Two wins in a row for the first time this season, and perhaps something else new as well: some optimism in Edmonton for the first time since about Game 2 of the campaign.
The Oilers came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to force overtime, setting the table for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to hook up for the second straight night in overtime and give Edmonton a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. Edmonton now takes a 2-0 record on its four-game roadie, with weekend stops to come at Madison Square Garden and the U.S capital.
The Oilers are finally getting got some support scoring, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (two assists, game-high six shots on goal) and Milan Lucic (1-1-2) contributing and Anton Slepyshev scoring his first of the season. Cam Talbot actually looked like Cam Talbot again, stopping 32 shots in a solid, solid effort.
Slowly, this team is starting to round into the form that was expected of it when us pundits made our pre-season picks. It’s been a grind, but road wins like this one are signs of good health.
Here are some takeaways from a win that leaves the Oilers at 6-8-1, a few scoops of dirt back into that hole they’ve dug with their awful start.
• The second line of Nugent-Hopkins between Lucic and Slepyshev won this game for Edmonton, a rare night when the top line didn’t have a regulation point. Against a small and speedy Devils club, Lucic managed to slow the game to a pace where he could use his physical advantage. He won a puck battle and forwarded a quick pass to Slepyshev, who sniped a high shot past Cory Schneider, then squeezed one of his heavy wrist shots through Schneider’s five-hole to tie the game in the third period.
Slepyshev badly needed his first of the season, and Nugent-Hopkins? He had two goals and five assists in his first 14 games last season. This season: 6-5-11.
• There was a time when the Oilers were the small, quick team that the New Jersey Devils are today, and if memory serves those Oilers clubs never did find a way to translate all that speed into very many wins.
Today, Edmonton has to stay out of a wide-open skating game against New Jersey, as the first period (and that game against Detroit) proved. But, when they use their physical advantage, move the puck quickly and don’t allow the game to become a track meet, the Oilers can beat New Jersey, as they did for the second time in a week.
Everyone says the game is going towards speed, and that is undeniable. But it never moves away from size, if that size can skate some and plays smart.
• As usual, Sportsnet analyst Drew Remenda was poignant when he noted that the Oilers are a team that appears to be just fine with taking games in overtime, because they have the McDavid-Draisaitl duo to double-shift.
On Tuesday in Brooklyn it was Draisaitl to McDavid. Two nights later, McDavid fed Draisaitl for the winner. Throw in a second twosome of Nugent-Hopkins and Pat Maroon, who each had a couple of fabulous scoring chances in extra time, and Remenda is right.
The Oilers will take a period of 3-on-3 hockey any time. McDavid’s speed is simply impossible to control with only six skaters on the ice.
• The Oilers’ penalty kill has done exactly that this season. It has been the death of this club, unable to keep even the most mediocre power play off the scoreboard.
However, on Thursday in Newark, the PK pitched a shutout, denying the Devils on four attempts. If the offence is going to score two or less goals in regulation, as it did for the third straight game, then you’d better have a stout defensive effort. On this night that was the case.