There are certain games in a season that really show how excruciatingly tough it is to win. Experienced teams with players who have been to the playoffs year after year have a relentless patience that often wears out young teams, and the Edmonton Oilers got a big test tonight in a resilient 3-2 Overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.
It was a tough game for the Oilers, now in sole possession of second in the Pacific Division, who faced an oppressively constant Ducks forecheck and stymying defense that largely limited chances, as well as for the fans watching, who likely engaged in a good amount of fist-clenching and production of cold sweat throughout the very close game. Looking to continue their good habits after a resounding 6-3 win over Winnipeg after a couple of rough matches, the Oilers were in tough against a team featuring the likes of veterans Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry, with Kesler in particular tasked with shutting down Connor McDavid. Many Oilers spoke of how important it would be for the Oilers to prove they were capable of matching up against the tough California teams to really establish themselves in the Pacific Division, and with Anaheim, the experience gap was significant.
Coach McLellan had warned before the game that the experience of Anaheim meant they were more patient about waiting for the right opportunities late in the game and less prone to opening up and giving away opportunities in close games, and we saw that today. It spoke to the difficulty of scoring that the three goals from the Oilers were all scored with somewhat atypical line combinations, two occurring just as the power play was expiring and the third, of course, in overtime. The established lines got their chances but weren't able to put anything past John Gibson; Connor McDavid, in particular, was held off the scoresheet, though he still finished with four shots on goal. It's strange to say there's a positive in McDavid having a pointless night, but the fact that this team can carve out a win against Anaheim without any points from their golden-haired saviour is a good indication that the depth is increasing, with Drizzy Caggiula getting his first NHL goal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally finding the back of the net, and Leon Draisaitl continuing his absolute tear of late with the overtime winner.
In an overall relatively even match, with both teams having just two power plays, and Anaheim just edging Edmonton in shots 33-32 and hits 27-26, it was the consistent play of Cam Talbot, resilience and effort of the defensemen in overtime, and a couple of timely goals in atypical situations by the offense that made the difference. It was a grinding, often frustrating game, but the team toughed it out for an emotional win, important for a team with many new faces still etching out their identity as a group, one that proves their mettle against a tough divisional opponent and gives them a needed confidence boost ahead of tomorrow's match with Minnesota.
Let's dig into the details with the recap.
The game started out with generally even and uneventful-- the scoresheet and penalty box remained untouched as the two teams were generally even-matched with an equal amount of scoring opportunities (16-16). Interestingly, it was the bottom two lines for the Oilers who had the most jump, as the Maroon - Letestu - Kassian got out to a great start with multiple scoring opportunities, outchancing the Ducks 8-4 when they were on the ice.
The rookie line of Pitlick - Caggiula - Slepyshev also impressed with their speed and ability to generate opportunities out of nowhere. It was the Oldtimers Line of Pouliot - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle that had a hard time, not getting a single scoring chance until around the 18-minute mark of the period. The work from the bottom two lines was promising because as Coach McLellan said, that was the only way they would be able to keep Draisaitl and McDavid together on the same line.
The lethargic pace to the game got a jolt right off the bat as the top line started the second period with a great jump and an immediate scoring chance. It would set the pace for the period, as shortly after, the chemistry of the LeoCon duo showed with some great puck possession battles and cycle game to generate the best scoring chance of the game so far with a pass from Draisaitl to McDavid, drawing a hooking call in the process for Edmonton's first power play of the game.
The first minute and half of this power play resembled the soondubu level of the losses to Arizona, failing to even set up in the zone, but it was when Eberle and Caggiula stepped onto the ice late in the PP that things finally started to take shape. He started from the bottom, and at 5:17 in the second period Drake Caggiula potted his first ever NHL goal, with a fantastic snipe that beat Gibson cleanly off a great pass from Maroon. Drizzy was lit, the building was lit, and the power play goal got the Oilers off to a 1-0 lead.
Cam Talbot, who had been quietly brilliant throughout the first period to keep the game scoreless, continued his solid play during a flurry of offensive pressure from the Ducks after Caggiula's goal, with a fantastic stop on Getzlaf to maintain the lead. The lead evaporated, however, when (and it pains me so much to write this) the detestable Ryan Kesler stuffed the puck in around Talbot a few seconds into the Ducks' first power play at 9:28.
It was the Oilers, however, who most consistently maintained the offensive pressure throughout the period, outshooting the Ducks 16-11 in the second. They were rewarded with their second power play off another hooking call on the Ducks, and this second power play largely mirrored the first in that the power play itself was rather lifeless and dull, but the last few seconds resulted in some good pressure and cycling from Klebom, Maroon, and Nugent-Hopkins. It was Nugey who potted his fourth of the season at 13:35, just after the PP expired, to give the lead back to the team. Eberle got his second assist of the game on the goal, and Klefbom, who is still being punished by Todd McLellan with decreased ice time (#FreeKlefbom), also got a helper.
No one would think the Ducks would sit still with a one-goal deficit, and Anaheim's experience showed as they stepped up with relentless offensive pressure throughout the third, outshooting the Oilers 13-7. It was Cam Talbot who managed to contain the barrage of shots coming at him, and any Oilers fans watching the game felt incredibly ATTACKED throughout as anxiety over the increasingly precarious one-goal lead took over. The Oilers, for most of this period, looked like they were playing to hang on and just eke it out rather than put any pressure on the Ducks.
