The Edmonton Oilers (30-21-6) continued their Florida tour on Saturday afternoon with a matinee matchup against the Panthers (30-21-6). The two teams came into this one with identical records but very different outlooks. The Oilers currently occupy the second spot in the Pacific Division and sit comfortably in a playoff spot, while the Panthers sit fourth in the Atlantic and a few points out of a Wild Card berth. Mikko Koskinen got the nod in net for Edmonton, with Sam Montembeault (who?!) starting for Florida.
The Oilers started this game very well, with the top line of Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto doing most of the damage early. The rest of the team was quite at it to start, too, but weren’t as successful as the big boys were at translating that pressure into chances.
Even then, the shots were only 5-2 in favor of Edmonton after 11 minutes.
But the Oilers continued to find joy keeping the Panthers stuck in their own zone digging pucks out from the corners and along the end wall, and were rewarded for their persistence after 15 minutes. Yamamoto and Nugent-Hopkins combined to work the puck back to Adam Larsson, who took a step toward the middle and hammered a seeing eye slapshot through Montembeault. 1-0. Larsson’s first in an eternity.
Shortly after the goal, Jujhar Khaira was shoved into Montembeault from behind and then given the gate for goaltender interference.
It was a bad call and it gave Florida an opportunity to get the puck out of their zone and create a bit of chaos in Edmonton’s zone. They managed to create a few good looks and were credited with a few shots on net, but Koskinen was equal to all of them and helped the Oilers kill off Khaira’s minor.
The momentum Florida gained from their power play was real, but they weren’t afforded enough time to get going before the first period was over.
1-0 Edmonton after 20 minutes.
Tyler Benson drew back into the lineup this afternoon (replacing suspended Zack Kassian) and had easily his best game as an NHLer beside Josh Archibald and Riley Sheahan. Contrary to my initial belief, that line was an excellent landing spot for Benson in this game and it didn’t too long before he flashed some of that skill we’ve been hearing about.
Early in the second period, he made a nice play in traffic to find Archibald with speed up the right side which led to a shot. He then worked to a soft spot in Florida’s coverage for good look of his own, but his one-timer was deflected away from trouble. That was easily his best sequence as an NHL player, and it was nice to see.
Moments later, Matt Benning caught Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov with a sneaky hit along the left wall that sent him to the dressing room briefly. Noel Acciari took exception and Benning was forced to drop the gloves. Honors even after the glorified cuddle, but mostly I’m just glad that Benning didn’t catch one clean and suffer another concussion. Acciari received the extra penalty for
instigating slashing (???) and the Oilers had their first PP of the game.
It was bad. No shots through two minutes. Draisaitl did find himself on a breakaway shortly after the penalty expired, but Evgeni Dadonov did enough to put him off. Draisaitl being at the end of a 2+ minute shift certainly helped his cause.
Shortly after, Jujhar Khaira dropped the gloves with Josh Brown, and earned a few clean shots to the mush for his troubles. Edmonton was cruising along and he probably didn’t need to take the fight, but he’s also trying to keep his job in the midst of a tough season.
The scrap seemed to give Florida a bit of a bump, and Koskinen had to be real sharp to deny Acciari from in close after a breakdown in coverage.
That was the closest Florida came in period two though, and the Oilers went into the second break still ahead 1-0.
Edmonton extended their lead early in the third period, with Leon Draisaitl’s line once again doing the damage. This time, an OZ faceoff win by Draisaitl, and some persistence to get the puck on net by RNH created chaos in front of Florida’s net. Kailer Yamamoto jumped on the initial rebound and slammed it back on net, where that rebound fell to Draisaitl. He made no mistake and tucked into the open net to put the Oilers up 2-0 just 13 seconds into the period.
A couple minutes later, in the middle of a successful shift by his line, Josh Archibald took a high sticking penalty and the Oilers went back to work on the PK.
Koskinen was sharp once again, and the Oilers PK was resolute, and they managed to kill the penalty without incident.
A few moments later, Mike Hoffman found the puck on the right wall. He sent a beautiful pass to the center for Jonathan Huberdeau to get on the end of, but Mikko Koskinen reacted immediately and made a massive save with his left leg. Florida was beginning to press.
It wasn’t long before they were rewarded. Huberdeau was involved again, and his line forced the Oilers to defend for a whole shift before he found space to Koskinen’s right and beat him beside his right ear with a surface-to-air-missile to bring Florida within one. 2-1.
The hosts continued to push, and another DZ spell resulted in Kailer Yamamoto slashing Huberdeau’s stick out of his hands, sending the Oilers to the PK once more. Again, they managed to kill it. A massive kill at 2-1.
And then the Oilers stabilized some, and began to attack Florida once again. They couldn’t find an insurance marker, but it was enough to see out the rest of the 5v5 portion of the game without conceding an equalizer.
With over two minutes left, Montembeault was called to the bench.
Darnell Nurse made a lovely play to fight off two Panthers attackers and get to the puck first before clearing it into the open net and put the game to bed. 3-1.
Florida pulled the goalie again after the ensuing faceoff. Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto combined to turn over Keith Yandle before combining again for another empty net goal. Yamamoto’s goal was his third point of the night, while Draisaitl’s assist was his 92nd (!!!) of the season. In February.
Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were absolute monsters in this game. Yamamoto in particular put on a forechecking clinic, turning pucks over himself and otherwise creating so much chaos that both RNH and Draisaitl could sit in passing lanes and turn more pucks over. That line was leading from the front all night and Yamamoto was the best player on it.
Tyler Benson saw his regular ice all the way through in this one, indicating that Dave Tippett likely saw what we all did: that this was easily Benson’s best performance as an NHL player, and unquestionably the most comfortable he’s looked in an Oilers jersey. With less than three minutes left, Montembeault on the bench, and Barkov’s line on the ice, Benson was out there beside Sheahan and Archibald for a pivotal DZ draw. You love to see it.
Mikko Koskinen was the broadcast’s first star and, while I might have tipped Yamamoto myself, that’s not to take anything away from Koskinen’s brilliance this afternoon. A couple of big saves in high-leverage moments with the game — and two critical points — very much up for grabs highlighted a solid performance and a nice bounce-back effort after a tough night last time out.
All numbers 5v5 and courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
CF%: 42 - 47 — 47.19%
FF%: 36 - 35 — 50.70%
SCF%: 12 - 24 — 33.33% (really doesn’t match with what I saw TBH)
HDCF%: 4 - 5 — 44.44%
Shots: 27 - 35 — 43.55%
xG%: 1.73 - 1.38 — 55.77% (see?)
Golazos: 2 - 1 — 66.67%
A quick turnaround for the Oilers as they head to Carolina immediately to get there in time for another matinee against the Hurricanes (33-21-3) tomorrow afternoon. Puck drops at 2PM. See you then!