Leon Draisaitl’s candidacy for the Hart Memorial Trophy took another hit Tuesday in Texas as the Edmonton Oilers parlayed a 42-save performance by Mikko Koskinen to a 2-1 overtime win over the Dallas Stars.
With Koskinen as good as we’ve seen him in a long time, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continuing his roll with his 20th goal and Alex Chiasson getting the overtime winner, Draisaitl didn’t have to do much. He contributed one assist, as did Connor McDavid, who, to hear some pundits tell it, is the driver behind Draisaitl’s MVP bid. The Oilers won without Draisaitl having to be all-world.
I’m being facetious, of course, but one night after lighting up the Nashville Predators 8-3 in a game Draisaitl scored four goals and added an assist, and McDavid scored a goal and had four assists, the Oilers found another way to get things done, picking up their third straight win to improve to 36-23-6 for 80 points.
That’s what good teams, contending teams, do. Having lapped the Predators in a flat-out track meet Monday night in Music City, with Draisaitl and enabler McDavid doing what they do best, the Oilers leaned on special teams and Koskinen — too much, to be honest — to get the two points before jumping a jet to Chicago.
“We’ve got to be able to win games like this,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who has been tearing it up to the tune of 13-25-38 in the last 26 games he’s played. “As the rest of the year goes on, we can look back on this game . . . a playoff atmosphere in here. It was a playoff-style game tonight.”
No need to blow smoke here — what we saw against the Stars isn’t the way coach Dave Tippett draws things up. Koskinen saw way too much rubber. The Oilers were being outshot 24-9 when RNH put them up 1-0 just over seven minutes into the second period. That said, after watching Mike Smith grab the crease with a run of 12-1-4 in 2020, Koskinen served notice he’s not ready to simply sit on the end of the bench and play cheerleader.
“You do what you have to do to try and get points, no matter if you’re playing well or not playing well,” Tippett said. “It speaks volumes for the goaltender and the special teams, but 5-on-5 we weren’t as good as we needed to be. Some of that is you’re a tired team coming in and they’re really playing well. That being said, there’s some things that we can do to help our game out. Those are things we’ll address moving forward.”
As good as Koskinen was in setting the table for Chiasson’s winner, if Smith keeps playing the way he has, he’ll likely be the stopper Tippett leans on most heavily down the stretch and in the playoffs. Even so, having Koskinen locked in and engaged is a must in however many games remain to be played.
“I felt good,” said Koskinen, now 17-13-2. “It was a tough back-to-back. We battled hard and we deserved the two points, so I have to be really happy with that. It’s really important every time that I’m playing, no matter if I’m playing five in a row or once-in-awhile, I have to put my best foot forward every night.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
There will be nights like Tuesday when Draisaitl, who leads the Art Ross Trophy scoring race with 108 points, and McDavid, second with 95 points, are held in check. Then what? Well, the Oilers will need RNH to be as lights-out good as he’s been. They’ll need what they’re getting from Smith and Koskinen. They’ll need the power play, the best in franchise history at 29.9 per cent right now, and the PK to keep getting the job done.
Get those dimensions, and the Oilers have a real chance to make some noise in the playoffs. That’s the real end game, after all. Manage that, and it won’t matter in the big picture even a little bit if some eastern wags choose to throw shade at the MVP-worthy season Draisaitl has put together. A run deep into the playoffs and the Ted Lindsay Award for Draisaitl would work just fine for me.