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The Day After 21.0: Oilers win ugly in nailbiter over Golden Knights

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
2 months ago
When discussing turning points in a season, there’s almost always one singular event or moment you can point to.
Last year, for example, it was when the Edmonton Oilers acquired Mattias Ekholm at the trade deadline. The team had been solid throughout the season and firmly in the playoff hunt; Ekholm’s acquisition pushed them over the top. They went from a .590-points percentage through the first 61 games to a staggering .880 through the final 21 games.
The Oilers’ season this year has been talked about at length. Nothing had been going their way, and Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson fell on the sword. The early days under Kris Knoblauch haven’t been excellent by any stretch of the imagination, but Tuesday night’s 5-4 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights could prove to be the turning point of this season when we look back down the line.

THE DAY AFTER IS PRESENTED BY BETWAY


Vegas was a team that had the Oilers’ number in the playoffs last year, eliminating them in six games en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory in their brief six years of NHL action. They started this season like gangbusters, going 11-0-1, but have since gone 3-5-3 in their last 11. They, undoubtedly, have been quite the contrast to the Oilers this year, who went 2-9-1 in their first 12 and now sit 6-3 in the nine games since.
A big reason for the Oilers’ resurgence, beyond getting the bounces they hadn’t earlier in the campaign, has been that Connor McDavid is starting to look like Connor McDavid. A modest 12 points in his last three games will do that.
While the points are an obvious boon, with him getting in on 66 percent of the goals scored over this stretch where the Oilers have beat Washington 5-0, Anaheim 8-2, and Vegas last night, it’s his play beyond the points that are starting to shine.
His play with the puck, for example, highlights that. While earlier in the season, he was quick to get the puck off his stick to someone else and seemed hesitant to carry the puck himself; he’s now doing exactly that.
It could be seen in his second-period goal last night, where he was at the right place at the right time to capitalize on the Golden Knights pushing too heavily into the offensive zone. He was confident with the puck and made a great move to beat Logan Thompson, giving the Oilers their third lead of the night.
And it’s his work on the power play that’s caught the eye of your scribe, too. His confidence is back. He’s willing to be shifty and use the edges of his skates, as he’s done so well in the past. It’s his ability to get the passes off quickly, with so much juice that it catches other teams off guard.
His confidence and play are infectious, and on a night when Zach Hyman was out of the lineup due to illness, others stepped up in his wake. Mattias Janmark, elevated to the top line to replace Hyman, scored in the second. Evander Kane, elevated to the top power-play unit to replace Hyman, scored in the second period.
However, the Oilers let it almost slip away as odd bounces saw the Vegas Golden Knights score twice in the final seven minutes to force overtime. Still, it was a nearly complete sixty-minute effort.
“Sometimes you let in two goals like that, and you can kind of tell they were your fault. They were flukey goals,” said defenceman Mattias Ekholm. “It was bounces here or there.
“The way we’re going right now, I’m taking the 54 (minutes) for sure. They came back, but we showed some resilience in the end.”
Resilient they were, as they clawed through a nailbiter of an overtime period before McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins both scored in the shootout, as Stuart Skinner slammed the door to seal the win.
Play La Bamba, baby.
The Oilers have a tough slate upcoming. They head to Winnipeg for a solo road game Thursday and then return home for a crucial six-game homestand. The opponents are a mix of some of the league’s best and a group of “should be at the bottom of the league but are playing teams tough:” Carolina, Minnesota, New Jersey, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Flordia.
Let’s see where they come out of this set.

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@oilersnation.com.

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