The fans had something to cheer about early, when Connor McDavid put the Oilers on the board in the game's fourth minute, but then the game took a decidedly ugly turn for the remainder of the first period. By the end of the period the score would be tied and the Maple Leafs would have a 13-4 edge in shots. The game looked like it was going to be a repeat of the loss to the Devils, or the Islanders, or the Canadiens. You get the picture, it looked like it was going to end badly for the Oilers. But by the time the final buzzer sounded every Oilers fan in attendance went home very happy having seen Jordan Eberle's first career hat-trick and McDavid's first five point night.
What happened during that first intermission? Not being in the dressing room I can't say for sure but I assume it was something along the lines of "What the hell was that guys? Four shots? Gour lousy shots? Look at the their lineup. W're on home ice and you take four shots against that lineup. Really? Come on, their defence is absolutely pitiful. Hell, it's worse than ours and that's really saying something. No offence, guys. Now let's get our act together, go out there, and show them who's going to win the Calder Trophy, I mean show them who the better team is."
Maybe that's not exactly what was said, whatever it was that McLellan said though, it worked. Jordan Eberle scored his first and second goals of the night to give the Oilers a 3-1 lead. The first goal came after the puck ping ponged around in front of Jonathan Bernier, eventually ending up on Eberle's stick for his 13th goal of the season. With Daniel Winnik in the box late in the period, Eberle would again find the back of the net after being on the receiving end of a very nice cross ice pass from Connor McDavid. The goal not only gave the Oilers three goals on the night but Eberle and McDavid three points each as well.
The Oilers like to keep things interesting though, so they gave up an ugly goal to get the Leafs back within one before the end of the second period. With 15 seconds left to play to be exact. A harmless looking "shot" by Jake Gardiner bounced off of, or might have been kicked it's hard to tell, by Darnell Nurse and into the back of the net. Nurse is the player you see when the puck goes in, but if you go back and watch the whole play again you'll see Justin Schultz doing Justin Schultz things on this play. Enjoy it while you can, there aren't going to be many more opportunities to see the man make plays like this one on a regular basis.
In the third period the game was all Oilers. Some power play opportunities helped with that, including the team's second 5-on-3 opportunity of the season. After a four shot first period, the Oilers put 13 on Bernier in the second, followed by 17 more in the game's final frame. Even with a lead for the entire period, and a two goal lead for the last six minutes of the night, the Oilers didn't take their foot off the gas, and actually put more pucks at the net - 24 to 21 - than the Leafs did over the game's final 20 minutes. If Eberle had been able to bury one of his power play chances the Oilers might have ended up with two first career hat-tricks tonight.
Before the hats hit the ice though, it was McDavid scoring his second goal of the night, a lovely top corner wrist shot from between the circles. This kid is unbelievable, there's no other way to say it. He now has 24 points in 19 games, that's a pace that would see him finish north off 100 points in a full 82 games season, and is second only to Patrick Kane in the NHL this season. Because the Oilers can't play a team as bad as the Leafs every night those numbers will slip a bit, but he's the best rookie in the NHL no if's and's or but's about it. And even with all the games missed with a broken clavicle, he should still be the NHL's rookie of the year.
The game would end, more or less, with an empty net goal from Eberle, his third of the night securing his first career hat-trick. The team badly wanted Eberle to get that goal, they even called a timeout after Martin Marincin was called for delay of game to give the Oilers an extended two man advantage to help set the goal up. Try as they might though, Eberle suddenly looked like a guy who'd never scored a goal before. The power play chances would have resulted in a nice goal, what he ended up with was a puck he push into an empty net with one hand on his stick. Oh well, they all count the same whether they're pretty or not.
It's been another disappointing season for the Oilers but a few more nights like this will help make the last couple months of the season a whole lot more enjoyable.
The Oilers are back in action on Friday night when they play host to the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets played at home to the Bruins tonight, losing by a score of 6-2.