EDMONTON — The cool thing about playing the late game on Hockey Night in Canada at this time of year, is that all the other results are in before puck drop.
So, as the Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele and the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid leaned over the faceoff dot at 8:11 p.m. MT on Saturday, everyone knew that the Vancouver Canucks had lost. That the Calgary Flames had lost. That the Nashville Predators had lost.
Three hours later, after the Jets had outplayed Edmonton five-on-five and outshot them 41-22 — yet somehow endured a crushing 3-2 regulation loss — head coach Paul Maurice could hardly believe his team had joined those others as losers on a crucial Saturday night in the National Hockey League standings.
“That’s the painful part of this one. We played a hell of a game,” admitted Maurice, who was without critical parts Patrik Laine and Josh Morrissey.
“On any given night that’s a fine, fine game. It’s nine (games) in 16 (days) for us, a couple of time zone changes. To play as hard as we did tonight and then lose, that’s a painful one.”
This wasn’t like a game of Clue, where you could single out the butler with a six-shooter in the drawing room as the lone culprit. No, it was a small cadre of Oilers players who murdered the Jets in this one, led by big Mike Smith, who stopped 39 shots and was the difference between two points that landed in Northern Alberta, rather than at Portage and Main where they likely belonged.
“His battle level?” asked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “You can tell it playing sewer ball (soccer before the games). He’s a really good athlete and those extra effort saves, he gets there because he’s so athletic. All he wants to do is compete.”
That Mark Scheifele did not have a point, let alone a goal, on this night should be a matter of parliamentary inquiry, he was so dangerous. Neal Pionk had seven shots on goal. So did sniper Kyle Connor, who cashed only one off a glorious play by Blake Wheeler, part of two goals in 34 seconds by the Jets.
On the other side, it was the usual suspects: Leon Draisaitl (two goals, three points), McDavid (two assists) and Nugent-Hopkins (1-2-3).
Two nights before the Oilers had lost the special teams game in a 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, a rare occurrence. But the dog ate from the other bowl Saturday, with the Jets’ power play going 0-for-2 while Edmonton’s was 2-for-2. The best power play in the league won this game for Edmonton, while the NHL’s second-best penalty-kill unit preserved it for the Oilers.
Draisaitl reached the 100-point threshold with the game-opening goal, becoming the 43rd player in NHL history to have back to back 100-points seasons. After going 50-55-105 in 82 games last season, incredibly, Draisiatl hit the century mark in game No. 65 this season (39-63-102).
“He is just a beast out there, in all situations too,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “It’s not just power play. It’s penalty kill and faceoffs — he is a beast out there. He is playing really well right now.”
The big German had a brutal December, failing to notch a positive plus-minus game in 14 outings. Then Draisaitl took stock, retooled his defensive game, and he has been the NHL’s best player ever since.
“He’s just a horse out there,” said the 37-year-old Smith. “For a (24-year-old) kid, you have to scratch your head sometimes and remind yourself that he still a baby — from my standpoint anyway.”
What makes Draisaitl the player he has become?
“The way he conducts himself, and how strong he is on the puck,” Smith said. “His shot, his vision — it’s not one thing. There are so many parts of the game that are important parts, and he’s doing a lot of things that our team needs him to do, and he does it with a swagger about him that he wants to be the best at it.”
“It’s outstanding how fast he reached it this year,” marvelled Nugent-Hopkins, who whistled home the game-winner with 5:16 to play off a lovely give-and-go with Draisaitl. “It’s pretty crazy. His offence is obvious, how good he is at making plays, but his defence over the last stretch has been so solid, too. Inside he’s pretty proud. He should be. It’s a huge milestone.”
“Obviously, I’m excited about it,” Draisaitl said quietly after the game. “It’s a special milestone for me, but that’s over now. Now it’s about making the playoffs. I’ve said that a million times, you guys probably think I’m boring.”
Not to watch.
If you’re reading this from the East Coast and still think that Draisaitl is somehow a product of McDavid, you are sorely out of touch. Same as if you just saw the 3-2 score and thought to yourself, “Well, the Oilers gave it to Winnipeg last night.”
Or if you believe the Jets are satisfied with a good effort on Hockey Night in Canada, while sitting just below the wild-card position (on games played).
“It doesn’t matter how you play, you’ve got to get results this time of year,” said Jets captain Wheeler. “We’re in a position where we’re tied with five minutes left in the game, we can’t leave with zero.
“You just can’t do it.”