My favourite painting in the world is Gustav Klimt's Lady in Gold. It is a masterpiece, a spectacle to behold, one that will enchant you as you stand in awe of the scintillating golds and alluring smile of the subject. Tonight's Oilers game has topped that painting as the most beautiful thing in my universe right now.
Coming off a resurgent game against the Dallas Stars after a string of disappointing losses, the Oilers sustained their positive momentum against a very good team en route to a dominant 5-0 thrashing of the Chicago Blackhawks at home. This game had a wonderful mix of positives, grouped together like the sweetest bunch of grapes-- offensive production from the blueline, flawless goaltending, goals from some players who really needed it, solid defense, and all against a strong team atop the Western Conference. Leon Draisaitl broke out with two goals and Cam Talbot collected the 14th shutout of his career, but it was Oscar Klefbom who stole the show with the first goal and the point shot that was deflected for the second of the game, coupled with consistently stellar defensive play-- if this is indication of the player he could eventually become, then Oilers fans are rightfully salivating at the potential.
I regretfully confess that the Blackhawks have been my playoffs team for the past few years-- when you cheer for the Oilers, you have to find some insurance so you are at least peripherally involved in the playoffs, and the Hawks have been my team. I've been rather well rewarded for my "loyalty," but today's game was the first time I've felt so ready to ditch this team in the postseason because I feel my own may be ready soon. Seeing the Oilers soundly defeat teams widely regarded as vastly superior is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world, up there with three-hour massages and sleeping in on the weekends-- let's recap how it went down tonight.
I do not exaggerate even the slightest when I say this has been my favourite period of hockey all season long.
Perhaps my irrational affection for Oscar Klefbom colours my opinion of this period a little. But how satisfying is it to be able to say the Oilers are up 2-0 against the Western Conference-leading, dynastic, plundering Chicago Blackhawks, courtesy of two beautiful Klefbombs, one of them on the usually anemic powerplay?
Goals- check. Defensemen scoring- check. Two points for McDavid- check. Powerplay goal- check. This period, my friends, is why we suffered through the carnage of the past few years.
The period started off, as many Oilers games do, with an early goal. Surprisingly, this one was actually by the Oilers, as Connor McDavid turned on his patented jet packs to take the puck down the ice end-to-end, with Oscar Klefbom there to slam home the rebound at 2:39 for his third straight goal in as many games. Here we see another glorious example of a goal created by the sheer strength and skill of the captain, who now leads the NHL in assists with 15, willing his way deep into the Blackhawks zone in as little as a few seconds.
UNLEASH THE KLEF- ! #CHIvsEDM pic.twitter.com/82kEZcKJnR— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 22, 2016
My one primary observation from that goal, other than my obvious elation, is the need to once again reiterate that someone needs to get Jesse Puljujarvi a new helmet, maybe one with belt notches or something-- as it stands now, it looks like someone trying to fit a teacup saucer on a watermelon.
Shortly after the first goal, the Oilers got a powerplay opportunity off a Delay of Game call against the Blackhawks-- an area of concern for much of the season, the first powerplay of the game looked at least visually better, with a couple of good-looking chances generated and some bouts of sustained pressure-- as you can tell, my expectations for the Oilers powerplay is as nonexistent as the sunshine in Seattle.
Perhaps the first powerplay was only a dress rehearsal for the second one. Connor McDavid began by showing some ridiculous speed- truly, what a treat it is to watch this boy man specimen play night after night. Then, having clearly eaten a surplus of lingonberries for extra power this morning, Oscar Klefbom unleashed a monster shot from the point, deflected deftly by Leon Draisaitl for his fifth of the season at 19:26.
The Oilers are famous for the lack of offensive production from their defensemen, and though it's only four games, the emergence of Klefbom's potential on the point is a precious pearl-- he may not have the hardest shot, but as he said himself during the first intermission interview, "I try to keep as [many] pucks as possible to the net." This approach opens up the potential for shots that beat the goalie from time to time, as with the first goal, or timely deflections, as with the second goal.
After a scintillating first period, Oilers fans who've seen any games know that relaxation and relief is the completely wrong emotion to feel at this point. The key for the team is to not let the foot off the pedal, not even a little bit, because the Blackhawks are a very good team and came back against the Canucks after being down 0-3 in their previous games. I know, it's the Canucks, but still (what a novel feeling it is to look down at another team after all these years).
As expected, the Blackhawks came back with a vengeance, outshooting the Oilers 9-2 in the first five minutes of the second-- it was Cam Talbot who kept the score as it was, most notably with a spectacular save on Patrick Kane with a flurry of traffic in front during the Blackhawks powerplay early in the period. In retrospect, the goals Talbot prevented could have changed the complexion of the game significantly had the score become 2-1 at any point-- as it turns out, the Blackhawks weren't able to get anything past Talbot in those first few minutes, and the score would diverge in a significantly different way after that point.
