I have to tell you, these last two games by the Edmonton Oilers impressed the hell out of me. It’s the first time in years, probably since 2006, where I saw this club play through the bizarre, the unexpected and another NHL team while never giving up. Frustrated? Yes. The interference call on Leon Draisaitl was mysterious, as the target had just touched the puck (charging might have been a better call, but they don’t call those anymore).
The Montreal Canadiens are not a good matchup for Edmonton. They’re a veteran group with plus goaltending, a veteran defense, rugged forwards and some emerging centermen who pick off passes on the regular.
In the end, the Oilers came back like a house on fire, just like Monday night. This time, the clock ran out. That changes nothing. This Oilers team has added perseverance to skill, speed and youth. Remember these two games against the Canadiens. They may well have served as a useful tuneup for the postseason.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- Lowetide: An early look at ideal Oilers’ free-agent targets for the offseason
- DNB: McDavid’s latest goal shows why he’s in a class of his own
- Lowetide: Why Oilers fans shouldn’t worry about Philip Broberg’s SHL season
- Lowetide: Let’s make a final call on the Oilers’ 2016 draft class
- DNB: Re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Free-agency targets? Oilers mailbag
- DNB: Oilers sign Dylan Holloway to ELC
- Jonathan Willis: Should the Oilers re-sign pending unrestricted free agent Tyson Barrie?
- Lowetide: Five Oilers prospects who deserve NHL tryouts now that the trade deadline has passed
- Lowetide: What are the Oilers’ ideal defensive pairings after picking up Dmitry Kulikov at the trade deadline
- DNB: Ken Holland’s quiet NHL trade deadline sets up Oilers for big moves later
- Jonathan Willis: What the Oilers are getting in trade deadline pickup Dmitry Kulikov: A cheap solution to a nagging problem
- Lowetide: What would the Oilers sacrifice if they traded their 2021 first-round pick?
- DNB: To play them together or not? 97 and 29
- Lowetide: Are the 2020-21 Oilers better than the 2016-17 team?
- Lowetide: Oilers’ top 20 prospects, trade deadline edition
Another fabulous item from the two Montreal games is the names who posted crooked scoring numbers. Jesse Puljujarvi scored twice, Kailer Yamamoto, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear delivered assists. That young group found a way to help Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Mike Smith and the other veterans to a win and a loss over the two games. The youngsters are becoming battle hardened for the road ahead. There’s some steel here.
OILERS AFTER 45 GAMES
- Oilers in 2015-16: 17-23-5, 39 points; goal differential -26
- Oilers in 2016-17: 23-15-7, 53 points; goal differential +4
- Oilers in 2017-18: 19-23-3, 41 points; goal differential -24
- Oilers in 2018-19: 21-21-3, 45 points; goal differential -12
- Oilers in 2019-20: 23-17-5, 51 points; goal differential -4
- Oilers in 2020-21: 27-16-2, 56 points; goal differential +14
Edmonton is still in charge of its own destiny, likely to land in second or third place at the end of the season. The Oilers are seven points ahead of Montreal, and the Canadiens have a game in hand. If Edmonton goes 5-5-1 in its last 11 games, the finish line would be 32-21-3, 67 points. That would mean Montreal would need to go 9-2-1 in the final 12 games to finish with 29-17-10, 68 points. This is not realistic.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN APRIL
- At home to: Calgary (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- On the road to: Montreal, Ottawa, Ottawa, Calgary (Expected: 3-1-0) (Actual 2-1-1)
- On the road to: Winnipeg (Expected 0-1-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- At home to: Montreal, Montreal (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 1-1-0)
- On the road to: Winnipeg, Winnipeg (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Calgary (Expected 1-0-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Expected April record: 7-4-0, 14 points in 11 games
- Actual April record: 5-2-1, 11 points in 8 games
I called a split, suspect we’ll see the same against Winnipeg next week. Calgary and Vancouver are almost dead (“bring us your dead!”) but the wagon won’t take them quite yet. Expect Edmonton flying to Winnipeg for Game 1 of the opening series.
