Tyson Barrie was Plan B.
And the guy that the Edmonton Oilers blew seven pucks past last night in Calgary? Yeah, he was Plan A.
Well, this morning Plan B wakes up as the National Hockey League’s leading scorer among defencemen with 28 points, fresh off a four-assist night in a 7-3 rout of the Calgary Flames.
Barrie and partner Darnell Nurse put together six points from the back end as the Oilers restored their seven-point lead over Calgary and crept within two of Division-leading Toronto with an explosive, impressive measuring of the Flames, who simply couldn’t handle — or match — Edmonton’s firepower.
“Me and Nursey have developed a little chemistry, along with a couple of guys up front,” Barrie said, downplaying the performance. “The points are nice but the wins are the important thing.”
Those “couple of guys up front?” You can guess who they might be.
Hint: Start at the top of the scoring race and count two players down.
Connor McDavid (1-2-3) and Leon Draisaitl (0-3-3) worked Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom — who chose the Flames ahead of the Oilers as a free agent last summer — for the second seven-goal night the Oilers have enjoyed at Calgary’s expense this season. Both Oilers superstars have more assists than any Flames player has points, as the Oilers blew open a 3-1 game after 40 minutes by scoring three times in the opening 5:55 of the third period.
“We talked between the second and the third,” Barrie said, “and we wanted to come out and not give them any life. We were expecting more of a defensive grind. We exploded for four goals.”
Barrie had three of his assists on an Oilers power play that went three-for-four, as he quickly cements himself as the “offenceman” this franchise has not seen in ages. The Edmonton powerplay, meanwhile, has climbed up to fifth in the NHL, as Barrie gets comfortable in a role that the injured Oscar Klefbom may never see again should the pending UFA Barrie re-sign in Edmonton.
“He’s an elite puck-mover and offensive player,” begins Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “We’ve had some solid defenders, but nobody with the instincts with the puck that he has. When Ken ( Holland, Oilers GM) went out and got him signed, those were the things we expected.”
The irony is, of course, that Holland took his cap space and went hard after Markstrom last summer. It was only after Markstrom chose the Flames that he moved on to replacing the injured Klefbom, who effectively worked atop the best powerplay in the past 40 seasons last year.
Barrie arrived as a guy trying to prove himself after a difficult year in the Toronto fishbowl. He bet on himself, as they say, and one look at the Oilers' roster made him like his odds that much better.
“It’s pretty incredible, the skill we have on this team,” marveled Barrie. “It’s world class — as good as it gets.”
Look back through hockey history. Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier had Denis Potvin. Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Johnny Bucyk had Bobby Orr.
There was a Coffey for Gretzky and Kurri, Messier and Anderson, a Zubov for Modano and Hull, and even a Letang for Crosby and Malkin.
We’re not putting Barrie up those Hall of Fame blue-liners quite yet, but he is that same breed of player when fixed up with McDavid and Draisaitl. And Edmonton hasn’t seen that guy since Coffey himself.
“The top offensive players, they love it when they’ve got a defenceman who can make creative plays to find you with the puck. That’s why he’s fit in so well with those guys up front,” said Tippett. “I give him a lot of credit. He’s a veteran guy who came in here and he didn’t want to push is way in. he got a feel for our team and he’s slowly worked his way in and had a really good season.”
Edmonton got stellar goaltending from Mike Smith, and some juice from the return of Zack Kassian, who drove the net and backhanded home the seventh goal. It was Kassian’s first game back from a broken hand, and Tippett can’t have the bruising right winger back soon enough.
“Big guy, skates well, good skillset," described the coach. “These games are going to get heavy and they’re going to get tight. You’re going to want players who play a heavy game, go to the net hard, and win wall battles. When he digs into those we can really use him as a power forward. That’s going to be big in these games that are coming ahead here.”
Meanwhile Barrie is just becoming comfortable and confident in his new surroundings, as the Oilers open the second half hoping to make a push for first place in the North.
That, of course, is Plan A.
Which means we wouldn’t dismiss Plan B either.
Not this season.