EDMONTON — This was the perfect night to view young Nail Yakupov, the day after his trade request went public.
Yakupov scored a goal with his lethal shot, but on a play that turned the hockey game he missed a goal by an eyelash — then watched a weak defensive play at the other end by Adam Clendening cost Edmonton the game winner in a 2-1 loss.
In the end, Yakupov could have been a game-changing player, but ended up simply OK with a goal, and was unlucky to be a minus player. It was as typical a night in the career of a failed first-rounder as ever you’ll find.
“(Yakupov’s) line took it on the chin for a bad pinch (also by Clendening) and a turnover that they had nothing to do with,” said head coach Todd McLellan, who heard some in the Rexall crowd boo Yakupov the first few times he touched the puck. “Some of the response from the fans affected him.
“I think as he got into the game he got better as the night went on.”
In 35 games since returning from injury Yakupov has five goals, three assists, and has been a minus player in 31 of the games. He’s got 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 57 games this season.
The play in question Monday night came with the score 1-0 for Anaheim. Yakupov smartly went to the net as Clendening wound up for what might have been a slap-pass, but ended up as a low, hard slapper, inches off the ice.
It was a ham-handed effort by the defenceman, one that Yakupov might have rescued with a high-skill redirection — the kind that first overall picks often make.
With seven goals on his season however, it’s simply a play Yakupov has not made enough of, and he missed the shot on this occasion.
Yakupov misses Grade A, then puck in at other end. 2-0 Ducks. That about sums up his four years here.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) March 29, 2016
“I just put my stick on the ice,” he said. “(If the puck hits his stick) it’s in for sure. It was a rocket. It was really close.”
No one’s blaming Yakupov for not making the play, but truly it was a microcosm of his four seasons in Edmonton, which surely will come to an end this summer after his trade request went public on the weekend. If he scores that goal it’s a 1-1 game. But he doesn’t, the puck goes down to the other end, and a defenceman who would be in Bakersfield but for a host of injuries gets knocked off the puck by 185-pound Brandon Pirri for the 2-0 goal.
Edmonton eventually loses 2-1 to a Ducks team that played just good enough to get the two points, and left with plenty in their tanks.
“You don’t want to throw out a lot of accolades when you lose, because the name of the game is winning,” said McLellan, who watched his team win in San Jose, take the Kings to the final seconds in Los Angeles, and now come up just short against Anaheim. “It’s more a scrappy pack mentality than individual play. We didn’t give up a lot, our special teams were good.
“There were a lot of things I was pleased with as a coach, but the bottom line is we didn’t win.”
It’s a movie they’ve watched here as if on a loop. Both the loss and the play of Yakupov — decent, but not as good as one had hoped.