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Good, Old-Fashioned, Cat Fight

Oilers take two critical points from second game in as many nights.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers, looking to bounce back after a pretty ugly effort in Tampa Bay last night, were in a different part of Florida to take on the resident Panthers tonight. The Oilers' workhorse in net, Cam Talbot, marked his return to the crease, and coach Todd MacLellan reunited The Young Pope with his cardinal wingman Leon Draisaitl.

Game Highlights

First Period

The game started like most hockey games do, with a faceoff. Less than two minutes later, the Oilers found themselves on their first powerplay, after the home side was penalized for too many men. The man-advantage struggled to get set up for most of the two minutes before generating a couple of chances near the tail end, after finally getting established.

Florida's first chance following the penalty kill forced Cam Talbot into his first save of the evening. Tonight's game also marked the return of Jujhar Khaira to the lineup, and on his first shift he created an opportunity with some nice work up the left side.

Shortly after, Young Pope & Co with some nice work in the Panthers zone before the puck found Oscar Klefbom at the left point. The young Swede stepped into one and beat James Reimer to put the visitors in front early. On his next shift, Youngus Popeus went full no-clip and skated at speeds most NHL players consider theoretical, creating a chance from nothing up the right wall.

A few minutes passed by without much to report, but after Talbot was again forced into a tricky save from a Panthers' point shot, the game opened up. Both sides traded chances before the Young Pope and the figurehead one of Canada's leading furniture retailers combined on a 2-on-1. Unfortunately for our protagonists, the Panthers' goalie was equal to the task and kept the score at 1-0.

Not long after, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was caught in possession in the neutral zone, with Cam Talbot again forced to make a big save to keep the lead intact.

Both sides continued to trade half chances before Talbot again intervened to keep the Oilers in front, this time after the fourth line was stuck in their own end for an entire shift. With under a minute remaining, Khaira dumped the Panthers captain from behind, earning a two-minute minor and some retribution from Shawn Thornton. Khaira ended up with the only penalty, but the Oilers managed to escape the period with their noses still in front.

Second Period

Usually, powerplays that bookend intermissions tend to be disjointed, and have trouble getting established. Tell that to the Panthers of Florida. The home side wasted no time getting set up, with Andrej Sekera forced to block a shot before Aleksander Barkov hammered home to tie the game at 1.

Florida continued to press, with Barkov's line again creating havoc in the Oilers zone. However, after spending almost an entire shift on the cycle in the Edmonton end, the Young Pope decreed he'd had enough, and made one of those plays only he can make, creating a scoring chance out of thin air.

After that, the game again settled. Both sides enjoyed periods of extended zone time, but neither were able to translate that pressure into dangerous scoring chances. The Oilers were able to grow their influence over proceedings near the midpoint of the period, after some nice work by the fourth line. The Jagr line attempted to stem the tide, and were doing admirable job of keeping the Young Pope's on the defensive. Then, in a deja-vu type moment, McDavid was able to generate another dangerous chance at the tail end of the shift. This time, the Oilers couldn't generate a shot on target, but were able to establish themselves on the forecheck. After being able to make a full forward change in the offensive zone, a rebound came to Eric Gryba on the left dot, and the former young Eric Gryba made no mistake, restoring the Oilers' lead.

With just under 9 minutes left in the middle frame, Andrej Sekera returned to the Oilers bench, having been in the dressing room since blocking a shot earlier. Good news. Unfortunately, he returned for only one shift.

Some more time passed before Derek McKenzie was sprung on a partial break, but Oilers off-season messiah Kris Russell was able to make a smart play and disrupt the home captain.

The game was boring again until the Jaromir Jagr line and the Young Pope's line met again, with both sides trading chances in a glimpse at some some wide open, firewagon hockey. Cam Talbot was again asked to make the more difficult interventions. But the end of the sequence, unfortunately for us, ended with Florida tying the game after a nice passing play. 2-2.

The game started to open up again, as Florida appeared to have gained momentum from the tying goal. They continued to push the pace until the last minute, when the Oilers were able to steal one against the run of play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins banging in from close range.

On the ensuing faceoff, resident bad roster decision Matt Hendricks took a holding penalty. Literally on the faceoff. This is why we can't have nice things. If Jaromir Jagr is 45, Matt Hendricks is 100. Know what I mean? There has to be better uses of that roster spot, especially on the second night of back to back games. As if you knew it, the Panthers' proficient power play struck again with 4 seconds left. Somebody took the option on their assignment, and Alan Hull's pet project Jonathan Marchessault scored his 18th on a breakaway.


Third Period

The Panthers began the third period on the front foot, and tested Talbot early. A couple of minutes in, Jagr's line was up to no good again, and asked a few more questions of the Oilers goalie. Talbot stood tall, so Barkov decided to just shove him in the net instead. No goal was called on the ice, but the refs decided to check anyway. After a brief delay, Florida was awarded no points, and may god have mercy on their soul.

A few moments later, Jagr's line was again able to pin the Young Pope's line in their own zone for an entire shift. To be fair to the Oilers, they were playing their second game in two nights, and were without two of their top four defenders at this point. But by the middle of the final period, the Panthers were comfortably the better side.

The Oilers, given the gift of Connor McDavid, always possess a latent threat to score when he's on the ice, but the rest of the team appeared to be hanging on for the ride. It was at this point that the third line was carved up for a dangerous chance in transition.

The line of Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, and Nugent-Hopkins had been ineffective for most of the night, but seemed to find some life offensively, and had arguably the Oilers best shift of the period. The trio created a chance for Eberle in the high slot before the former All-Star missed the target.

Man, it feels like Jordan Eberle was an All-Star a long, long time ago. Think about how many coaches it's been? I mean, think about how many GMs? Crazy.

Anyway, while I was reminiscing, the Oilers were busy taking the lead again. Another rush spearheaded by the Oilers' young captain resulted in a neat tic-tac-toe play finished by, you guessed it, Kris Russell. His first goal as an Edmonton Oiler could not have come at a more pivotal time in this contest.

The Oilers seemed to gain some momentum from the goal and started to play a little more hockey in Florida's end, and a little less in their own. Progress. Maybe it's no coincidence that MacClellan shortened his bench a little too.

Or maybe not, as McDavid's line was clearly exhausted from the quick breather and were hemmed in by Jagr's line once again. An exhausted Patrick Maroon was forced to ice the puck, and Todd MacLellan was forced to use his time out. This would lead to effectively two full minutes of squeaky bum time, with Talbot having to make a couple of important stops, one on Jonathan Huberdeau in particular, to see the game out.

But in the end, while the Oilers bent, they did not break, and thanks in large part to Cam Talbot and his 31 saves, they were able to win a big game and secure an even bigger two points.

Loser Point

Well, it wasn't pretty, but it was important. The Oilers managed to escape the panhandle back-to-back with 2 of the 4 points on offer, and did so without Adam Larsson. Unfortunately, they also lost Andrej Sekera through injury tonight, and it remains to be seen how long the Oilers will have to operate without two of their top four defenders in the short term.

All that said, if Cam Talbot can continue keeping the Oilers in games like he did tonight - and has done so often this season - the Oilers will always be in with a shout. With the ever-present threat of the Young Pope doing something biblical, that might be good enough, most of the time, to get the Oilers to the promised land come April. Well, not the promised land like, the promised land we were promised for tanking to draft Taylor Hall, but like, the playoffs. Like, that promised land.

You get it.

Up next, the Oilers play the impressive Washington Capitals in D.C. Don't be surprised if Darnell Nurse draws back in if Adam Larsson and Andrej Sekera still can't go.