilers managed the feat was 1986-97 with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. Interesting trivia, but getting the win was the thing.
“It’s about sticking with it, it doesn’t have to be pretty, two points is two points for us,” said Draisaitl, who has been a beast for the Oilers in the New Year aside from a couple of tough games of late. “It’s a gutty win for us and I think that’s huge for our group.”
Smith, now 7-0-2 in his last nine games after stopping 27 of 29 shots, put it this way: “I think we’ve seen our team when we’ve tried to out-skill teams and outscore teams and it works for maybe a game or two here or there. But consistently, it doesn’t give yourself a chance to win on any given night. It doesn’t give you a chance to make the playoffs, let alone be a good team in the playoffs. And I think this team is figuring that out slowly.”
That “figuring it out” is an ongoing process and one that continues when the Chicago Blackhawks come calling Tuesday. Winning a game that takes some moxy and sticking with it as was the case in this one is part of that. This is how you win when it matters down the road in March and April and May.
WHILE I’M AT IT
Yes, McDavid played in the third period after crashing into the end boards in the second period and icing his left knee before returning, but until we see him skating at practice Monday, the Oilers shouldn’t be surprised if we take whatever is said about his status with a grain of salt.
THE HAIR MASSACURE
Hair Massacure is taking over Edmonton this winter to support the fight against childhood cancer and grant wishes to some extraordinary young patients. On February 21, 2020 thousands of heads will be shaved, once again, in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy. All funds raised go to Children’s Wish Foundation and Terry Fox PROFYLE. You can help. Go to www.hairmassacure.com to learn more.