Off the Top of My Head
Photo credit:Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
As Saturday nights go, they don’t get much better for fans of the Edmonton Oilers than settling into a sold-out Rogers Place for the buzz that comes with a 5 p.m. start against the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.
That’s especially true when it’s been just a few days short of two years, a loss to the Winnipeg Jets on March 11, 2020, since Oilers’ fans could file into the rink to cheer on their team without being impacted in one way or another – limits on food, beverage and attendance – by COVID protocols. After two years of canned crowd noise and tarped seating sections, creating the atmosphere of a library, the full-meal hockey deal returned last night, masks and all.
With the building packed and the obligatory legions of Montreal fans out in force wearing their jerseys, this was a night when our support for the people of Ukraine was shown with the singing of their national anthem. Yes, it was yet another reminder there are more important events than the results of a hockey game before the Oilers lost 5-2 to the Habs in the 100th regular season game between the franchises, but this was a welcome sight.
Whether the team you cheer for wins or loses, I’m just happy to see people finally returning to some semblance of normalcy, and Saturday night hockey right across this country damn sure makes up a big chunk of that. It always has and always will. Pay your money. Yell your face off. Get together with friends and have a cold beer. When it’s a home tilt with the Habs, even better.
KANE TERRIFIC SO FAR
Feb 14, 2022; San Jose, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Evander Kane (91) warms up before the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
With the 1-1 goal last night and two goals in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago – the first to make it 2-2 and a lucky bounce in the final minute to force OT at 3-3 – Evander Kane has scored eight goals in 17 games with the Oilers. Simply put, Kane has consistently provided the top-six pop the Oilers wanted when GM Ken Holland brought him in amid debate about whether that was the right move.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface of what he’ll be able to bring to our team long term. Two goals for him? He’s got to feel good about his game,” coach Jay Woodcroft said of Kane.
“You know, I think we need a little bit more drive in our game,” said Kane, who is a rare blend of speed, skill and toughness when he’s on his game, which he has been most nights. “I think we know how we can play. We need to continue to add that drive and that grit to our game and simplify a little bit. Because when we do that, we have success.”
For those keeping track, Kane has one more goal in 17 games with the Oilers than the injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has in 45 this season. With RNH on the shelf with a shoulder injury since Feb. 26, Kane’s production from the wing has been timely.
THE GRACIOUS ONE
Walter Gretzky, seen above in 2006, died Thursday at 82 years old after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
March 4 marked the one-year anniversary of the passing of Walter Gretzky at age 82. While I wasn’t fortunate enough to know Mr. Gretzky well, I did meet him a couple of times around the rink and I interviewed him over the phone now and then for stories when I was at The Journal in the early 1990’s.
I’d heard how gracious Gretzky was from people who’d known him over the years like Jim Matheson. I got an example of that the first time we talked on the phone. When he came on the line, I addressed him as Mr. Gretzky. Seemed like the right thing to do. I mean, we hadn’t met, and he was the father of the Great One. Kind of a big deal, no? Seemed like it to me.
“Call me Walter,” he said, putting me at ease and setting up what I recall was a pretty good interview. When we finally met years later, I mentioned our first conversation. He didn’t remember the moment I’ll never forget, but he smiled anyway. Thanks, Walter.
AND . . .
- As good as @Mikko Koskinen had been in his previous eight appearances (7-0-1) going into the game in Chicago, the play he made on the 3-2 goal by @Dominik Kubalik to start the third period was completely avoidable. Koskinen put a Leon Draisaitl-like backhand right on the tape for Kubalik without even looking and got beat glove side. That’s like pulling out to pass without a shoulder check. You just can’t do it. All that said, Koskinen is a far better option than Mike Smith right now. It’s not close.
- @Zack Kassian, out with a broken jaw suffered against Chicago Feb. 9, is edging closer to a return. Kassian skated with the team yesterday morning wearing a full cage. Initial time frame for his recovery was four to eight weeks . . . Josh Archibald is scheduled to skate with the Oilers today.
- It was very classy of Woodcroft to start Saturday’s morning media availability with a mention of former Habs’ great Guy Lafleur, who has been battling cancer since September 2019. All we can do at this point is wish The Flower well.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
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