The Edmonton Oilers opened up the Jay Woodcroft era with a thrilling 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night. Cody Ceci opened up the scoring with his second of the year while Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi got the winner and insurance markers.
Mike Smith was excellent in the Edmonton net, outduelling Ilya Sorokin with 37 saves on 38 shots faced.
The Islanders came out with some jump in their step. They dictated the pace of play in the Oilers end for the first few minutes. Mike Smith was tested with a few tricky shots and was able to turn them aside. A much better start than his last two outings.
The Islanders didn’t relent as they sent a few in-close shots on the net that ended with Smith being forced to make a few very nice pad saves. The Oilers did have a few opportunities of their own as the period progressed but Sorokin was also standing tall in the New York cage.
Despite the chances, the period was rather tight-checked. There wasn’t a lot of room for either team to traverse the ice. Markus Neimalainenen was back with the club for this one and had the unfortunate chance of taking the game’s first penalty.
On the man advantage, the Islanders got back to their shooting ways with a few grade-A looks on the net. Smith, however, was fantastic making an excellent save on a cross-crease chance to deny the Isles of the first goal.
The kill would prove to be an important one as Cody Ceci wired a point-shot just a few seconds after the penalty ended to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead in the last minute of the period.
It was a shooting parade that saw the Islanders outshoot the Oilers by a 19-11 margin but it was Edmonton who had the 1-0 lead when the buzzer rang.
The Islanders nearly got the equalizer four minutes into the frame with a rare 2-on-0 rush. Noah Dobson passed it over to Zach Parise but he couldn’t get a good shot off. Adam Pelech followed that chance with a partial break of his own. He tried to pull it across the crease but Smith tracked it all the way to deny him. #41 was having himself a night of redemption so far.
Zach Hyman extender the lead for the Oilers at the midway point. He carried the puck on a 2-on-1 rush with Philip Broberg and elected to shoot one passed the glove of Sorokin. Hyman picks up his 100th career goal as the Oilers open up a 2-0 lead.
Ryan McLeod gave the Islanders a sliver of life after getting called on a questionable trip. Draisaitl nearly deposited on a partial break on the kill but was disrupted enough to prevent a good shot on the net.
The miss would be costly as Anthony Beauvillier beat Smith over the glove a few moments later. The Isles convert on the PP and cut the lead to 2-1 with less than five minutes left in the period.
Casey Cizikas made a bid for the equalizer on a breakaway but was denied by the blocker of Smith.
It was a tense final few minutes but the Oilers held on to the 2-1 lead heading into the third.
Beauvillier opened up the period searching for his second of the game wiring a wicked wrister that nicked off the crossbar. Jesse Puljujarvi tried to make him pay for that miss with a nice one-timer shot, but Sorokin swallowed it up in the crest.
The one-sided penalty calls continued as Evander Kane was caught with a high stick. On the ensuing PP Oliver Wahlstrom wired a shot and celebrated...except that it didn’t actually go in. From the TV camera, it appeared to hit the middle of the net and pop out but, on replay, it caught ice-cold iron. Oilers kill it off and retain the lead.
The Oilers powerplay drought finally ended as McDavid was tripped up on a rush. They would make short work of it as Jesse Puljujarvi dove at an open puck in front of the net that slid through Sorokin’s five-hole. Puljujarvi breaks his slump and the Oilers have some insurance at 3-1.
A scary moment for Smith with about six to go. A collision between Pageau and Smith sent the goaltender flying in spectacular fashion. This resulted in a mini melee that saw Evander Kane and Leon Draisaitl mix things up with Pageau. In the end, it would result in a pair of penalties to each team for some four-on-four. Smith appeared no worse for wear.
- I have been a harsh critic of Mike Smith through his tenure here in Edmonton. I didn’t like the extension and I thought starting him was a mistake tonight. Yet, I’m a big enough person to admit where I’m wrong and tonight I was. He was excellent in the Edmonton net and a big reason why they were able to net that ever elusive first goal of the game. Easily Edmonton’s first star of the game.
- While I liked the effort from the team a lot more than the previous games, it’s clear that there is still lots of work to be done. I thought their defensive play was spotty in the first period and they continually allowed the Islanders a bit too much room. Hopefully, more time with Manson can help things get steady.
- Evander Kane had a strange game tonight. He looked pretty distant and disengaged for the first half but slowly started to work himself into more impactful situations. I expect we will see him be a bit more explosive once he gets more acclimated to Edmonton.
- Neimalaianen at the very least is fun to watch on the blueline. I can’t say much about his actual impact on the ice since I don’t have the numbers in front of me...but I like some good clean hits.
- In this household, we cheer extra loudly for Puljujarvi goals. The kid has been snakebitten for a bit so it was fantastic to see him back on the scoresheet.
- As much as I like having Nugent-Hopkins anchoring the third line, he needs more help there. Foegele and Ryan have struggled this year and they didn’t seem to generate much with him tonight. Counting down the days until we see Holloway on the wing.
- It was refreshing to see just how engaged Jay Woodcroft is on the bench. He was constantly running down the bench talking to players and getting everything in order. I may be wrong but I don’t recall that much engagement with players with Dave Tippett. The same can be said regarding Playfair and Manson. I have high hopes for this coaching staff and it is nice to see them get a win in game one.
- The Oilers improve to 24-18-3 on the season, good enough for 51 points. This puts them four behind both Anaheim and LA for that third-place spot in the division. They’ll look to make the gap even closer as they kick off a California road trip in San Jose on Monday.