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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In the eye of the beholder

Fans of the Edmonton Oilers were sour after watching their team get swept by the Montreal Canadiens by scores of 5-1 and 3-1 at home this week. Understandable. What I’m not getting today is the moaning and groaning by some in the wake of Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Hogtown. Any win over the Maple Leafs is a good win, no?

Apparently not. To hear some tell it, it was boring. It was ugly. Pardon? Was it a barnburner? No, far from it. Was it a matter of a master plan by coach Dave Tippett unfolding flawlessly before our eyes? No, not completely, but the effort drew praise from Tippett post-game. The Oilers were better defensively, which was on top of the to-do list going in. They limited the Maple Leafs to 26 shots, and you could count the Grade A chances against on one hand, meaning Mikko Koskinen wasn’t under siege yet again.

Also high on the to-do list, the power play got untracked with a goal by Leon Draisaitl in three attempts. The PK got the job done, holding the Maple Leafs, who have as good a group of forwards as I’ve seen this season, off the board on two PP attempts. Sure, watching the Oilers trade scoring chances with the Maple Leafs, having Draisaitl and McDavid going toe-to-toe with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner et al, would have been a crowd-pleaser, I’m not sure the Oiler get two points against that outfit that way.

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The thing is, if you’re unhappy after results like the Oilers got against Montreal and unhappy after efforts like the workmanlike win over the Maple Leafs that improved them to 2-3-0, when are you happy? I’ll take the points every time, and it’s obvious that Tippett feels the same way. Sure, entertainment value matters, but it doesn’t determine who finishes where in the standings. More of the same Friday will do quite nicely.

WHAT THEY SAID

“Both teams checked well,” Tippett said. “Both teams playing real tight hockey. Not much space out there. You’re going to get a lot of games like that this year. Every game is such a meaningful game in a short schedule, you’re more apt to get games like that than high-scoring games.”

“Sometimes the boring games are the most solid,” said Draisaitl, who got the goal that would stand as the winner. “That’s a huge win, and that’s more the way we want to play. We needed to buckle down a little bit. The individual and team mistakes needed to get lowered down.”

Had it not been for a sharp angle shot by Matthews that found the back of the net, the Oilers could have and probably should have pitched a shutout. “They defended really well,” said Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe. “They really shut down the neutral zone, made it hard for us to get through there, and we turned the puck over a lot and got stalled offensively once we got in the zone. It was really difficult to get to the net.”

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The tactics Keefe and Tippett are talking about aren’t a recipe for end-to-end action that lifts you off the couch at home, but it is a foundation for winning games even if it isn’t always easy on the eyes. So, sure, there’s a lot more sizzle watching McDavid and Draisaitl roaring up and down the ice, but getting the two points is always the steak, particularly with the head-to-head nature of the North Division this season.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Feb 1, 2020; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
  • I haven’t liked Zack Kassian’s game much this season and I won’t be surprised if Tippett takes him off the right side with McDavid for the rematch against Toronto. I thought Tippett might do that going into Wednesday’s game, but he stood pat and didn’t get much out of No. 44. Kassian wasn’t great in the back end of last season and it’s been more of the same. He did rattle a shot off the pipe last night, but he also got beat in a puck battle with Matthews on the 1-1 goal. Kassian, who inked a four-year deal with a $3.2 million AAV, hasn’t looked as engaged as the player Ken Holland paid for.
  • Like I said going into Wednesday, I wouldn’t mind seeing Jesse Puljujarvi get a look alongside McDavid. I don’t think it’s a move that has to be made, but with Kassian providing next-to-nothing, it might be worth a look, plus I’m hard-pressed to see a better option on RW right now. That could change, of course, depending on whether Gaetan Haas or James Neal are ready to go Friday. If Puljujarvi keeps his feet moving and continues to stay hard on the puck and go to the net, he’ll be an option soon enough.

Previously by Robin Brownlee