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For one game at least, Edmonton Oilers got the message. After a couple of days of team meetings off the ice and battle drills in practice, the Oilers took to the ice in Minnesota and worked their collective butts off for 60 solid minutes. The result wasn’t always pretty but it was very effective, as they skated, hit, and ground their way to a 4-1 win over the Wild. It was a solid team effort in which even coach Ken Hitchcock took one for the team when he got beaned with a clearing shot that put Glen Gultzan in charge of the bench for a few minutes.
It took the Oilers just 2:15 to take the lead, with Darnell Nurse striking from distance. The very sort of goal the Oil have allowed in the early going far too often this season. Indeed, it was the first time Edmonton has opened the scoring in seven games… not so coincidentally the last game they won. In this one they built on that lead, allowed one early in the third but struck back within three minutes on a deadly efficient powerplay that restored the two-goal bulge, giving both the club and its fans a little room to breathe.
It was a hard-fought game with literally hundreds of board battles. Give the Wild credit, their work rate was also very high and they kept pushing the play hard into Oilers territory, but were repeatedly battled to the perimeter. In a game that score effects ruled hard, Minnesota outshot Edmonton 36-23, with the margin in shot attempts even wider at 65-35. Make it 35-16 and 61-27 in 5v5 play. But that doesn’t properly reflect zone time, as the visitors kept grinding the boards effectively in the o-zone but didn’t force passes into the middle or waste shots (and possessions) from bad angles, preferring instead to gradually work the puck inside the faceoff dots before even thinking about letting fly. By contrast the Wild were firing away from pretty much anywhere. That was apparent by eye and is well supported by this heat map courtesy the essential Natural Stat Trick:
Grade A scoring chances as recorded by the Cult of Hockey‘s David Staples were much closer at 8-7 Wild. The Oilers had a clear advantage on special teams, highlighted by an epic penalty kill in the middle frame and a terrific powerplay goal that extended the lead to 3-1 in the third.
The Edmonton Oilers, led by Oscar Klefbom on defence, Cam Talbot in net and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the attack, looked like their 2016-17 selves in a convincing 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. David Staples and Bruce McCurdy of the Cult of Hockey dig in.
#4 Kris Russell, 5. Spent most of his time inside his own territory but limited the damage to outside shots. Took (another) one for the team when he got spilled hard into his goal frame, in the process drawing the critical powerplay that restored the 3-1 lead.
#6 Adam Larsson, 7. Business as usual now that his partner Klefbom is back. The two formed an extremely effective combo, Larsson thwarting attackers with guile and grease, Klefbom winning races to the resultant loose pucks and moving them effectively. They were in very little trouble at any point, allowing just 6 shots at evens and none at all in a pair of brilliant penalty kills in which both logged nearly 3 minutes of the 4.
#8 Ty Rattie, 7. Given the big chance with McDavid-Draisaitl and responded with an excellent game that included a team-high 4 shots. Went hard to the net on multiple occasions, scoring the eventual game winner when he buried an RNH feed, narrowly missing another on a fine Draisaitl set-up at the doorstep and a third when he tipped Matt Benning’s point shot out of mid-air and on goal. My favourite was when he aggressively charged through the middle and leaped high to pull down Draisaitl’s aerial pass, surge past the defender and force one of Devan Dubnyk’s best stops of the night. Diligent on the backcheck. Drew a penalty.
#12 Colby Cave, 5. Played just 6 minutes on a lightly-used fourth line, but was effective in that limited role. 3/4=75% on the dot, with one of those faceoff wins leading directly to his own scoring chance on a jam play. 2 hits, and one very strong backcheck to help disrupt an apparent 2-on-1.
#16 Jujhar Khaira, 6. If you judged him by Corsi alone you’d think he played poorly, but that was far from the case. His line with Malone and Kassian did some outstanding work in the o-zone in increments up to entire shifts at a time. Created one very good chance when he stepped out in front and let fly from close range, the best of his 3 shots.
#22 Tobias Rieder, 5. Did his job in limited ice time (just 6½ minutes), taking the puck hard to the net on one occasion and providing a screen on another decent chance.
#24 Brad Malone, 5. Smart, safe, good on the cycle. Got walked on one rush by the crafty Mikael Granlund, otherwise didn’t look out of place.
#25 Darnell Nurse, 7. Scored his career-high 7th goal with a bomb from the point that surprised and overpowered Dubnyk. Remained on the first powerplay unit, where he made a slick backhand saucer pass early in the five-man passing play that became the 3-1 goal. Played 22:16 and kept things simple for the most part. Did take a penalty which he argued vociferously, but his mates killed it off without a threat.
#26 Brandon Manning, 5. Played an uncredited role in the game winner when he stepped up in the neutral zone to negate a Minny result, and was rewarded with a +1 when RNH and Rattie took the disc the other way and finished the play. Made 3 mistakes on Grade A chances against but Talbot had the answers.
