CHICAGO — Oscar Klefbom walked out to meet the media with an ice bag on his right foot. Which means that somewhere along the way on this night of redemption in Chicago, a puck must have hit him rather than the back of the Edmonton Oilers net.
“That’s a good sign,” Klefbom nodded, on a night where he led everyone with five shots blocked. “Especially coming out as the winning team. Those ice bags feel really good right now.”
The Oilers needed this win dearly, after a four-game losing streak in which they hardly resembled themselves. Or worse, maybe last season had been some weird trip, and they were still those old Taylor Hall Oilers in 2017-18.
Edmonton got first-rate goaltending from Cam Talbot for the first time this season, a highlight-reel assist from Connor McDavid, and a power-play ripper from Mark Letestu in overtime to win 2-1 at Chicago. All are things we saw nightly last season right into May, and all had been strangely absent after an opening-night win over Calgary this fall.
“In a tough building against a good team, I thought we played the whole game,” said Letestu. “We were tighter. The (NHL-worst) penalty kill came up with some stops, finally. The goaltender was solid for us and our power play got us a big goal. Things that had been a recipe for us in the past were finally here now.
“We felt more like ourselves, which is nice.”
Talbot came into the game with an .880 save percentage and a confidence level that surely took a hit when he shot a puck over the glass for a penalty just 5:31 into the game. Then he kicked a bad-angle Patrick Kane shot into his own goal 2:02 later for an early 1-0 deficit.
“Those guys don’t need any help scoring goals, especially from behind the goal-line,” he said. “It wasn’t the way I wanted to start, especially after my last game went.”
Those are the moments, right? That point in time when a team expecting to fold gets handed its opportunity; when a fragile group falls from some height, and listens for the crash.
Do they shatter? Or do they weather?
“(Talbot) could have cracked after giving up the first on the first shot, but after that he … looked more like he did most of last year,” said his coach, Todd McLellan. “And our team looked a little better than it did the last few games. Maybe it all goes together.”
They won battles that hadn’t been won for most of this month, got pucks out that had stayed in throughout a four-game losing streak. But it all started in goal, when seconds after that shaky goal Jonathan Toews had a breakaway from the blue line in.
Talbot stopped the Hawks captain, and his club was back on the rails.
“I settled down from there and just started to play my game,” Talbot said. “You have to give the PK a lot of credit. We had some huge blocks.”
Edmonton took three minor penalties in the opening five minutes of Period 2 and killed them all, including a 56-second five-on-three. Those are the things good teams accomplish, and for a night at least, the Oilers were a good team again.
“Better, yes. Certainly better,” McLellan allowed. “We’re happy with the win, happy with the way we played. But we’re not anywhere close to cruise control. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Kailer Yamamoto was fantastic again, as the 19-year-old makes a bid to stay in the National Hockey League just four months after being drafted. McLellan played him 17:53 on McDavid’s wing, and the fact he had just an assist was due only to an amazing lack of luck around the net.
He had four or five scoring opportunities, and you know the old cliché: As long as chances are coming, goals will follow.
Now, if a win or two could follow for Edmonton, they might just be back in business.