Jay Woodcroft forever! Final Score: 3-1 Oilers
A new coach means a new beginning for an Edmonton Oilers team that’s trying to turn their season around, and I was incredibly excited to see how things would go here on night one. I wanted to see how the boys would respond to having their coach punted, and franchise reset like they were organizationally unplugging the router. Even though I know a coaching change can do only so much, I was still looking forward to seeing a guy that’s hungry to advance his career get a chance to run the bench with the same team that gave him an AHL opportunity in the first place. In the early going, the boys performed just as I hoped they would as the team hit the ice with pace and energy, but as the period wore on, the Islanders were able to settle in and manufactured all kinds of chances for themselves. Thankfully, Mike Smith looked more like the guy the Oilers need him to be and it allowed his team to bend without breaking until they were eventually able to end the stalemate with a late goal by Ceci. It wasn’t a perfect period but still a hell of a lot better than what we watched against Vegas and Chicago.
Moving into the second period, the Oilers needed to do a better job of limiting the Islanders’ ability to produce offensive chances to avoid relying so heavily on their goaltender, but that didn’t exactly happen. While I’m not suggesting that New York was getting chances in bunches in the first few minutes of the frame, I would say that the opportunities they did get were as good as it gets and the Oilers were very lucky that Smith was up for the challenge. Amazing what quality goaltending can do, ya know? Yet, even with the quality chances against, the Oilers still did a pretty good job of bending without breaking and that resilience allowed them to pick their spots a little bit better which is how they were able to extend the lead to a pair after a well-timed counterpunch from Zach Hyman. It was nice to see them find an opening and take it, ya know? By no means am I saying that this was a perfect period — obviously not since the Islanders were able to get one back — but you have to appreciate the way the boys kept fighting for their space on the ice even when things weren’t going their way. Maybe it’s just that new coach smell, but the vibes felt different.
Up by a goal with 20 minutes to play, the Oilers needed to keep paying attention to the details in their own end but that couldn’t mean sitting back and waiting for the clock to run out. I wanted to see them keep fighting for more goals and even if it backfired, I would much rather watch the boys go down swinging rather than sitting back and hoping for the best. As hoped, the Oilers settled into a grove and forced the Islanders to defend in their own zone which is a pretty damned effective way to eliminate their attack if I do say so myself. Not only that, but the Oilers were also able to restore their two-goal lead on the back of a power play goal by Jesse Puljujarvi which was not only an important goal for this game but also ended the Sahara-like drought he was battling. With some insurance was up on the board, you could almost feel the pressure lift off the Oilers and it allowed them to cruise to the finish line with relative ease, which is a luxury I’ll happily take after watching them get shit pumped in back-to-back games to kick off this homestand.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
- The Oilers only score first in the Jay Woodcroft era.
- @Cody Ceci opened the scoring (1-0) with a rocket from the blue line in the dying moments of the first period after the boys got their cycle going in the offensive zone, which ended up opening up a lane for the point shot to pass through. Not only did Ceci get a goal but he actually led the team in ice time as he played a season-high 26:24 in TOI.
- @Zach Hyman extended the Oilers’ lead to two (2-1) when he broke into the Islanders’ zone on a 2-on-1 with Philip Broberg and ripped a clean shot up and over Sorokin’s glove hand.
- There was a time when I thought @Jesse Puljujarvi would never score again and that we’d have to find a sacrifice of some kind so that the Hockey Gords would change his fate, but the big man saved us from such a story tonight with a huge power play goal (3-1) in the third period. In the scramble following the draw, Puljujarvi saw a loose puck in front of the net, dove at it, and knocked the biscuit through Sorokin’s legs to end his personal nine-game drought.
- After a disappointing back-to-back set, @Mike Smith was back between the pipes and looking to get back on track in his ninth start of the season. And unlike what we saw against on Tuesday and Wednesday, Smith looked like the guy that carried the mail last season because he was excellent from start to finish. Not only did he make the routine saves you’d expect him to make, but he also had to come up with some huge stops down the stretch that kept his team in the lead. It was the exact kind of performance we need from Smith as he finished the night with 37 saves and a .974 save%.
- How about another two-point night for @Connor McDavid? You love to see it.
- The Oilers’ power play came through with a huge goal in the third period to give the team some insurance and help close this game out. That’s what we need with the man advantage and I was happy to see the boys get the job done when it mattered.
- Diving into the fancies, the Oilers finished the night with a 54.64 CF% and a 49.84 xGF%.
- I liked seeing the Oilers stick up for each other and get into scrums as the game went on and it’s that kind of battle level that I think a lot of us have been looking for this whole time.
- It’s been a minute since we’ve seen Markus Niemalainen and I forgot how feisty he can be when’s out there, and it’s a flavour of defence the Oilers need more of on their blue line. What else can you say about a kid that finished the night with seven hits in only 11 minutes worth of TOI?
- Is there anyone happier to have Jay Woodcroft as the coach than Tyler Benson? Opportunity knocks, my friend.
- Did anyone else feel like the Oilers were backchecking harder than normal? MacT mentioned it in the second period and I was actually thinking the same thing, so I was happy to hear him confirm what my eyeballs were telling me.
- Do me a favour and check out the latest episode of Better Lait Than Never and let me know what you think! Subscribe to my podcast for FREE on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and wherever else you get your podcasts.
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THE FACE PALMERS
- Anthony Beauvilier got the Isles on the board (2-1) after he ripped a shot from the high slot that made its way through traffic and past a screened Mike Smith. I’m pretty sure the puck was also deflected by Evan Bouchard accidentally as he was just kinda in the way but not in the way as the puck was on its way to the net.
- I thought the Oilers gave up too much in the first period, but the good news is that the issues didn’t last all night.
- Are you sad to know the Oilers were outshot by a 38-36 margin? Not too bad? That’s good news.
- Unfortunately, the PK wasn’t able to shut the Islanders out on their three power play opportunities — New York finished at 1/3 — but I will give them some love for coming up with a third period kill at a huge point in the game.
- I’m am heartbroken to report in this here wrap up that the Oilers won only 49% of the faceoffs.
- When Zdeno Chara broke into the NHL in October of 1997, Candle in the Wind by Elton John was #1 on the Billboard charts. Just thought you’d like to know.
Alright, let's take these new coaches out for a rip.
— TheTowelBoy (@TheTowelBoy) February 12, 2022
Jay Woodcroft got you flowers, just because.
— GB&Q (@GBandQ1) February 12, 2022
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