Off the Top of My Head
Photo credit:Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
As bad calls go, it’s difficult to imagine being more wrong than I was when the Edmonton Oilers fell behind the New York Rangers 3-0 at Madison Square Garden Saturday before roaring back with four goals in just over 13 minutes on the way to a 4-3 win. Word for word, I wrote: “Upside down and on fire in the ditch now. Long flight home.” Sure.
To understate in the extreme, I didn’t see how the Oilers would avoid a third straight loss on their road trip and get a point, let alone two, at 3-0. Without a goal in a stretch approaching 120 minutes after a 5-2 loss in New Jersey and a 3-0 collar against the New York Islanders, I was expecting a chorus of moaning and groaning from Oilers faithful this week. Rightfully so.
A longer shot than tying it, you could’ve made real money if you bet the Oilers would do it on Evan Bouchard’s first two goals of the season and the first goal Dylan Holloway has scored in the 17 NHL games he’s played before Leon Draisaitl pumped a shot behind Igor Shesterkin for the winner with 2:02 remaining.
“What we talked about was making sure our heads were up, that our shoulders were back and that we had the necessary people to get the job done,” Jay Woodcroft said of keeping everybody’s head in the game after 40 minutes. “Our team went out and we got some secondary scoring, which was nice for us. The belief was there because we felt we were playing the game the right way.”
STAYED WITH IT
Nov 26, 2022; New York, New York, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Dylan Holloway (55) reacts after his goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports
A win like this one can be a turning point in the season. There is no guarantee it will be, but it can be because of the way it came about and there’s no downside to that. Draisaitl’s 4-3 winner was his only point. Connor McDavid picked up his only point with the second assist on Draisaitl’s PPG. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had an assist on the winner. Zach Hyman got no sniff. It was a relatively quiet afternoon from the top of the marquee.
It was Bouchard, Holloway and Ryan McLeod, with three assists, who produced enough to make Jack Campbell’s uneven 23-save effort stand up — that and two disallowed New York goals. Add it up, and you’ve got a totally different mindset for a visit by the Florida Panthers Monday than what was looming yesterday.
“It took me a little bit, but I’m happy to get the first one out of the way,” said Holloway, who looks to me like he deserves to get more minutes from Woodcroft. “I’ve just been trying to establish myself, trying to fill a role.”
While 11-10-0 isn’t a lot different than 10-11-0 in the standings with a long way to go, it can make a big difference between the ears and on that flight home after what’s been a difficult stretch. I imagine this team can use some of that right now.,
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In all my years writing the hockey beat, I was never fortunate enough to meet Borje Salming during his days with the Toronto Maple Leafs. By the time I walked into the Oilers dressing room for the first time in 1989, The King was playing his final 49 NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings. On Thursday, Salming passed away at age 71 after a battle with ALS.
Our paths never crossed, but as a 15-year-old kid torn between cheering for the New York Islanders and my hometown Vancouver Canucks, I admired Salming from afar on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. He and Inge Hammarstrom broke into the NHL with the Maple Leafs to start the 1973-74 season, blazing a trail for Swedish players.
Salming was whip thin, an effortless skater and clearly skilled, but more than anything else he was tough. Not tough in the context of dropping the gloves – he fought Dave Schultz of the Philadelphia Flyers in his second game – but in the way he excelled game after game when it seemed there was always an opposing player testing him or trying to intimidate him. A hack here, a glove in the face there. It was the “Chicken Swede” era. Remember that? Salming took it all and never, ever once backed off.
Seeing Salming honored earlier this month by the Maple Leafs so close to his passing does the heart good. The emotion and the tears running down Darryl Sittler’s face told us just how much Salming was revered in the Big Smoke. I’m glad Salming got to take all of that in one final time. There is a must-read piece by Lance Hornby talking to Sittler about that.
RIGHT INTO IT
Call-up Philip Broberg got caught in the middle on the 1-0 goal by Alexis Lafreniere. Broberg, playing his first game with the Oilers this season and 24th overall after being recalled Thursday, didn’t manage to tie up Lafreniere or his stick on his redirection of an Adam Fox feed. Lafreniere, the first overall pick in 2020, had gone 11 games without a goal.
If you’re of a certain vintage, 2022 has been a tough year in terms of the passing of players we grew up watching. We lost Salming, Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies and Bryan Marchment, to name just five, in the past year.
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