You can say that the Edmonton Oilers are toast. That being six points out of a playoff spot with 16 games to play is an un-climbable mountain. History tells us it is a fair opinion.
The important thing, of course, is what they think. And after going 3-1-1 on a five-game road trip, climbing past two Western Conference teams along the way, our guess is that they’ve yet to receive the memo that their hopes are, well, hopeless.
In a whacky end to an Eastern road swing that did not leave them dead and buried after all, Edmonton scored three goals in 3:26 at the tail end of the second period, then hung on for a 4-3 victory over a Buffalo Sabres club that likely deserved better. Goalie Linus Ullmark was pulled after 40, while Mikko Koskinen proved how valuable it is to be able to say at the end of the night that you had the better goalie.
This one featured two things we’ve never seen before: Connor McDavid skating in with the Sabres goalie pulled, waltzing in alone and missing an empty net from 20 feet out. And Jason Pominville, fanning on a puck in front of an open net, his stick getting ahead of the puck, and inevitably stopping the puck from crossing the line.
Yes, he saved his own goal. It was a T.C Chen double hit. Crazy.
Here’s what else who took away from another installment of Jack Eichel (two goals) versus McDavid (two assists):
Suddenly Leon Draisaitl has 41 goals, second in the NHL this season behind only Alex Ovechkin (45). He had a shorthanded goal and a lovely assist on Monday, and as time passes the 23-year-old is becoming a different player than perhaps we thought he’d be when he first arrived from junior.
Draisaitl is a fantastic passer, particularly on the backhand. A “pass-first centreman” is what it appeared the Oilers had drafted, and as he approaches 350 NHL games he averages a little over 0.5 assists per game played. He can really deal, no doubt.
His scoring prowess, however, has matured. To the point where he’ll take a serious run at 50 goals this season, something only five players have accomplished in the last decade. Their names: Alex Ovechkin (five times), Steven Stamkos (twice), Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Corey Perry.
In just four of those 10 seasons did the 50-goal scorer reach the 100-point mark. Draisaitl is on pace for 51 goals and 103 points — and he’s 23 years old.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock broke McDavid and Draisaitl up Monday, and each of them posted two points.
“We had some people who were struggling, and we needed Connor and Leon to run lines,” Hitchcock said. “They needed to carry some people — other guys were struggling — and they did exactly what good players and leaders do. That’s exactly what we need from our leaders.”
Darnell Nurse had a goal and an assist, as he quietly builds on a career year offensively. Nurse, whose previous career-high was 26 points last season, has 8-26-34 with 16 games to play, after a goal and an assist Monday.
We all asked the questions, as a lanky young D-man made his way in the NHL: Will he ever learn what to do with the puck once he crosses the offensive blue-line? Will the offensive smarts ever kick in?
Well, Nurse is proving that it is OK to have questions about young defencemen. Just don’t think you have all the answers until they’ve played 250 games or so (Nurse is at 263).
Nurse remains on the top powerplay unit that he inherited when Oscar Klefbom broke a finger, and he’s figuring out when to jump into the play, as he did when he buried a lovely pass from Draisaitl, who appeared to be engaged along the boards but popped a puck free to an oncoming Nurse.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking for him, but I knew we was there,” Draisaitl told reporters in Buffalo.
Three Metres of Saves
I’ll admit, it’s hard to get your head around Mikko Koskinen. It starts with the contract, which is worth about $1.5 million too much a year. But that’s not his fault.
Then it goes to the goals he lets in, which so often look like they could have been saved. Even though, especially of late, at the end of the game he’s let in less than the other guy.
When he’s on his game, like he was in a 4-0 shut out of Columbus on Saturday, Koskinen can go a whole game without making a flashy save. He just sort of… gets in the way. The puck hits him, which is when you know a goaltender is on.
So, if his style makes it difficult to get a bead on when Koskinen is playing well and when he isn’t, we’ll just have to rely on numbers. And since the Cam Talbot trade, Koskinen’s numbers have been very good: a .924 saves percentage and a 2.38 goals against.
Koskinen stopped the last 25 shots Monday after allowing the 3-1 goal in the first period. He’s 4-2-2 since the Talbot deal.
Who cares what we think of his style, or his pay check. His numbers are good, and that’s the part Koskinen controls.