“If they played this game in my backyard,” Tiger used to say, “I’d draw the drapes.”
Boring? It depends on how you’d define that word.
For the third time in a week the Oilers were completely outplayed and walked away with two points, scoring three times in the final 4:31 to cop a 4-1 win over the skill-challenged Blue Jackets.
The question is, do we invoke the old narrative about good teams figuring out ways to win? Or should Edmonton be concerned with the regularity in which they are being dominated by its opponent?
“The name of the game is to win,” points out head coach Dave Tippett, “and we won.”
It’s that simple?
“You have to win different ways and this was a really ugly win that your goaltender was great,” he said, referencing a 45-save performance by Mikko Koskinen. “You have to recognize where we are at. When we are fresh, I like the way that we play. (But) it has been a hard week for us. We have a day off tomorrow and hopefully we will recoup some energy and we will get back at it for a big game on Monday.”
On a night when Oscar Klefbom made his return to the lineup after missing nine games with a shoulder injury, and Tippett broke up perhaps the best line in hockey to try and kickstart Connor McDavid, the Oilers were punchless. They got long slapshot goals from Alex Chiasson on the game’s first shot, and the game-winner from Caleb Jones late in the third, both of which should have been stopped by Joonas Korpisalo.
Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets had the second best Finnish goalie on the ice. And when it came to capitalizing around the Oilers net, the injury-depleted Blue Jackets simply beat the puck square on their scoring opportunities. Gustav Nyquist finally broke Koskinen’s shutout on a breakaway in the 59th minute, with the game long decided.
“Honestly, tonight I’m kinda out of words,” said Chiasson, who has 10 goals. “There’s probably one reason why we win the game: Our goaltending. Other than that, we’d better be prepared for that. If we play like that it’s not going to look too pretty after 20.”
The Oilers were outshot 21-7 in the opening stanza, starting late for the second straight game.
“At this time of year, you would as a team that games like this, the way the standings are, every game is meaningful,” Chiasson said. “You would think maybe we would be on our toes a little bit more.”
It’s the dog days of the season, and their coach knows it. Tippett will give the boys Brier Sunday off, and he doesn’t care if they watch curling or knit a sweater.
“Just don’t play hockey,” he decreed. “We got home at 3:30 or 4:30 in the morning (Friday) after playing three games in four days and this was four in six. You go through those rigours of that and hard games and it is hard.
“We just had no juice,” he continued. “You look down (your bench) and you are just hoping that someone gives you something. Some nights are like that. I was worried this morning when I watched our group at the morning skate and you think about it all day and you hope it is not the way it goes, but it was the way it went. Fortunately our goaltender was really good and we won.”
The win moves the Oilers into a tie with the Vegas Golden Knights atop the Pacific, prior to a visit by Vegas on Monday. (The Golden Knights play at Calgary Sunday).
Vegas will bring a far more dangerous offence, and likely better goaltending than the Blue Jackets came with on Saturday. This game was theirs for the taking and they left it on the table with poor netminding and a lack of NHL-quality finish around the net. At one point later in the third period, Emil Bemstrom waited and waited while a fallen Koskinen flopped and flipped, then fired it a foot-and-a-half wide of the open net, nearly taking Leon Draisaitl’s head off in the process.
“I don’t think we could have played any better,” said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella. “You can’t be frustrated. We have another game here quickly tomorrow. We just have to stay about our business here.
“We just played good as a team. We played good as a team away from the puck. Their goalie is the difference. That’s the different in the game, their goaltending.”
Koskinen, who has stopped totally 97 of his last 99 shots in his last three appearances, has helped the Oilers absolutely steal four points this week.