EDMONTON — When two teams with opposing styles like these meet, it can become a battle to dictate the style of play, as much as it is a battle to score enough goals to win the game.
If a wide-open skill game ensues, the Edmonton Oilers are most likely to win. It’s just a matter of collecting the five or six goals they’ll score in a game that plays out that way.
And if it’s a game like the one we watched Thursday — a grind-it-out, structured, dump-and-chase fest — it’s most likely the Los Angeles Kings are going to walk away with the 2-0 win.
On this night, however, the Oilers put their money where their mouths have been, choking out the Kings by a 2-0 score to post their first shutout of the season. Edmonton leapfrogged L.A. into second place in the Pacific Division.
“These are the games that you are going to play coming down the stretch and into April and May. We have to be comfortable in these games, and we are,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who played a huge role in this low-scoring game. “It is one thing to talk about it. It is another thing to go out there and do it.
“We talk about being defensive, playing hard, and you saw that tonight. I still felt we gave up a few chances but (Stuart Skinner) was there to bail us out. It was a really good building block.”
Skinner stopped 42 shots for his second career shutout. The last time, he shut out the Sharks in San Jose and was dispatched to AHL Bakersfield the next morning.
This time, he’ll take the confidence he earned and store it away for the playoffs, where he’ll be Edmonton’s starter in his maiden playoff voyage in the National Hockey League.
“It is not about the shutout, it is about the big win,” said Skinner. “The game was tight the whole 60 minutes. It was a 1-0 game for the majority of the game and then we were able to get it to 2-0. Even then, they were still battling and coming at us.
“It is just a huge credit to all of us for being able to stick with it for the whole game.”
This one began with a nervous crowd and a huddle for the officials, as they decided whether or not to toss McDavid out of the game for a hit from behind on L.A. defenceman Mikey Anderson.
On their first shift of the night, McDavid saw both of the fours on the back of Anderson’s jersey, as Anderson retrieved a puck in the corner. McDavid assessed the scenario — perhaps recalling Anderson’s sketchy takedown that injured Leon Draisaitl in last spring’s playoffs, perhaps not — and drilled him from behind.
It could have been five and a game. It could have been a double-minor.
It ended up as a minor penalty from which Anderson never returned.
“I am obviously not trying to hurt anybody. I just thought I kind of rolled him into the boards,” McDavid pled post-game. “I didn’t want him to jump by me. I don’t think it is all that dirty or all that violent or all that quick.”
Whatever, McDavid pasted Anderson good and proper and got away with it, for the most part. That’s playoff hockey, where even the superstars are throwing hits with a purpose.
“I thought it was a hell of a game,” said Kings head coach Todd McLellan, who had nothing to say about the McDavid hit. “Both teams played really hard and it came down to a bounce or a break or two, and they were able to score. We had some real good looks and we ran into a hot goaltender and didn’t quite get it over the goal line, but I thought it was a heck of game.”
Evander Kane buried the game-winner in Period 1 off a deft pass from Draisaitl, and then McDavid sprung himself on a shorthanded breakaway to make it 2-0 with 16 minutes to play in the game.
It was McDavid’s 300th career goal, in career game No. 563. Both he, Kane and Draisaitl have notched career goal No. 300 in the past week, as the Oilers round into form with a playoff spot all but locked up, and home-ice advantage more than just a possibility.
Weird stat of the day: This marks McDavid’s fifth 10-game points streak in a single season, something that has never been accomplished. He was tied with Wayne Gretzky at four (1986-87).
These two clubs might meet in Round 1 for the second straight year, or they might meet in Round 2. But when (or if) they do, this was as close to the perfect style as the Oilers can play.
“I don’t think anything is perfect in hockey, but close to it,” said big Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm, who had a game-high three blocked shots. “This is the style that we are trending toward, knowing we need to play this way in the playoffs. There are going to be games like this, 2-0, 1-0 in the third. We’re defending well and didn’t give up a whole lot, which is very encouraging.”
Edmonton just won back-to-back road games, scoring five in Arizona and seven at Vegas.
Now, they come home and pitch a 2-0 shutout, on Opening Day in Major League Baseball.
“It’s really good on us to show that we can do this,” Ekholm declared, “and also encouraging to show the kind of firepower we had last game. It’s a versatile group.”