Off The Top Of My Head
Photo credit:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
Any team hoping to sip champagne from the Stanley Cup this spring is going to have to beat the Boston Bruins – be it in the Cup final or on the way to it. That goes for the Edmonton Oilers, should they improve on their playoff showing of last season and get out of the Western Conference, and every other contending team.
Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I see the Bruins, 50-9-5 (.820) for 105 points after a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings in a Saturday matinee, as the class of the NHL. You can pick your superlatives with the Bruins. Had they beaten the Oilers Thursday, they’d have reached 50 wins in 63 games instead of 64 – still the fastest in NHL history. They’re the real deal.
So, to borrow a term used more often than it’s actually true, I saw the Oilers 3-2 loss to the Bruins at Rogers Place Feb. 27 and their 3-2 win in Beantown Thursday as proverbial measuring stick games. In that regard, and even allowing there’s a lot of hockey left, those two games tell me the Oilers stack up well with Boston. After blowing a 3-1 lead and losing a 7-4 sheet-soiler against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, they’re 36-23-8 for 80 points.
The Oilers got the best of the Bruins despite trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes, a period in which Stuart Skinner flubbed a puck David Pastrnak buried at 19:59. They got the two points in a game in which Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got no sniff on the scoresheet and Leon Draisaitl was held to a lone assist. Evan Bouchard, with his first goal in 44 games, Ryan McLeod, with his first in 13 games, and Darnell Nurse, who got the winner after 29 games without a goal, made 26 saves by Skinner stand up.
GETTING IT DONE
To understate, the Oilers didn’t win this game because they were playing over their heads or because the guys at the top of the marquee did all the heavy lifting. They won with depth scoring and because they showed poise and didn’t panic when got behind to a team that usually locks it down with any kind of lead, especial a two-goal margin. As was the case in Boston’s win two weeks ago on a goal by Pavel Zacha, the Oilers didn’t look overmatched.
“In the end, it’s two points and the goal heading into today was to take care of our business,” coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Today it’s two points on the board. They’re the class of the NHL. You can see why, but we felt we played a really good game against them in Edmonton and we didn’t come away with any points.
“We aren’t in the moral victory business. We’re in the points collection business and in the end, we found a way to get what we needed tonight. That’s a credit to our players.”
There’s an old boxing axiom that styles make fights. Having written boxing for many years at The Journal, I believe that to be true. I think it applies to hockey as well. In 2006 when the Oilers reached the Stanley Cup final, I liked how they’d looked against Detroit in the regular season despite the Red Wings finishing 29 points ahead, so I picked the Oilers to beat them in the first round. That’s not meant as a brag, I just liked the match-up.
I feel the same way when I look at the 2022-23 edition of the Bruins and Oilers. I like how the Oilers match up. That’s why I picked them going into Thursday. Call it a hunch, a gut-feeling or just a guess, whatever. What we do know now is the Oilers and the Bruins won’t meet again this season unless it’s in the Stanley Cup final. If the Oilers get that far, I like their chances.
A brilliant read by former Oiler Ales Hemsky, The Meaning of Life, came out on the website Bez Frazi last week. I urge you to check it out.
As somebody who was around Hemsky from the time we met at the 2001 Entry Draft in Florida until 2007 or so, there’s a lot in this account I didn’t know. For me, that’s what makes it so good. Among other things, Hemsky talks about his relationships with Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe and Bruce Saville, and about dealing with depression and vertigo. A snippet or two:
“And then we lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against Carolina that day. But I was young. So much had happened during that year and a half in my career that I didn’t care that much. I was 22 years old and everything had happened so fast.“ I had a fresh Czech title with Pardubice during the NHL lockout season. I had a gold medal from the World Championship with the Czech national team where I had the opportunity to play with the guys from the so-called “Golden generation.” And in the middle of the season – which for me ended with the latest possible Stanley Cup game – I had a bronze medal on my neck from the Olympics.“I thought that we’d win the Cup with the Oilers some other time. Never mind, let’s move on. I was tired from that intense period, but I thought it would go on like this for my entire career. I felt untouchable; I could do whatever I wanted. It wasn’t like that.”
I was hoping fans might see a repeat of last season’s encore of the rekindled Battle of Alberta, but the Calgary Flames, who lost 3-1 to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and look like they’re fading fast.
The Flames are 29-24-13 for 71 points and sit fifth in the Pacific Division and ninth in the conference as they host the Ottawa Senators today. Through 66 games last season, the Flames were 40-18-8 for 88 points atop the division.
“Yeah, it’s not acceptable. It’s happened quite a few times this year,” MacKenzie Weegar said of losing to the feeble Ducks. “It doesn’t matter who our opponent is, we need to play better than our opponent every night and focus on ourselves.
“Dallas and Minnesota are two great teams, and we come up with two big wins on the road. Then we come here and we kind of shit the bed against a team I feel is not at our standard.”
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