It takes some pathetic audacity for a 26-year old man to shove and chirp a teenager whom he seriously injured a year ago, without apology, but that is precisely what Brandon Manning did tonight. Revenge is a dish well served as a flurry of profanities uttered after scoring a goal at the man who rudely interrupted your rookie season, but unfortunately for the Oilers, it's best served as a win.
The Oilers let slip not one, but two two-goal leads tonight, falling to the Flyers 5-6 in a game they completely should have had. Have you heard this line somewhere before? The Oilers' inability to hold on to leads and close out games has cost them so many valuable points this season. Giving up the winning goal with 1:29 left in the third period doesn't help, but the pain of this loss was heightened by the bad blood and emotional intensity throughout. This game was bad for blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and sanity.
Manning and McDavid were in each other's face all night, and there were clearly some very choice words exchanged-- if there was any doubt about what was said, McDavid's post-game comments, anger spilling over in an unusual display of emotion, made things very clear:
"I did all I could to defend him in the media; I didn’t want to make a big deal that he did it on purpose. He wanted to say some comments about what went on last year, and I thought it was one of the most classless things I've ever seen on the ice. He said some things, our guys responded accordingly, and we can put the whole 'he did it on purpose thing' to rest because what he said out there confirmed that, so shows what kind of guy he is, the way he doesn’t step up and fight some of our guys."
The loss was extremely frustrating, but these comments put a different layer of hurt on this game. If he was just chirping to get McDavid off his game, not only did making McDavid angry have the opposite effect, it's kind of awful to brag about breaking someone's bones. The emergence of McDavid as a three-dimensional human being with emotions barely masks the odious defensive game the team played, and a very shaky goaltending performance from Jonas Gustavsson. Mark your calendars, everyone-- the two teams meet again on February 16 in Edmonton, and only a win will clear this awful odor that still lingers in the air.
The Oilers thankfully erased memories of that awful start in Buffalo with a solid effort in the first. They began with a handful of great opportunities, first with McDavid creating a chance by winning a 1-on-4 battle (not even surprised)-- watching him start from his own zone is like watching someone power an alarmingly fast wind-up toy. Then, on an innocuous looking rush after Puljujarvi chipped the puck to Leon Draisaitl, the German showed surprising speed as he rushed down the wing and his quick snapshot beat Steve Mason to put the Oilers up 1-0 4:12 into the first.
With his 12th goal of the season there, the Deutschland Dangler took over the team lead in goals, and Jesse Puljujarvi (I missed his big head so much) got his seventh assist of the season. Puljujarvi did run into some penalty trouble as this puppy dog got a tad too aggressive in the period-- the Oilers penalty kill, however, was able to contain the Flyers' second-ranked power play, though it did mean that despite limiting the Flyers to one shot through the first ten minutes, the period ended with the Flyers outshooting the Oilers 9-5. Gustavsson was fantastic throughout the period, and played a large part in preserving the Oilers' lead.
A particularly frightening moment happened as Brandon "Literally Voldemort" Manning got all up in Connor McDavid's face behind the net, bringing back extremely traumatic memories from the darkest moment of last season. I've never wanted to jump into my television screen so much as when this bad man, who single-handedly wrecked our year, dared come within ten feet of our captain again. Sportsnet then proceeded to rudely air the clip of that dark moment, without even the courtesy of issuing a trigger warning. I trained my eyes on the floor to prevent the pain I had forcefully repressed from flooding my senses again. My god, it still hurts.
The Flyers started out the period flying, getting a flurry of shots on net, all turned away by Gustavsson. It was at this point that Angry Connor and his comrades decided they have had enough of the Flyers' dirty goonery, and after a bit of a jump from their line, Angry Connor drew a penalty to give the Oilers their first power play of the game.
I can't imagine how one would feel towards someone who broke your collarbone and separated you from the game you love for months, with no apology, and proceeds to get in your face and brag about it the next time you meet. I imagine Connor didn't feel too positively about it, because he would score on this power play at 4:35 into the second to put the Oilers up 2-0, and proceeded to celebrate with unusual fire, then turning to utter some decidedly ungentle profanities to Manning. Let me softly place his quote here for all to enjoy-
"Fuck you, you fucking bitch!"
- Connor McDavid, 2016
It was Leon Draisaitl who corralled the rebound from a Letestu one-timer to give a Connor gorgeous feed, and he made no mistake as his snapshot from the point went in cleanly for his 12th of the year (tying Draisaitl again for the team lead in goals). Draisaitl was also doing a good deal of uncharacteristic chirping at Manning during the faceoff to start the power play, and it was safe to say the bad blood was flowing throughout the building.
The Oilers, however, would proceed to let out a big wet fart in the next few minutes. Starting at 12:31 in the second, the Flyers would get three straight goals in a span of one minute and twelve seconds from Mark Streit, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Claude Giroux to get them back in the game, even, and then the lead at 3-2. Jonas Gustavsson went from looking like a stalwart Swede to a pitiful ragdoll, and it seemed the Oilers kept playing like they were waiting for the previous goal to be announced instead of focusing on the game, which led to it happening two more times.
