Tonight’s contest started with a handful of low-event shifts for both sides. Some Washington forward was able to get half open for a hard wrist shot within the first minute but couldn’t find the target.
The game continued in a low-event fashion (read: boring) until about the twelve minute mark. The Capitals were able to sustain some pressure in the offensive zone, leaving the Oilers to rely on their newest backup-cum-starter Anders Nilsson to answer the bell. He did.
The Oilers turned to the dangerous trio of Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl, and Teddy Purcell for some pushback, but they couldn’t give the team any more than an offensive zone faceoff. The Oilers sent out the Letestu line for the ensuing draw, and they spent their entire shift in the Capitals’ zone before forcing an icing from their hosts. Nothing came from it.
This game has been rather tightly checked in the neutral zone and, to the Oilers credit, the Capitals haven’t looked nearly as dangerous as they have for most of this season.
With just over five minutes left in the period, Darnell Nurse drew a penalty because the Capitals don’t know the rules. Two minutes for cheating. The Oilers ran with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov together on the first unit, but they were unable to generate much of anything. Hall and Draisaitl came out for the second half but theirs was a similar fate. Nothing to report, unfortunately. Neither group was able to set up in the Capitals zone – perhaps Barry Trotz knows how to defense after all.
Yakupov has been trying so hard. It’s gotta turn around for him, doesn’t it?
The Oilers carried the bulk of the play for the last few minutes of the period, directing a handful of shots at the Capitals’ goaltender. By my eye, neither side enjoyed a real clear-cut chance, but the Oilers played a rather composed first. Heading into the break, they were ahead 13-7 on the shot clock, and 27-13 in shot attempts. Nice.
The Oilers went with the Nugent-Hopkins group up front with Darnell Nurse and Andrej Sekera patrolling the blue line to start the period. Nothing noteworthy. The Hall line followed and continued to establish the Oilers as the more positive side, with some deft puck movement and a desire to get the puck at net.
Eric Gryba undid that bright start with a poor holding penalty in the Oilers’ zone. The Capitals powerplay struggled to establish a zone presence, and the Oilers were able to kill the penalty off without incident. The Capitals did gather some momentum after the penalty expired and were able to generate some shot attempts of their own, but no real quality chances.
Not long after, Jordan Eberle turned the puck over at the Capitals line and sent Benoit Pouliot in for one of the better chances in the game, but he couldn’t stuff the puck in short side. Before the Capitals could counter attack, Eric Gryba took another penalty. This time, two minutes for not being good enough, I think.
The Oilers penalty kill was fairly resilient for the first half of the penalty, but needed Anders Nilsson to stop a glorious opportunity for Washington’s best player. I can’t quite remember his name. Something foreign I think. Before the Oilers could kill the penalty, Oscar Klefbom took a stick to the eyelid and drew a penalty for the good guys. A double minor even. Washington should cheat less.
A good stick by a Capitals’ defender was the only reason Nail Yakupov didn’t have a tap-in after some nice interplay between Nugent-Hopkins and Pouliot. That group created a few more chances, but ultimately were unable to get one. The Hall unit followed and created a great opportunity for Jordan Eberle, but he couldn’t beat the Caps’ keeper. Both units were able to set up in the offensive zone and generate some shot attempts, but neither could find twine and the Oilers let the Capitals off the hook.
The Capitals regained a foothold in the period following their big kill, and spent a prolonged shift in the Oilers' zone generating a few great opportunities. That Luke Gazdic and Co. were on the ice at the time was pure coincidence, I’m sure.
The rest of the period was relatively uneventful, but the Oilers have so far demonstrated a very real ability to control the neutral zone in this game, on the road, against a great opponent. The first forty minutes saw the Oilers do some very real work, up 23-15 in shots and 50-29 in shot attempts after two periods. Hopefully the third period sees them get rewarded for it.
The third period began, and I began to watch it. The Oilers, still, continued to be the team with more initiative, with the Yakupov line generating a few more at-nets before earning an o-zone draw.
Not long after, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle conspired to turn the puck over deep in Washington territory, but Eberle’s novice training betrayed him and he just, like, fell over. The Capitals turned the puck up-ice quickly, but turned the puck over at the Oilers’ blue line. End to end action to start the period.
Soon after, Nail Yakupov undid some of his own good work earlier on the same shift by taking a penalty for not being Canadian about five minutes into the third. Anders Nilsson was called into action immediately, but was equal to the task. And again. Arguably two of Washington’s best chances so far tonight have come on this powerplay, and Nilsson has stood tall. The Oilers were able to settle down and kill the rest of the penalty.
As soon as Yakupov left the box, he was in on a 2-on-0 with Taylor Hall. The young enigma opted to pass, but fizzed it to Hall a little too hard and the best left winger in the NHL wasn’t able to convert. On the same shift, Hall had a 2-on-1 with Gryba and floated a juicy pass to the defender, but he was robbed by the Caps’ netminder. Unlucky.
Not two minutes later, Big Sexy Draisaitl set up Taylor Hall with a dangerous cross-crease pass, but again the Caps’ goalie responded with a big save in close.
The Capitals responded with some hockeying of their own, and drew another good save from the Oilers’ newly minted number one. They followed it up with another great opportunity off the rush for their future Hall of Famer, but again he couldn't beat Nilsson.
The home side really started to grow into the period and generated a handful of excellent chances in the last few minutes. A cross-crease pass to no man’s land ended up on the stick of a pinching Caps’ defender who shot first-time and beat Nilsson over his left shoulder. 1-0 for the bad guys.
After the goal, the Capitals took control of the game. Nilsson had to remain sharp to keep the score at 1-0. The Oilers found themselves struggling to gain and/or keep possession, and the Capitals gave the Oilers a real lesson in how to see off a close game.
Final score: 1-0 for the bad guys and, again, no points for the good guys despite a pretty solid road effort against one of the league’s better teams. Stop me if you’ve heard that last bit before. The Oilers outshot the capitals 33-30, and had 68 attempts at net to Washington’s 54. Ugh.
Honestly, the Oilers deserved to win. They were the much better team for about fifty minutes, but still couldn’t turn that into points in the standings. This has become habit for our protagonists this season and, unfortunately, close doesn’t count. Hopefully, the Oilers can figure out how to win some one-goal games in the near future, because they’re already so far off the pace in the division that they simply cannot afford to give away any points they might actually deserve. Sidebar: does anybody own a Gryba-sized cannon? Asking for a friend.