EDMONTON — It’s such a fine line between leaving the rink happy, or hanging your head all the way home.
A bounce. A save. A crossbar-and-in versus a crossbar-and-out.
In four games this season between the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, each team has two wins and 12 goals. Two games have been one-goal games, and the other two would have been if not for an empty-netter by the victor.
The two teams have basically been each other’s equal, yet going into Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada meeting, Edmonton had a 3-6 record while Toronto was 7-2.
No one is questioning whether or not Toronto has been the better team this season, but when the Leafs got a fluky bounce on all three of their goals Saturday, the Oilers had to wonder if this simply wasn’t going to be their night — again.
“We needed one of those games to go in our favour,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “We felt like we’ve been around it, but there’s been a mistake here and there, or finding ways to lose rather than ways to win. Tonight, we found a way to win in the end. Hopefully that’s a step in the right direction.”
Edmonton won 4-3 in overtime Saturday night when Leon Draisaitl (two assists) set up Connor McDavid (2-1-3), in a game that Zack Kassian had dubbed “must-win” the day before. Edmonton climbs back to 4-6 with Ottawa coming to town for a pair, and breathes a sigh of relief to see the red-hot Maple Leafs hop on a plane.
“You feel a lot better at 4-6 than 3-7,” said defenceman Tyson Barrie who had two assists. “The season can get away from you and we were well aware of that.”
Some thoughts on a wildly entertaining night at Rogers Place:
You’ve no doubt seen it multiple times already, the video of McDavid blasting through four Maple Leafs and scoring a solo power-play goal. He did pretty much the same thing against Vancouver earlier in the season, taking that drop-back pass on the powerplay then attacking the static PK box at full speed.
“Everyone knows what's coming at you, but I don't see how you stop that,” Barrie said. “I guess you could take a penalty and give us a five-on-three. When he's got that much speed and he's picking his way through like that, you take a penalty or it's in the back of your net. Incredible play by an incredible player. I don't know how else to say it.”
The Leafs, of course, felt like they defended poorly.
“I was the first guy up,” said Zach Hyman. “I have to take away his speed a little bit and give (his teammates) a bit more time. Kind of wedge him out of the middle. But once he gets that time and space, he’s a special player obviously and he can make moves like that. We’ve played him four times now, he’s a great player and we have to be aware of him.”
Defenceman Justin Holl had a front row seat as well, the same way Alex Edler had for the Canucks.
“I could push him a certain direction better, or maybe start skating forwards so at least I can try and chase him down,” Holl reasoned. “But that’s a tall order on McDavid. He’s a special player and when he gets that time and space, he’s very dangerous.
“Honestly that’s one you shrug off and you say, ‘He’s a great player.’”
We’ve heard it from pretty much every corner of the hockey world about McDavid, who leads the league with 7-10-17 in 10 games: “There are a lot of fast players,” Tippett said. “But I would dare to say, he’s the fastest guy by a wide margin carrying the puck.”
We’ve heard it all about Mikko Koskinen, from his sub-par numbers to the fact he’s been the second-best goalie on the ice most nights. But despite having played every minute of the season for the Oilers, when they needed him to outduel Frederik Andersen in a must-win game, he did exactly that.
The glove save on Mitch Marner in the waning moments of a third-period power play was spectacular. A true game-saver.
“Those are big saves that you need,” said Tippett, “one or two a game just to keep the game moving in your favour. It’s a huge save by (Koskinen), I thought Andersen made some big saves for them. It was an entertaining game.”
Koskinen also stoned William Nylander in overtime, just before Draisaitl and McDavid closed the deal. Will he play against Ottawa on Sunday night?
“We’ll make that decision in the morning,” said Tippett.
I bet he starts.
Barrie and Kahun Arrive
In his 10 games next to Draisaitl, the NHL’s second leading scorer with 6-9-15, Dominik Kahun finally scored his first as an Oiler.
“It’s a relief, a little bit,” he admitted. “We’ve been playing very good, in the O-zone we’ve had so many chances. I finally got rewarded for that, so I’m very happy.”
It’s funny: Kahun has had all kinds of clean looks, but on the goal he scored, he completely fanned on his shot, then fired it over a fallen Andersen, who had gone down expecting the first shot to be better than it was.
“I tried to shoot on it and I fanned. It was a really good fake,” Kahun laughed. “I watched the goal again, and maybe if I would take the first shot the ‘D’ would get his stick on it. Maybe it just should have been like that. I’m happy for it.”
Meanwhile, with two assists and a fairly solid night, Barrie “arrived” in his own way. “That’s Tyson’s best game by far,” Tippett declared. “He’s getting more comfortable, understanding what we’re trying to do. With the extra ice time he got when Bear was out I thought he did a real good job.”
Ethan Bear left in the third period and did not return. That resulted in a season-high 27 shifts, and 22:46 in ice time for Barrie.
Like his game, the Oilers have been slow coming around thus far. He sees both starting to get a foothold.
“Hundred percent we can see this turning around,” he said of the Oilers fortunes. “We got some bad bounces against us and maybe you think, ‘Here we go again.’ But we stuck with it. Hopefully this is the turning point and we can go on a bit of a tear.”