That’s how you grind out a road win, boys. Final Score: 3-1 Oilers
I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say that a loss to the Maple Leafs is arguably one of the worst results that can happen in an NHL hockey game. Not only is the team hateable enough on its own, but when you couple the Leafs with their obnoxious fanbase and media then you’ve got a toxic combination that can irritate your soul when they win. And for an Oilers team that is stumbling their way through this early portion of the schedule, tacking on another loss because of poor and erratic play simply could not happen, and I think we were all expecting a much better effort after losing back-to-back games to Montreal. I mean, it’s one thing to play well, give it your all, and lose — those are ones we all accept — but it’s another story when the boys come out flat and drop the game as a result of avoidable mistakes and a lack of execution.
Against Toronto, the Oilers had to do a much better job of limiting the Leafs’ offensive opportunities and keeping the puck away from their forwards they have that can burn you if given the chance. Put another way, if Edmonton’s defence was going to be a turnover gift machine again then we were all going to be in for another long night. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Instead, the Oilers got a lucky break early and grabbed their first lead in nearly a week, and while they certainly didn’t have a stellar start to the game by any means, they weren’t trying to crawl out of a hole before the period had elapsed either. It wasn’t perfect but it was passable. Moving through the second period, the Oilers maintained their composure defensively and were actually moving the puck up ice with some confidence, but once getting into the offensive zone, they still had some issues maintaining pressure and creating chances to score from the danger areas. The good news is that the Leafs weren’t able to get anything done either.
Up by a goal with 20 minutes left to play, the game started to open up as the Leafs were pushing to tie things up (they did) while the Oilers fought to add a second tally to the scoresheet (they did) to try and put the game away. Quite frankly, the third period was easily the most exciting part of the hockey game, but it was also the most stressful time as I don’t think any of us were exactly sure what to expect from our boys when trying to defend the lead. To their credit, the Oilers were mostly able to lock things down, and even after Matthews tied the game, the guys kept pushing forward and working to manufacture just enough offence to win. In the end, it was game that has to make Dave Tippett happy as his team executed defensively, won the special teams battle, and found a way to play a mostly risk-free road game. It may not have been the prettiest win you’ll ever see, but those are two huge points for a team that desperately needed them.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
- Kailer Yamamoto opened the scoring (1-0) on a lucky bounce after he freed the puck up behind the net and tried to make a centring pass to Leon Draisaitl who was nearby in the slot. Rather than making it through, the puck deflected past Andersen and into the net off of Jake Muzzin’s skate. It was a lucky goal, but one that I would argue is exactly what the Oilers needed.
- Only a few minutes after Matthews tied the game, Leon Draisaitl restored the Oilers’ lead (2-1) with his first goal of the season (ON THE POWERPLAY!) after collecting RNH’s pass that bounced off Puljujarvi’s foot and burying it past Andersen. It was only a matter of time before Draisaitl got his first of the year, and I was pumped to see it come at such a pivotal moment of the hockey game.
- How about Josh Archibald ripping the empty netter in from centre ice? Dead centre too. Huge twig on that guy.
- Back between the pipes for the fifth straight night, I was curious to see which edition of Mikko Koskinen we would get in the series opener against the Leafs. Would we get the guy that stood on his head in the win over Vancouver, or would we get the guy who looks okay but can’t come up with a big, difference-making save when his team needs it the most? The answer was that Koskinen was very good against the Leafs, stopping 25 of 26 shots for a .962 save%, but the problem I have is the goal he allowed against Matthews. I know it’s nitpicking what was a fine night for the tender, but that was a shot he should be stopping 100% of the time. That said, Koskinen was a huge part of this win and deserves plenty of credit for the way he played.
- First point of the season for Jesse Puljujarvi!
- Ethan Bear was back in the lineup tonight and I thought he looked very good in his own zone and with the puck on his stick. Sometimes I forget that he’s only playing in his second NHL season and that there will be bumps in the road, because on more nights than not, Bear is about as solid as it gets on the Oilers’ blue line. Bear played 19:21 with one shot and one hit.
- Slater Koekkoek appreciation post! Dude is quietly solid and I respect it.
- The powerplay has been stagnant over the last couple of nights and it honestly looked like they were playing together for the first time rather than rocking the swagger that gave them the league’s best PP only a season ago. After wasting their first two chances of the night, the boys managed to click for the game winner on opportunity number three (1/3) and that’s all that matters in the end.
- The penalty killers were rock solid again, killing off both instances they faced when down by a man.
- I think I’m going to keep pumping Joakim Nygard for his wheels until it eventually pays off and he scores a goal that makes me look good. Dude can fly.
- Shout out to Jason Spezza for missing that empty net in the dying moments of the third period. Mighty kind of you, sir.
THE FACE PALMERS
- Auston Matthews tied the game up at one apiece after outmuscling Zack Kassian along the boards and firing a low shot that made its way through Koskinen and across the line. Quite frankly, it’s a puck that Koskinen has to stop 100% of the time and he duffed it.
- The Oilers had only three shots in the first period. I know they wrapped up the frame with a one-goal lead, but it’s tough to score when you’re unable to get anything on net. Adding to my frustrating was the fact that they added only eight more shots in the second period, which was just over half of the shots that the Leafs had. It’s almost amazing that the game ended with the shot clock being 26-22 in favour of the Leafs because our guys weren’t firing the biscuit all that much early on.
- I don’t know what was going on with my boy, but this was a weird game for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He was double clutching on shots, lost in weird positions on the ice, whiffing on shots, and didn’t look quite the same as we’re used to seeing him, if that makes any sense. To be fair, he did collect a point in the third period and looked much more comfortable, but those first two periods were odd.
- I don’t know what kind of curse Alex Chiasson is carrying with him right now, but I think I might hit the streets to find some kind of sacrifice in an attempt to help him score goals again. Over the past few nights, Chiasson has missed some golden opportunities to score and I’d have to imagine that he’s starting to grip the stick a little bit.
- Has Zack Kassian been engaged at all this year? Big guy needs to get himself going here.
- Only 42% in the faceoff circle tonight.
#LetsGoOilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 44 points (17 G, 27 A) in his last 34 games (since December 31, 2019).
That is the 5th-most points in the NHL over that span.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) January 21, 2021
— Mike McKinnon (@mikemckinnon) January 20, 2021
And so begins the Chiasson triangle…. pic.twitter.com/J0Rvnisb9b
— HabitualLineStepper (@MrFantasticFox) January 21, 2021
— William James (@William_J87) January 21, 2021
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