LINES, LAST NIGHT
- Nuge-Draisaitl-Yamamoto played 13:49, going 2-7 shots, 2-6 HDSC and 8-15 Corsi five on five. They were promising but inconsistent. Nuge scored on the power play, TK, five shot attempts and one solid look that went wide. Draisaitl had an assist, 63 percent in the dot, seven shot attempts, 2 giveaways (Habs covered him like a blanket). I was impressed with Leon’s effort, he fought through a lot of garbage and had an impact. Habs up the middle (Kotkaniemi, Danault, Suzuki) are skilled, quick, anticipate well and gave the big man very little air. If the two teams meet in the playoffs, that’s going to be a challenge for Dave Tippett. Yamamoto had two HDSC, was ineffective at times due to the physical nature of the game (lots of hooks and holds and interference that wasn’t obvious).
- Archibald-McDavid-Puljujarvi played 9:12, going 5-3 shots, 1-1 HDSC and 8-4 Corsi five on five. This was Edmonton’s best line, although there were only two in the competition. Archibald drew a late four-minute power play and had six hits. McDavid scored a beautiful goal and added a pair of assists, took a penalty (a ridiculous call, Corey Perry in another Academy Performance) and was easily Edmonton’s best player. Puljujarvi scored for the third game in a row and is now in a conversation for the title of Edmonton’s third best forward. A stunning value contract for next season.
- Neal-Haas-Chiasson played four minutes, going 1-1 shots, 0-1 HDSC and 7-1 Corsi five on five. Neal hit four people, turned over a puck but was chasing most of the game. Haas also had a couple of looks and was solid on the backcheck. Chiasson fought because that’s the law in the wild west.
- Zack Kassian hurt himself with a hit, and it looked not good. Domink Kahun and Devin Shore didn’t get much done but in fairness five or six even strength minutes isn’t much of an opportunity.
PAIRINGS AND GOALIE
- Nurse-Bear played 18:34, going 3-13 shots, 0-1 goals, 1-2 HDSC and 7-22 Corsi five on five. Nurse played a physical game and handled his defensive work well, wasn’t involved offensively. Bear had a couple of takeaways and defended well, he was part of an addled coverage on the first goal against and had one shot on goal.
- Russell-Barrie played 12:19 and went 3-8 shots, 0-1 goals, 1-6 HDSC and 9-13 Corsi five on five. Russell had a glorious chance on a fantastic pass from McDavid, and he defended capably. Barrie picked up an assist, had some difficulty with the Montreal forecheck. The GA this pairing was a weird one, involving goalie interference, but not getting the puck out was the original sin.
- Jones-Larsson played 10:58 and were 10-3 shots but 0-1 goals, 1-4 HDSC and 12-5 Corsi five on five. Jones is coming now, he’s showing up well at both ends of the ice. A perfect pass to 97 led directly to Edmonton’s first goal, and Jones was smart and effective in coverage. Larsson was a rock, save for the Anderson goal (Larsson turned the wrong way and couldn’t get back against a big, fast man). I don’t know if you can defend that play, Anderson didn’t have a lot of clean air but he’s fleet of foot.
- Mike Smith stopped 27 of 31, .871. The goals that beat him were point-blank shots plus the interference goal and I have time for his argument.
Woodguy has been running these all year and the numbers are a window into the soul of this hockey team. 97-29 together are they keys to the kingdom, but running without (minus 16) just won’t do. I don’t have the answer, but am impressed at how wonderfully math (courtesy Darcy) presents the problem. Math brings clarity. All hail math!
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
I keep saying this and I’m not sure it’s getting through. That happens sometimes in communicating. So, let me try again.
In the old magazines I bought as a kid, they used to run full page Charles Atlas ads. They were body building ads aimed at nerds, and always created a scenario. Spindly kid with his best girl on the beach, basic fucking nightmare male walks up and kicks sand in his face. 10 seconds later, girl leaves with nightmare, nerd rolled up in a corner.
The ad suggested Charles Atlas had the answer, but the actual solution is bringing all of your powers to bear, turning your back on excuses, justification and self pity.
The referees give Shea Weber that cross checking play, have for years. The referees made a ghastly call on Draisaitl that cost the game as it turned out, while also missing a trip on the big man in an equally important part of the game.
What’s different about this team, about these two games, is that the captain set his jaw and turned all Charles Atlas on their asses. McDavid led, and 18 men followed him into the breach.
If this team brings that to every game? Music! And a deep playoff run.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, plenty of chatter about last night’s game, and more on TSN1260. We’ll drill down on the game at 10:20, Matthew Scianitti brings his Chuck Taylors to the show at 10:40 to talk CFL 2021. Frank Seravalli from TSN pops in at 11 to update on the general managers meetings and we’ll chat about goalies and why they mean so much. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!