Alas, the thing we all didn't want to happen… happened. In the blink of an eye, Sekera lost his stick on the backcheck and suddenly a wide open Rickard Rakell, the most alliterative Swede in the league, banged it home on the open net to even the score at 2-2 with 10:18 remaining in the third. Jordan Eberle did his usual thing and stood watching from a few feet away from the goalscorer and Pouliot was nowhere to be found, executing his signature Sloth Backcheck™.
Because the amount of cold sweat streaming out of my pores was apparently not enough, the Ducks proceeded to up the offensive pressure even more, with a crazy amount of great chances during a three minute interval in the last ten minutes, during which the Oilers weren't even able to get the puck out of the zone without an icing and an exhausted Pitlick and Caggiula barely made it off the ice after a very extended shift. It's important to really recognize how pivotal Cam Talbot was in handling some of the most experienced goal scorers in the league. With the Ducks throwing shot after shot on him with the game on the line late in the third, Talbot shut the door time after time.
The Oilers had a couple of chances late in the period, with Kassian missing on a great chance in alone and Letestu just putting it over the net on a great chance in front of the net with two minutes left. The last minute of regulation in this game felt like eons of stress and clenching, first with Kesler just barely not able to get his stick on what would have been an open net from his side with a minute remaining, and then with the Oilers taking a facepalm-inducing, gut-wrenching Too Many Men On the Ice penalty with 44 seconds left in the game. At that point, the stress level was off the charts and I just wanted to somehow perform a heist and escape the period with one point.
Leon Draisaitl then almost made me tear up, going all out and splaying to clear the puck with about thirty seconds left to kill some seconds off the Ducks' power play, and even with a strong backhand with two seconds left by Cam Fowler, who really never left the ice, Talbot shut the door one more time to send this blood pressure-wrecking game to overtime. To be honest, I was so emotionally exhausted that I would have appreciated a longer break after regulation, but away we go.
The Oilers went into overtime with the odds solidly stacked against them, faced with over a minute of 4-on-3 penalty kill. The defense really put in the work in the first few minutes of overtime with great individual efforts, hustling to kill off the penalty. A great save by Talbot on a wrist shot was followed by a crucial, exhale-inducing puck clearing by Oscar Klefbom, trusted to start in overtime on the PK with Larsson and Letestu. Russell stepped in with a great job preventing a dangerous cross-ice pass as the penalty kill was winding down, and the Ducks were able to maintain pressure for a good while after. Klefbom once again made up for his defensive lapses recently, outmuscling and pushing Corey Perry off the puck right next to the net, and Adam Larsson followed by thwarting Kesler's move coming into the zone, then fighting off Kesler's check in the other end.
It was then Sekera's turn for heroics, as he piled on the great work of his teammates on the blueline with a nifty pass to Draisaitl after Eberle deftly entered the zone. Dr. Drai, positioning himself perfectly to the right of the net, sniped it home for his tenth of the year as an uncharacteristically emotional roar from the German capped the 3-2 overtime win for the home team. I screamed really loudly and scared my roommate. Jordan Eberle, who was crucial in establishing the Oilers' presence in the Ducks zone, picked up his third assist of the night on the goal, and it would be an understatement to say that this win was hugely satisfying.
- It's been so satisfying to see a big man who's not afraid to throw his body around intimidating guys from the opposing team. Adam Larsson did not hesitate to check big Ryan Getzlaf into the boards, consistent with his solid physical play all season.
- Cam Talbot was very good tonight, and in my opinion gave the Oilers a chance to win, holding down the fort when the team was being shelled with heavy artillery in the third period. A lot of the shots he faced were really tricky, and his rebound control in particular was solid. It's nice to always have faith in your number one goaltender, and the emergence of Talbot into the current leader in wins amongst goalies (13) in the NHL is the sleeper success story of the season so far.
- I really liked Matt Benning's game today. He was noticeable for all the right reasons, finishing with a 64.44% CF% and leading all defensemen and second on the team with four shots on net, many of them leading to some solid scoring chances. He also made some great defense moves, including one on Cogliano in the second period and even played through what looked like a nosebleed (or a rather concerning scorched-looking nostril).
- Oscar Klefbom had a solid bounceback game after being noticeably penalized on ice time during the past few. He was still largely limited in ice time, fifth among defensemen with 18:29, but still finished with an assist, +2 rating, a solid 60% CF%, and was absolutely solid in the crucial opening minutes of overtime. He also contributed five blocks and committing no giveaways. As a professional lobbyist for Klefbom, I'd like to say that he has earned back some of his ice time and I hope Coach Todd will liberate him soon.
- I just wanted to point out the fact that Tyler Pitlick had five hits tonight in just 10:11 of ice time. I'm confused, too, but good on you, son.
- Andrej Sekera has been picking up the load lately, leading the team with 24:57 in ice time tonight, with 4 takeaways and no giveaways, as well as assisting on the game-winning overtime goal.
- Zack Kassian is really coming alive, and had his chances this game with a team-high 6 shots. His line showed really great jump in the earlier frames of this game, and it would be nice to see him pot one in the next few games.
- Faceoffs continue to be an area of concern-- Ryan-Nugent Hopkins finished the night winning only 30% of his draws, while Leon Draisaitl was once again the only Oiler to win above 50% of his draws with 63%. The positive side is he is often able to take draws in place of McDavid, who is still finding his way in the faceoff circle, finishing the night at 43%.
Game in a Haiku
Drizzy got a goal!
Hold on, we're going streaking
The hype is too good.