Sometimes you get things in life you don't feel like you completely deserve, but you take it and run as fast as you can anyways. If Santa Claus makes a clerical error and gifts you a gold-plated yacht, you get on the yacht and speed off.
That's kind of what happened tonight as the visiting Edmonton Oilers defeated the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 3-1 on Saturday night, despite being outshot 39-22 and outplayed for a good chunk of the night. Vaulted by a 38-save performance from an almost airtight Cam Talbot and some timely scoring, the Oilers suddenly find themselves victors of three in a row, having all but exorcised the demons of rest accrued from the bye week and All-Star break.
With the win tonight, the Oilers are now in sole possession of second place in the Pacific and just two points behind the San Jose Sharks (who albeit also appear poised to win tonight), recovering well from a rough patch that could have easily slid into a prolonged losing streak. The team had already matched their points total from the 2015-16 season after the victory against Philadelphia on Thursday night, and though Coach McLellan will find much to dissect and improve upon from the game tonight, the team is lucky to have gained the learning material for future practices while collecting two important points in the standings.
"Sometimes you don't have your best effort every night, and tonight was one of those nights, but Cam was spectacular and got us those two points" said Matt Benning, whose third goal of the year gave the Oilers a lead they never gave up.
Chicago was also coming out of their bye week, but displayed few of the sluggish symptoms that plagued the Oilers as they emerged from their break. "They were ready tonight," continued Benning. "I thought they came out flying in the first and we were chasing. We got them after their bye week and they got us after our bye week."
Coach Todd McLellan had a slightly darker view of the events.
"There [are] two positives to the night-- we got two points, and Cam played a great game. After that, there weren't a lot of positives to that game, I didn't think," he said.
"I didn't think we were very competitive in the circle; we got drilled. I didn't think we won a lot of races, I didn’t think we passed very well, I didn’t think we defended well. I think we got away from our structure and we were fortunate to win-- there's no other way of putting it."
After a listless first period during which the Oilers were outshot 12-4, Matt Benning opened the scoring 5:02 into the second period as the power play ticked down. Benning simply threw the puck towards the net from the corner, and luckily Trevor Van Riemsdyk's skate was there to make some timely contact and put the puck past Corey Crawford for Matt Benning's third of the year.
The Oilers were being outshot 28-13 by the end of the second, but still had a 1-0 lead, hanging on thanks to the superhuman play of Cam Talbot.
Milan Lucic then made it 2-0 with his first in 11 games at 9:50 in the third, sniping one home from the dot and finishing with an uncharacteristically enthusiastic celebration from the big guy, who's become somewhat of an afterthought lately. Some hard work on the zone exit by the Swedish blueline pairing helped set up the clean shot, and it was a definite sigh of relief for Lucic-- if he can get it going down the stretch, it will almost serve as a trade deadline acquisition for the Oilers because of how noticeably absent he's been so far in 2017.
The Blackhawks then edged perilously close as Richard Panik's goal with 4:47 left in regulation cut the lead to 2-1, but Connor McDavid's twentieth goal of the season on an empty-netter with 27 seconds left sealed the deal for the Oilers, aided by a deft backhand pass at center ice from Mark Letestu.
Crucial for the Oilers now will be how they respond to the obvious holes in their game tonight in their next game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Are we really asking for more from the team when they're second in the Pacific midway through February? Yes, and that may be the very best part about this markedly different season.
Note: Tonight's Good, Bad, and Ugly will be summarized through N'Sync song titles.
- Matt Benning: Could It Be You -- No one expected Matt Benning to happen. Most fans' reaction to his unveiling at the beginning of the season on the roster consisted of a "Matt who?" but his undeniably consistent play throughout the year has made it hard to send him anywhere but on the ice. It's given the Oilers a plethora of options to consider on the blueline, an unthinkable luxury a year ago. Though it seems unlikely since his first goal was so hard to come by, the rookie already has 12 points on the season. Chipped in four hits and three blocks tonight, too.
- Cam Talbot: It's Gonna Be Me-- This man has played the most minutes of any goaltender this season, and has bailed out his team on countless occasions to steal two points. His 38-save performance was one of those times. There is no more you can ask for from your starting goaltender, and Talbot will always be one of Chiarelli's best acquisitions and everyone's role model.
- Leon Draisaitl: I'll Be Good For You- On a night when the Oilers got wrecked in the Corsi department, Dr. Drai managed to hold on with a +17/-23 for a 42.5% CF%, best on the team (yeah, it was that kind of night). Picked up his 30th assist and 52nd point of the season tonight.
- Iiro Pakarinen: A Long Road Ahead- The Finnish hero only played 5:39 tonight-- is he still being protected, or is his transition back not going too smoothly?
- The Blueline: Tearin' Up My Heart- Eric Gryba and Adam Larsson finished a team-worst -17 in CF tonight, with Andrej Sekera and Brandon Davidson not far behind at -16.
- Faceoffs: It Makes Me Ill- Oilers finished at 35% in the circle, with both McDavid and Draisaitl posting a 25% rate. This is negative.
Game in a Haiku
Bye bye bye, bye week.
Oilers are approaching their
final form at last.