Oilers continue to find wins with next man up mentality

Leon Draisaitl scored a goal and added an assist as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers.

SUNRISE, Fla. — Mikko Koskinen, Adam Larsson, Jujhar Khaira. And of course, Leon Draisaitl.

The recipe for winning, when you’re a long way from home with a quarter of your team either injured or suspended, requires a precise set of ingredients.

It starts with stellar goaltending. Like, not just really good. Stellar.

Then you need a goal from an unlikely source, like Larsson. And if you get both of those, the role players still have to up their game a notch, as Khaira did.

Finally, your star player who is still healthy and in the lineup? He has to play like the superstar he has become. Which Draisaitl did on a two-point, plus-three, 23:35-minute night.

"He’s the second-best player in the world for a reason," said Kailer Yamamoto, who had an empty-netter and two assists. "The things he does with the puck, not many people can do it. It’s unbelievable and I think he’s just getting started in his career."

The Edmonton Oilers checked every one of those boxes on a rainy night in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday afternoon, dropping the Florida Panthers 4-1 in a game that was much closer than the score lets on.

Darnell Nurse and Yamamoto had empty-net goals, disguising this tight 2-1 victory as a 4-1 win — exactly the kind of game a depleted team needs to prove to itself that it can win, with names like Connor McDavid, James Neal and Zack Kassian out of the lineup.

"Everyone gets a little bit more opportunity," Khaira said. "These are exciting games, and when Connor, Kass, Nealer and all those guys get back in, we want to be in the same spot where they left off."

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Khaira was around the puck all night, a big part of a physical Oilers forecheck that separated Panthers from pucks all day long.

Larsson scored his first goal of the season, the game-opener. "He was all smiles," head coach Dave Tippett said. "He said that’s his one for the year. He’s done."

And Koskinen was simply fantastic, beaten only by a top-shelf laser beam off the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau. It was the kind of we used to say was a "bad goal," but as shooters today raise the bar for power and accuracy, today we just tip our hat to Huberdeau on a shot well taken.

"Yeah, 10 years ago when I was playing in Vancouver that was a bad goal," joked the Special Advisor to the Panthers GM, Roberto Luongo. "Now it’s a great shot."

That’s as much humour as could be found around these Panthers, who have won just two of their past nine games. The smiles, they were all in the Oilers locker room, a nervous place a few hours earlier with a game 24 hours later in Raleigh, and the very real threat of losing all three on this road trip, after a tight, 3-1 loss at Tampa Thursday.

The performance by Koskinen, who has started just five games in the calendar year, was a godsend. He stopped 33 shots and was near perfect.

"Really solid. Just confidence-building. Everything that came around him, he was just big. Really solid, just like the rest of our team," said Tippett, who will start Mike Smith against Carolina on Sunday.

"Now we have two really, really-good goaltenders," said Larsson. "I think that’s a dream for every team to have two solid, big goaltenders. It’s definitely a good sign."

"Looking at this road trip, it’s probably one of the toughest road trips of the year," he continued. "You’re travelling a long way and you have a lot of games in four days. To grind two points out tonight and going into tomorrow, we should have a good feeling."

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Khaira fought the massive Josh Brown, a sign of how engaged the Oilers winger was in this one. What set them off?

"I don’t really know," Khaira said. "We were just skating, and he asked. I know there are some days when I need a fight… We just fought."

Khaira’s issue is his inconsistent play — some nights he looks like he did Saturday, then he goes two weeks where he’s invisible.

With five minutes left in the third period a rebound bounded towards Khaira’s stick in the low slot, the net wide open, with the Oilers leading 2-1. It was his reward for a game well played — until that puck bounced right over his stick.

"It’s been that kind of a year," shrugged Khaira, who is stuck on six goals and hasn’t scored since Dec. 4. "We have guys who score, and we need guys who play hard. I’m happy with my game today. I obviously wish I scored, but I’m not going to be discouraged. I’m going to play the same way and points will come."

Personally, and for his team. Games like this one, like 3-2 wins at home over Nashville, these are the games where you bank points only because of "structure and work ethic," Tippett said.

"We’re missing a lot of people right now. You’ve gotta make sure you’re solid in a lot of areas," the coach said. "I thought we were tonight."

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