#27 Milan Lucic, 6. Effective on a hard-working line with RNH and Chiasson, also contributed to the Rattie goal with a won battle that helped send Nuge away. Made a number of decent passes and was strong on the walls. Did take one bad icing from the neutral zone that forced a d-zone faceoff with three tired wingers and no centres on the ice (basically the second PP unit that got caught out there), but helped to erase the disadvantage off the subsequent draw.
#29 Leon Draisaitl, 7. Sniped his 8th goal in the last 6 games early in the third with a massive goal that answered back the one the Wild had just scored to cut the deficit. Another powerplay tally, his fifth in that short span. Now ranks third in the NHL in goals (32) and powerplay goals (12). Helped his own cause by winning the faceoff that kicked off that deadly sequence Draisaitl to McDavid to Nurse to Nuge to Chiasson to Draisaitl to back of net — teamwork as art form. Let fly another dangerous drive on a later powerplay (that he drew himself), a new move in his arsenal that he unveiled last game, taking the pass on his backhand facing away from the goal, then wheeling and firing. Made a couple of terrific passes to Rattie for splendid looks. Was among the culprits on the lone Minnesota tally. 8/19=42% on the dot. Strong on the penalty kill. Played 22:27 in all situations.
#33 Cam Talbot, 8. Probably closer to a “7” based on difficulty of shots he faced, but a bonus point for coming through with a solid performance in a high-stakes game, both personally and for the team. He looked like the “Calm Talbot” of old, cutting down angles and smothering rebounds. Didn’t face a shot until midway in the first, but saw lots of rubber thereafter including 15 drives in each of the final two frames. One puckhandling error but he made up for that with an emergency paddle save. Made two big stops in the 59th minute 5v6 with the second of them an eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with the dangerous Granlund, the rebound of which sent McDavid and Kassian away for the empty-netter to seal the deal. 36 shots, 35 saves, .972 save percentage.
#39 Alex Chiasson, 6. Set up Draisaitl’s clincher with a fine centring pass off a set play. Played a diligent two way game and contributed along the walls with his size, reach, and 3 hits. Also played a key role on the PK.
#44 Zack Kassian, 7. A rare two-point night with a secondary assist on Nurse’s goal early and the empty netter late. In between times he played a robust game, a fair bit of it deep in Minnesota territory where he, Khaira and Malone were too much for the Wild to handle on occasion. Nearly crossed the line with one borderline hit on Zach Parise but managed to stay out of the box. Is skating well of late and playing with more consistency than Oilers fans have become accustomed to.
#77 Oscar Klefbom, 7. What a breath of fresh air to have the dreamy Swede back in the line-up. He’s not lighting it up offensively just yet, but his defensive chops have been especially welcome, thwarting attacks before they even enter the zone, closing gaps to engage puck carriers, winning races to loose pucks and clearing them efficiently. His direct effect on Larsson is readily visible, but indirectly he helps cut down Nurse’s ice time to reasonable levels while allowing Hitchcock to slot his third pairing guys appropriately. Played nearly 24 minutes in all situations during which time Minny mustered just 7 shots on net; they fired 29 more in the 36 minutes Oscar was on the bench. Hitchcock singled him out for praise in the post-game avail and rightly so.
#83 Matt Benning, 5. Played 16 minutes and kept things simple. Involved in no Grade A chances at either end. Took a penalty. Paid homage to former Oiler and Minnesota North Star Paul Shmyr with a sequence where he coughed up the puck but immediately bailed himself out with a terrific defensive play.
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 8. Outstanding at even strength and on both special teams, playing with skill, grace and intensity. Earned a superb assist on Rattie’s game-winner, then chipped in another as the middle man in the five-way beauty on the powerplay. Had a phenomenal shift on the epic second period penalty kill, battling in the trenches to constrain the puck along the wall, then twice making fine plays to clear the zone under heavy pressure. Cleared the zone two more times on the Oilers’ other PK. 9/18=50% on the dot. Broke the 50-point barrier for the first* time in his career, now has 51 points in 54 games. (*Actually the fourth time, I’m just riffing off an old Oilogosphere meme.)
#97 Connor McDavid, 7. Earned a pair of assists from the periphery, setting up Nurse’s early tally and Kassian’s empty netter late. Also played an uncredited role in Draisaitl’s powerplay snipe. Had numerous moments of quality like he usually does, though just 1 shot on net. Did have a pair of defensive lapses, one that led to the Wild goal and the other to Granlund’s great late chance; that part of his game still needs polishing. 4/10=40% on the dot.
#98 Jesse Puljujarvi, 5. Played just 8½ minutes. Effective in a grinding role, and chipped in defensively by collapsing to the net front to help put out a couple of small fires before they “took”. His one shift on the second powerplay unit was largely wasted due to his inability to cleanly handle a routine pass in the neutral zone.