'Opportunistic' Oilers finding ways to win even in imperfect games

Edmonton Oilers improve to 7-1-0 in a victory over the Seattle Kraken.

EDMONTON -- So when do we stop saying, “Good start!” and start saying: “Good team?”

How about after the Edmonton Oilers got Grade A efforts from about one-quarter of the roster, yet still handled the Seattle Kraken with relative ease in a 5-2 win Monday night in Edmonton?

“(Leon) Draisaitl’s line was really good, (Duncan) Keith and (Cody) Ceci were really good, and Mikko (Koskinen) was good,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “We were opportunistic, capitalized on some chances, and found a way to get the two points.”

This is the kind of game that the expansion Kraken will have to figure out how to win, with Edmonton giving it about a 60 per cent effort, then pulling away in the third period in a game that was there for the taking. If only Seattle could get Kraken.

Hey -- let’s not criticize the 7-1 Oilers. Every team comes up small now and again. The difference is, the Oilers are good enough, and deep enough, that right now there is always someone to play the hero.

On a rare off night for the third line, night, Draisaitl moved into a first-place tie atop the National Hockey League scoring race with two goals and two assists. But it was Keith, Kailer Yamamoto and Kyle Turris whose first goals of the 2021-22 season were the difference between a lethargic loss and a win over an expansion team who had lost at home to the New York Rangers only the night before.

“It speaks to the depth of our group that we can win in different ways,” Draisaitl said. “We can win on the power play and special teams in general, our goalie can steal one, our defencemen are chipping in, our third line has won us games... There are types of different ways that we can win a game and that is a pretty great asset to have on a team.”

Maybe it wasn’t THAT bad…

“Aw, we just didn’t play as well as I’d like to see us play,” said Tippett, whose team climbed into first place in the Pacific and stands third behind near-perfect Florida and unbeaten Carolina in the overall league standings with 14 of a possible 16 points this season. “The Vancouver game on Saturday, we were way better than tonight. Way better. We were opportunistic tonight, but too much coasting and not enough skating for my liking.”

So that’s what was wrong with Edmonton on Monday night. Here’s what is going right:

Koskinen, he of the terrible contract, gave Edmonton another gem. Don’t look now, but ever since Mike Smith went down six games ago, Koskinen has looked every bit like a $4.5 million goalie.

Among netminders who have played five games or more, Koskinen’s .933 saves percentage stands seventh in the NHL, and his 2.21 goals-against average is eighth. He has started the past five games, won four of them, and held opponents to two goals or less three times.

“Just about every game he’s played well,” Tippett said. “The Philadelphia game he probably wanted one back, but other than that he’s been very solid.”

Other than the fact Keith scored in his 1,200th NHL game, Kraken defenceman Adam Larsson returned to the city where he spent the previous five seasons, and Seattle made its first-ever visit to Oil Country, this was as forgettable a tilt as you’ll find on a Monday night in early November.

When Draisaiotl scored on Edmonton’s first shot of the night -- actually, a carom off of his skate that changed direction and eluded goaltender Joey Daccord -- it was as if the orange team loosened up for a big night of offence. Then Seattle scored on their second shot, and the Oilers scored on their third, and anyone who appreciates structure and responsible defensive play knew they were in the wrong rink on this night.

When Jaden Schwartz walked right through Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard to score on Koskinen, you got the impression that it was certainly not a masterpiece being painted here. But guys like Yamamoto and Keith, they’ll take this one home and hang it on their fridge in the morning -- particularly the diminutive right-winger who finally dented the twine, his first goal in 24 games and point No. 1 on the season.

“He always works,” Tippett said of Yamamoto. “He is competitive, but at some point (you) have to start finding some results. Hopefully that will loosen up the grip on his stick a bit.

“When you have circles in all those columns (on the score sheet), that weighs on your mind. He’s got the first one behind him now. Hopefully he’ll start capitalizing on some more opportunities.”

“It’s huge going into that huddle and all of the guys are rooting for me to score,” beamed Yamamoto. “It means a lot, especially the guys on the bench, it just means a lot.”

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