Luckily, Connor was still angry. The Flyers crowd actually had some irrational hatred for Captain Canadian Super Promise, booing him profusely when their team was the one who injured him. Angry Connor ignored the salty crowd and proceeded to somehow fight off two Flyers in the corner, and emerge with the puck to pass it to Mark Letestu, and Andrej Sekera came down from the wing to tap home the terrific feed from Letestu for his fourth of the season, evening the match once again at 3-3. Connor McDavid got his 38th point of the season with an assist, and the period ended with an even score and very uneven tempers on both teams.
If you forgot about Benoit Pouliot's existence, he reminded the world of it again by scoring 3:07 into the third off a beautiful zone entry by Leon Draisaitl, who got his third point of the night as the Oilers regained the lead 4-3. Oscar Klefbom continued the offensive explosion with a power play goal form the point, off a great behind the back feed from Jordan Eberle for his fourth of the season at 5:12 to put the Oilers up 5-3.
Having seen this game unfold, however, everyone knew this lead was nowhere near safe, and a number of heart-stopping moments later, the Flyers claw back on the power play (off a terrible holding call on Kris Russell) as Jakob Voracek's shot went off the shinpads of Benning at 6:31 to close the gap at 5-4. Then, it happened dagain, as Nugent-Hopkins' inability to clear the puck and the team's inability to cover a wide open Claude Giroux led to Giroux's second goal of the game, and we were all tied up at 5-5 with eight minutes remaining.
The Oilers showed a better reaction to being scored on this time, firing a flurry of shots on net after the Flyers' tying goal, but with just 1:29 left in the game, Michael Raffl took the puck down the wing, and Klefbom just couldn’t handle the one-on-one battle as Raffl was able to get a shot away and beat Gustavsson for his sixth of the season to give the Flyers the lead at 5-6. Seeing Klefbom with his head down on the bench after that goal just broke my already very shattered heart even more, and everything was just frankly terrible at that point. The seconds ticked down and the game was over, as the Flyers won their seventh straight and the Oilers lost their third in a row, and I felt a mixture of profoundness sadness and borderline insane anger that should never mix together.
The Oilers outshot the Flyers 33-31, but frankly, who cares at that point because they should have won this game, even if just for Connor's clavicle. Gustavsson was solid earlier on in the game but from the midpoint of this game onwards, I would start heaving every time the Flyers got a shot on him because he was that unstable-- he would finish with a 0.806 save percentage. All I wanted was the sight of Cam Talbot's fatherly, bearded face.
- Connor McDavid willed his team back into this game, once again, finishing with two points and leading the team with an insane 76.09% CF. Fought as hard as he could without physically fighting someone, and this is a victory the team should have gotten for their captain.
- Leon Draisaitl has really emerged as someone who carries his own line and picked it up significantly offensively. Finished with a goal and two assists, and was the only Oiler who held his own in the faceoff circle (64.29%).
- Adam Larsson continues to impress with his physical game. He finished with a team-high six hits tonight, and made a number of great defensive moves, including breaking up a play in front of the net with his stick in the first, bumping a Flyer off the puck right in front of the net in the third, and using his body along the boards to take the puck away again in the third. Also had another great play with his stick with about 2:40 to go in the third to prevent Brayden Schenn from getting a shot in close. Picked up an assist, too!
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been getting more heat lately for his lack of offensive production, but most are reluctant to criticize him because of his solid two-way play. That all broke down tonight as his giveaways led to at least two Flyers goals, finishing -3 on the night with a 37.94% CF% and a team-high three giveaways.
- It hurts my hand to write bad things about Oscar Klefbom, but he was glaringly guilty on the winning goal by Raffl, despite his team not really backing him up at all on the backcheck. I thought he had made it out of the doghouse with a beautiful goal, and showed increased confidence after that, even driving the puck down the ice himself to get a shot, but the last goal just ended the game in a terrible game. Finished with a -4 on the night, but had a team-high five shot blocks and contributed three shots on net.
- How do you lose a game like that?
- The faceoffs were absolutely abysmal, and becoming a real area of concern— the team was 40% in the faceoff circle, thanks largely to Draisaitl. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins won 5 of 12 faceoffs (29.41%) and Connor McDavid won 2 of 9 (18.18%). It’s really hard to win games like that.
- Goaltending scared the hell out of me tonight. We were okay with Jonas Gustavsson’s freewheeling style but it kind of just fell apart tonight, especially with those three backbreaking goals in a minute and a half in the second.
Did You Notice?
Oscar Klefbom giving Dillon Simpson a good pat on the back after his first shift in the NHL. Good ol’ Klefbro.
Did You Know?
That Dillon Simpson is the son of Craig Simpson? I wish Sportsnet would have mentioned this once tonight.
Game in a Haiku
The absolute worst
kind of human in this world
is Brandon Manning.