The Edmonton Oilers (12-11-2) welcomed the Las Vegas Golden Knights (14-12-1) to town for the first Hockey Night in Canada game of the Ken Hitchcock era. Vegas came into this one hot, having won five on the spin and six of their last seven games.
The Oilers have been building a little streak of their own, sporting a 3-1-1 record under their new head coach and looking to keep it rolling in an important clash with a division rival.
Connor McDavid was feeling himself all night, and it started with the first shift. Immediately after winning the opening draw, McDavid zoomed deep into Golden Knights territory and forced a save from Marc-Andre Fleury nine seconds in. Unfortunately, that would be it for early positives from the home team. Vegas spent the next five minutes crushing them in their own rink. If it weren’t for Mikko Koskinen doing what Cam Talbot has failed to all season - make the saves in high leverage moments - the Oilers might have found themselves down early.
But, it didn’t play that way. Koskinen was excellent early, and he kept the Oilers afloat just long enough to allow Connor McDavid to shoulder the whole group and find a goal out of nowhere. After corralling the puck just outside the Knights’ blue, he breezed by his mark with ease and made one of the niftiest little moves you’ll see in tight: pulling it back and roofing it from Fleury’s front porch to put the Oilers ahead 1-0. Wonderful. Worldie. Our captain. The Captain.
Shots were 9-2 Vegas before McDavid went off. But he might as well have been an alarm clock because his going off certainly woke his team up. The Oilers righted themselves and played far more competently as the period wore on.
Another nice moment came via McDavid again, this time turning the puck over just outside the Vegas blue before chopping it to a streaking-in-behind Leon Draisaitl, who let the puck run through his legs before one-timing a tame backhand on target. The final product was lacking, but the build up was as great as it was out of nowhere.
Ty Rattie marked his return to the rotation tonight with a pretty good performance, and it started right from the first period. He showed his fanciest pants, dropped his shoulder and directed a nice backhand at net, but Fleury was there. He then drew a penalty in the immediate aftermath in what was a real nice sequence for the young man.
The Oilers were lively on this PP, too. They couldn’t find one, but on another night, with a bit of luck or perhaps a bit more composure, they could have found one there. But, they didn’t, and the score remained 1-0.
McDavid showed us one more moment of brilliance before the period would end, gathering up and flying down the right side before creating another chance for himself. He couldn’t cash, but it was still magic. The next shift for this group saw Alex Chiasson draw an interference penalty to earn the Oilers their second power play of the night.
They couldn’t get anything going on the abbreviated man advantage though, and the period would end with the home side in front 1-0.
The second half of the split power play went about as well as the first half, and the Oilers were unable to extend their lead. The lethargy of that power play to start the period seemed to bleed into their even strength game for a few shifts, as the Oilers allowed Vegas to grow in influence over the first few minutes.
They did manage to ring one off the post in the meantime, but that two-goal lead wasn’t to be. I don’t even remember who it was, to be honest. The second period is typically when I start eating, so I mean. Sorry.
Zack Kassian found himself doing that Zack Kassian thing and took a needless offensive zone penalty to put his team on the PK for the first time. They managed to kill it off with relative ease. My notes really suffered while I was drinking that bag of Ruffles like an iced tea.
Shortly after the PK, however, the Oilers found themselves level. Jonathan Marchessault made a real nice rush up the left side before stopping and throwing it in front. Oscar Klefbom did well to be there and break it up, but his interception fell right to William Karlsson, who flung it on target. His relatively tame effort then hit Klefbom’s left leg and snuck inside the left post, past Koskinen. 1-1.
The second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi and Drake Caggiula had an up and down night, and their shift with a couple minutes left in the second epitomized that. An excellent start, some zone pressure and a Corsi event or two to start, before Matt Benning blew a tire on a routine play that led to about a minute and a half of watching a real tired group defend. Luckily, they did just enough, and Koskinen was excellent, and they escaped the sequence.
With less than a minute left, however, the Oilers passed some brain gas and took a bench minor for too many men. Hitchcock’s face. Priceless.
But, as was the case for the Oilers, the Golden Knights weren’t able to manufacture anything with their abbreviated man advantage as the period came to an end. 1-1 after two, and all of it to play for in the third. Seems to be a bit of a pattern developing with Hitchcock’s iteration. They love being all square after two.
After a brief PK, we were back to five on five. The two sides traded chances, with Riley Smith having enough time to enjoy all the luxuries of the slot before firing just wide to the left. Koskinen may have got a tiny piece of it.
Almost immediately after, the second third line went to work with Ty Rattie pressuring the Vegas defender behind their net into a waiting Jujhar Khaira. Khaira promptly gathered up the puck and fizzed a pass in front to a wide open Ryan Spooner, who made no mistake (well, maybe he made some mistake, but Fleury bailed him out) and beat Fleury to put the home side in front.
And that’s how it would finish!
I mean, I could go on about the remainder of the game but to be honest, it was a lot of Vegas doing the hockey and a lot of Edmonton doing just enough to not get punished by them. The last couple of minutes especially were a source of very real angst as the bulk of the action took place in the Oilers end. Hitch appeared to be feeling the funk a little bit too, as he sent out his big three centers together to see out the final minute.
Of course, they did, and the rest is academic.
SigDigs (all 5v5)
Shots: 34-32 EDM
CF%: 46-58 44.23%
FF%: 35-40 46.67%
SCF%: 25-38(!!) 39.68%
HDCF%: 11-16 40.74%
The Oilers were fortunate that Mikko Koskinen is going off right now. Vegas created 38 scoring chances (as per NaturalStatTrick) and 16 of the high danger variety. Koskinen was excellent when he had to be, and not only gave the Oilers a chance to win, he was the main reason they did.
Connor McDavid looked real saucy out there individually but his line got crushed pretty handily tonight. Sub 40% by CF%, FF%, SCF%, and HDCF%, which is wild considering how good he looked by eye. If the Oilers can win games where his line is getting penned in like that, that’s probably a good sign moving forward.
The Oilers move to 4-1-1 in the Ken Hitchcock era and the mood in the room should be fairly jovial when it welcomes Valentin Zykov into the fold in the next couple of days.
The Oilers head out of town for a two-game road trip that begins in Dallas on Monday night. Puck drops a hair past 6:30 MST. Til then.