The Ekholm Effect
Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
With so many storylines on the go as the Edmonton Oilers keep rolling toward the playoffs like a runaway train, I’ve got to admit I never saw Mattias Ekholm becoming one of them when GM Ken Holland acquired the big Swede from the Nashville Predators in the Tyson Barrie swap Feb. 28. Yet here we are.
Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win over Colorado at Ball Arena was the Oilers’ eighth straight victory and the 27th road win this season, a franchise record. With 28 saves, Stuart Skinner improved his record to 28-14-5, tying Grant Fuhr for the most wins by a rookie goaltender with the Oilers. Fuhr was 28-5-14 in 1981-82.
We saw Connor McDavid pick up an assist on Evan Bouchard’s game-winner in OT, pulling him into a tie with Phil Esposito with 152 points in a season. Then, there’s Leon Draisaitl sitting at 125 points after a second assist on Bouchard’s goal. With the win, the Oilers are 49-23-9 for 107 points as they get ready to wrap up the regular season against San Jose Thursday.
Which brings us to Ekholm, who marked his March 1 debut with the Oilers with an assist on Zach Hyman’s winning goal in a 5-2 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs and scored the 1-0 goal last night against the Avalanche in his 20th game in Edmonton silks.
In those 20 games, Ekholm has scored 4-9-13 and he is plus-26. More important than those numbers, the Oilers are playing their best defensive hockey of the season and are on a 17-2-1 roll. Coincidence? I think not.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Mar 20, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Simply put, Ekholm, 32, has quietly been the difference-maker Holland was looking for when he was kicking tires on blueline candidates like Erik Karlsson and Jakob Chychrun leading into the trade deadline. We’ve also seen Bouchard play some of his best hockey while paired with Ekholm. In that regard, it’s almost been like getting two players instead of one.
“This is the type of game that we’re going to have to play more nights than not here coming next week, so great to see the guys respond,” said Ekholm, who pulled the Oilers even at 1-1 when he took a Ryan McLeod pass and pounded it behind Alexandar Georgiev with a slapshot from the top of the circle.
“It may have taken us a period to get into the rhythm of the hard checking, but once we got there, I thought we played a really solid game. I’ve played a couple of times here lately where it can easily get to 2-0 or 3-0 before you know it and the game’s over. Nice to get that one back right away and kind of gain momentum for us and maybe steal some momentum from them.”
Since March 1, the Oilers are plus-33 in goal differential and are averaging 2.79 goals-against per game while leading the NHL at 4.53 goals-for per game. Obviously, that’s not all Ekholm, but a good-sized chunk of it is. His game over the years has been about defending first.
“I think it’s something that we’re just buying into right now, and it’s great to see that everyone sees the results,” Ekholm said. “I think we try to do the right thing defensively before we go on offence, and it’s playing dividends.”
THE YEAR OF NUGE TEE!
You knew we would have a t-shirt dialed in an ready to go as soon as RNH hit 100 points, and here it is!
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