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The Day After +11.0: Oilers punch back with much needed five-on-five performance

Edmonton Oilers Vincent Desharnais
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
30 days ago
The two best words in the English language: Game 7.
What’s better?
After being pushed to the brink of elimination, sending the series back to Edmonton for a crucial Game 6 Saturday night, the Oilers knew they had to respond. They had no other choice. They had to punch back.
And respond they did, winning the game 5-1 with each goal coming at five-on-five. That’s something that hasn’t been said much throughout the series, as in the previous five they had scored just nine.
It took all of eight minutes and 18 seconds for an imperfect, tense start to the game to blow open. Evan Bouchard stood behind the Oilers’ net, waiting for a line change to happen, dishing the puck to Leon Draisaitl to carry it out of the zone. It didn’t take long, however, for him to find Dylan Holloway in stride, streaking through the neutral zone and blasting between a pair of helpless Canucks defenders.
The game was on.
“I think they were kind of cheating, thinking Leo was going to pick up the puck and he did,” said Holloway. “I was able to gain some speed, he made a nice play to me then I kind of caught their D flat footed there, so I was happy for that one to go in. It felt pretty good.”
While Vancouver responded less than two minutes later with a goal of its own, as Nils Hoglander somehow squeaked through five defenders near the Oilers’ net front, Edmonton didn’t waver in its game. It kept the first period simple, allowing it to blow the roof off of Rogers Place in the final 40 minutes.
Any nerves were gone, and what was left was a confident group of skaters. The second period would see Connor McDavid set up Zach Hyman in the slot 7:14 into the frame, while Evan Bouchard blasted a point shot home four minutes later. Come the third, they didn’t let up, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins buried a Zach Hyman feed, and Evander Kane ripped a shot off a faceoff win home to put this one well out of reach.
For as much as the Oilers five-on-five play improve — and boy, did it ever — their penalty kill was as sharp as a tack, killing off four Canucks penalties that included a frantic five-on-three in the second period. A big faceoff win from Nugent-Hopkins helped the Oilers stave off any chance the Canucks had, not allowing a single shot on net while down two men.
“I thought our killers did a really good job. Some key blocks. I think Stu made some nice saves, especially in the second period on the five-on-three,” said Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch. “I just think all the guys are connected.
“That’s how we want to play, we want to play a connected game five-on-five, (and) I think that’s very evident on the penalty kill.”
All night, The connection was there for all four lines, which Knoblauch rolled without a hitch.
Ask any Canucks fan what the biggest storyline was, and easily many would point to Arturs Silovs’ performance before turning an eye to how J.T. Miller had shut down Connor McDavid through the first five games of the series. That is a fair point, given how in those minutes, the Canucks had outscored the Oilers 2-0.
Saturday night was different. Even though McDavid played just 24.5 percent of his five-on-five ice time against Miller, the Oilers scored two goals in those three minutes and 55 seconds, and Edmonton would score a third with their captain on the ice.
McDavid’s play hasn’t been perfect this series, and he’d be the first to admit it. Beyond a Game 2 performance in which he scored a goal and three assists, he had just two assists across four games. That’s not like the McDavid we’ve come to know. But his play was elevated all over the ice Saturday, and he helped the Oilers punch back in a big way.
“Five-on-five, hunting down pucks, just doing a lot of the little things,” said Knoblauch. “Obviously, you see the unbelievable passes, and the line rushes, things he can do with the puck, but those little details are very important. That’s also what makes him special.”
Edmonton will need more special if they hope to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Game 7 shifts back to Vancouver Monday night, undoubtedly requiring continued attention to detail.
“(There’s) nothing to be satisfied or excited about,” said McDavid. “We just bought ourselves another day, and I would expect the same level of urgency and desperation from our group (Monday).
“I would expect Vancouver to play a better game as well, and I would expect it to be a highly competitive, great Game 7.”
Whether it’s Edmonton or Vancouver moving on, Dallas is waiting.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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