Look, we’re not offering any excuses here. The Edmonton Oilers haven’t been near good enough this season, and their dire straits are their fault and their fault only.
But you tell me the last time you saw an NHL club chase two Vezina winning goalies, then get shut out on 40-plus shot nights by two backups — all in a four-game span.
After a 4-0 loss to Nashville on Thursday the Oilers players swore they had this thing headed in the right direction, and after the road game Edmonton played in Minnesota Saturday, it’s difficult to argue that their game is getting back in order.
The Oilers out-hit the Wild 15-6, and led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-1, before closing out a steady 3-2 victory. Milan Lucic (five pints in five games) had a goal and an assist, Jesse Puljujarvi netted the game-winner on a nice drive to the net, and Cam Talbot returned at top form.
Here are some takeaways from a 3-2 road win that doesn’t put the Oilers back in contention, but beats the heck out of losing.
One is Better Than Two
You’ll never hear me say that backup Laurent Brossoit didn’t give his club a chance to win every game during Cam Talbot’s absence. But you’ll also never hear me say that a No. 1 goaltender isn’t a better option than the No. 2, both in the pucks that get stopped and the confidence a team plays with when they’ve got ‘their guy’ in between the pipes.
Talbot stepped back into the Oilers’ nets after missing seven games with an upper body injury, and was not just as good as the guy who’d left the team in November — he was as good as the Talbot who posted a .919 saves percentage last season. He stopped 29 of 31 shots, beaten only by a pair of Matt Dumba one-timer blasts.
It’s only one start, but maybe that three-week break is what Talbot’s game required.
Lucic Train Rolling
The party line on Lucic goes something like this: “Oh boy, how bad is that contract going to be in two or three years?!?”
That’s not entirely unfair, considering that the 29-year-old winger has five years left after this season, at $6 million per.
But while folks worry about the future, the Lucic of the present is earning every dollar. The bruising winger scored 23 goals and 50 points last season and is on pace for 20 goals and 60 points this season. Then there are the goals that get scored because Lucic takes traffic to the front of the net, and a puck goes in because of the mayhem Lucic causes — without him getting a point.
On Saturday he rifled home a loose puck in the high slot for the Oilers second goal, then skated right through Dumba and fed Puljujarvi for a two-on-one goal that made the score 3-1.
Sure, Lucic isn’t speedy. You don’t get Lamborghini speed in the same package as Tundra power and size, folks. But he brings plenty to the table for me, in the contract years that count right now.
Powerplay Needs A Plan
The Oilers powerplay is a microcosm of their game. They have the puck a ton, but do very little with it.
On Saturday the struggling unit went 0-for-6, generating a rather pathetic nine shots on goal in 10:49 with the man advantage.
The opposing penalty kill is content to watch the Oilers throw the puck around the perimeter, and nearly every foray towards a scoring chance requires an Oiler to attempt an intricate pass over two sticks, or through two players, a low-percentage chance which is almost never rewarded.
There is no doubt an ending point to this game plan — a trigger point where the puck is supposed to arrive for that dangerous shot at the net. It’s just nearly impossible to spot that goal line with this powerplay, which of course has many fans wondering why Puljujarvi isn’t being used with the man advantage.
The good news? At least the league’s worst penalty kill was perfect, killing four Wild powerplays. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also scored a shorthanded goal off a lovely bit of skating by Zack Kassian, tilting the special teams battle to the Oilers for a rare night.
I Wish I Had Jesse’s Burl
OK, bad pun. But, hey — good player.
Puljujarvi arrived in the NHL thinking he had to score his goals from a distance. Well, he’s got four goals in his last seven games, and every one of them came after he’d used his size and speed to stake out ground in the low slot, and used his scorer’s hands to bang home a puck.
And the best news? He can still rifle a puck from 40 feet as well.
As for head coach Todd McLellan using him on the powerplay, well, that can only be a matter of time. But some folks have done nothing but criticize how the team has handled this young player’s evolution, and from where we sit, it seems like they have a pretty good idea what they’re doing with Puljujarvi.
Chill-ax. He’s 19, and barely scratching the surface.