The scoring would be stagnant until the last few seconds of the period, when an Andrej Sekera point shot found the net with eight seconds left, just after the expiry of the Oilers' third powerplay of the game. Assisted by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Drizzy Caggiula and a beautiful screen by Patty Maroon up front, the Oilers had a 3-0 lead to end the second period, courtesy once again of a rising defense corps who have had enough of tofu-soft shots and invisible offense. The beautiful game remained intact as we wondered nervously whether the Oilers would Canuck in the third period.
Reggie rips one! #CHIvsEDM pic.twitter.com/AOyXlHxbxr— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 22, 2016
Also of note were a couple of missed calls by the referees-- complaining about the refereeing is always easy, but we've seen a litany of blatant penalties against Connor McDavid ignored. In the second period, he was tripped egregiously by Hjalmarsson while driving to the net, yet we received the usual crickets from the referees-- it seems that nothing short of cannibalistic murder will draw a call from the referees for Connor thesedays. Matt Hendricks also got called for a slash on Ryan Hartman, yet when Hartman retaliated with a high stick to his mouth a few minutes later, what should have been a five minute major penalty for the Oilers was somehow not called.
This year, it turns out that the Edmonton Oilers are not the Vancouver Canucks. Thank god for that.
The beautiful game got even more beautiful as Anton Slepyshev beat Corey Crawford with a shot from the side of the net at 7:17 into the third period to put the home team up 4-0, assisted by my adopted son Jesse Puljujarvi who was there with his signature :] to greet the goal-scorer. I have a secret desire to photoshop Puljujarvi into every goal celebration photo beacuse he just makes everything 433% happier.
Talbot continued his solid play to keep the goose egg nice and shiny, and the Oilers got yet another powerplay goal late in the game at 18:35, as Leon Draisaitl stuffed home the rebound off a Jordan Eberle shot (who is likely cursed, by the way) for his second of the game, sixth on the season. An explosion of happiness and psychological fireworks in the sky coloured my world as I felt a deep love for this sport and this magnificent team.
That goal in particular summed up many of the positive aspects of this game-- the zone pressure was set up by a clean entry by McDavid, generated once again off his signature jet packs, and Oscar Klefbom did a great job to snag his own rebound at the blue line to sustain the pressure.
To make the beautiful game even more beautiful, Matt Hendricks decided to put his body right in front of a heavy shot for a great block in the dying seconds as the clock ticked down on a 5-0 victory and 31-save shutout for Cam Talbot. Everything is beautiful, and rainbow tears of happiness are streaming down my cheeks as I hug my pet unicorn on this magical night. Number one in the Pacific again, guys!
- Oscar Klefbom took charge in the first period of this match and completely shifted the direction of the game-- his willingness to just release the puck and create some opportunities is refreshing after seeing the team often wreck their own scoring chances with one too many passes. He looked like a legitimate number one defenseman tonight, leading all defensemen with four shots and a team-leading TOI of 22:58, visible and making a difference in both zones all night, breaking up Blackhawks scoring chances and quarterbacking the rejuvenated powerplay.
- Adam Larsson-- Criticism of the trade this summer has rarely emerged after the season started because Larsson's play has stifled it. Can you imagine the blueline without his steady play and physicality? He consistently does the small things right and makes it tough for the opposition night after night-- tonight, Larsson led the team with five hits. I'm officially a Larsson Lover.
- It's hard to understate how important Cam Talbot's strong play was tonight in securing this win, especially in the earlier stages when the lead was smaller. By preserving the momentum in crucial moments against a very offensively dangerous team, he opened the gates for the Oilers to break the game open and extinguish hopes of a Blackhawks comeback.
- How nice is it to have Kris Russell back in the lineup? Immediately upon his return the defense seems to have really stabilized-- he finished with two blocked shots, two takeaways, no giveaways, and three hits, one of which was an absolute steamrolling of Tyler Motte that has ensured I will never underestimate any sub-six feet hockey player again.
- Connor McDavid was superb. It's like saying water is wet or pad thai is delicious, but I have to say it so we don't overlook his consistent brilliance. Two assists and a 62% CF is a rather pedestrian showing after a hat trick performance, but he was paramount to setting up the first two goals that really set the tone for the entire game. Thank god for this boy wonder.
"That's the closest we've come to a complete game. It's a really good sign for our team going forward." Coach McLellan on the #Oilers win— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 22, 2016
Yep. Just as savage from this angle. #CHIvsEDM pic.twitter.com/OU157fT6SL— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 22, 2016
- Jordan Eberle is cursed. He was buzzing around all night, putting puck after puck on net (he led the team with six shots tonight), but nothing will give. Let's all rally around this poor soul and find some shamanistic rituals to alleviate whatever is afflicting him at the moment.
- How dare you. There is nothing ugly about this most beautiful game of the season.
Game in a Haiku
Tonight I learned that
Oscar Klefbom is a beast.