EDMONTON — On a night when the veteran Corey Perry gave us an old favourite from his greasy bag of tricks, it was a relatively young face in Leon Draisaitl who took a challenge from his coach and answered with the game-winner in overtime.
“I told him on the bench: ‘Be the best player on the ice. You don’t have to be the second best player. Be the best player,” said Oilers head coach Todd McLellan. “And [Draisaitl] responded with the game-winning goal.”
Draisaitl has become the Edmonton Oilers‘ second best forward in the eyes of many. On Saturday night, against the best faceoff team in the league by a country mile, he gave the Oilers a rare performance on the dot en route to a 3-2 overtime victory.
Playing right wing on McDavid’s line, it was Draisaitl who won 10 of 16 faceoffs, mostly against Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf — two of the league’s premier faceoff men who give Anaheim more than a three per cent lead on the NHL’s second best team (Colorado).
McDavid, meanwhile, took only seven draws, going 3-4 while deferring to Draisaitl.
“The race is really tight in our conference right now,” Draisaitl said. “All the teams up there have the same amount of points, it feels like. Beating a team that we are up against, it’s huge.”
Through the opening third of the NHL season, teams are heavily stacking their lineups against McDavid, the league’s leading scorer who saw his seven-game point streak snapped Saturday. Anaheim ran Kesler out against him as often as possible and made sure their top defensive pairing (Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen) was on the ice as well.
Having a six-foot-one centre/winger like Draisaitl, who only turned 21 in late October, will spread out the coverage. With three goals now in his past two games — going 10-11-21 in 26 games — Draisaitl is becoming a serious offensive threat.
Of course, he has about 700 games to go before he can challenge Perry in the ‘veteran savvy’ category, and Perry’s well-known skills were on display on the tying goal.
Trailing the play as the puck left the Oilers’ zone, Perry snuck up behind defenceman Andrej Sekera and knocked the stick out of his hands. The play quickly came back in the Oilers’ zone, and without a stick, Sekera was helpless as the Ducks scored to even the game at twos midway through the third.
“I don’t know if he meant to do it or not. He probably knows it,” said Sekera, who got his revenge when he assisted on Draisaitl’s overtime winner. “I should squeeze my stick a little bit harder now.”
“I’ve been the victim of that,” said Oiler Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored a goal. “He’ll do a little play where he’ll catch you off guard. You don’t see him coming, and he’s got that long stick. Whether it’s poking your feet out, or knocking the stick out of your hands, he’ll do that. It’s not vicious, it’s just the way he plays.
“It’s greasy. But it’s been working for him for a lot of years.”
When it comes to Anaheim and Edmonton, everything has been working the Ducks’ way for “a lot of years.”
Edmonton had lost five straight games at home versus the Ducks and had not beaten Anaheim in Edmonton since April 6, 2014. Overall, the Oilers had dropped nine of their last 10 games against the Ducks.
Of the many emerging differences in this Oilers team however, the most influential may be that they are getting better goaltending from Cam Talbot than they’ve received from any other over the past decade. The former Rangers backup started his 24th game Saturday, the most appearances of any goalie in the NHL, and made 31 saves.
Drake Caggiula cruised in from the point on the power play to score his first ever NHL goal in the opening period. The University of North Dakota alum sniped a wrist shot past John Gibson, the game-opening goal for an Oilers team that has only scored first in 10 of its 26 games this season.
Jordan Eberle chipped in three assists.