EDMONTON — Back to .500 and feeling awfully good about themselves, the Edmonton Oilers discovered this week what the Vancouver Canucks learned a week ago: The Ottawa Senators are a tonic for whatever ails you.
After an 8-5 win Sunday with rookie Stuart Skinner making his first NHL start in goal, the Oilers inserted Mikko Koskinen back between the pipes, buckled down defensively, and executed a clinical 4-2 victory over the Senators — scoring the first four goals of Tuesday's game. The Oilers travel to Calgary for a game on Friday, then two more at the Sens rink after that — four points that should not go to waste.
“We came home for this homestand and we had that (reaching .500) goal in mind,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “There were some things we were doing, even when we were losing, that we liked. Then we’d make a mistake or take a penalty at the wrong time.
“I don’t mind our game moving forward here. We’ve taken some steps from where we were, but there are more steps to take.”
On Groundhog Day, the Sens lost their ninth straight. Now they go home and home with the first-place Montreal Canadiens, and then they have two games vs. Edmonton, which outscored them 12-7 in this two-game set and gave up just 25 shots on goal Tuesday despite four Senators power plays.
“Right now, every break seems to go in,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said. “Probably, I need more from some of the older guys. Probably, need more right now from some of the guys who have been in the league.”
Connor McDavid (two assists on Tuesday) now has six consecutive multi-point games. He and Leon Draisaitl (one goal) have 36 points between them in the past eight games.
It was the great Finn Teemu Selanne who used to speak of the old ketchup bottle whenever he would be in a goal-scoring slump. Eventually, Selanne always said, the ketchup would flow again.
And so it was that with 27 shots on goal but not a single tuck on the season, the young Finn Jesse Puljujarvi entered Tuesday’s game with the distinction of being the only NHL forward with that many shots not to have scored. Well, let the ketchup flow.
“I have a couple of chances and they go in. That’s good,” said Puljujarvi, who scored on a solo rush and then tipped home an Evan Bouchard wrister while cruising through the slot.
“Sometimes good shifts, sometimes bad shifts. All the time I try to be better player, help those guys and be a better linemate. There are things that I and the team can do better. (I can) be strong and make some plays all the time. That kind of stuff.”
This will give the 22-year-old some confidence, and blow some wind into the sails of a fan base that has been waiting for something good to happen to Puljujarvi.
“I’ve been talking to him quite a bit,” Tippett said. “He says it doesn’t bother him, but it’s nice to see him get on the board. Anybody, if you feel like you’re not scoring, there’s that extra bit of pressure you’re putting on yourself. Good to see that smile on his face.”
Puljujarvi played 14:31 and had three shots on goal.
It was a calm, professional debut for Bouchard, who got into his first game this season. He had an assist, four shots on goal, eight shots in total, played 16:56 and simply looked like an NHL defenceman.
“Felt good to get back playing here in Edmonton. It took a shift or two to get back used to it,” said the 21-year-old, who watched the first 10 games of the season. “The message was, 'Go out, have fun and work hard every day,' it was a matter of time before I got to play a game. It’s the NHL. It’s always fun being here. Staying positive was a big part of it.”
What did his coach think?
“Really solid. Really solid,” Tippett repeated. “That’s a tough thing to jump into a game like that — every game the points are critical — and I think he got 17, 18 minutes. I was really pleased with his game. Smart, got an assist on a good shot from the point, and didn’t look out of place.
Bouchard’s game is subtle. It flows, and he doesn’t waste any energy.
“It’s a controlled game. Not quiet, but controlled,” Tippett said. “He doesn’t expend extra energy when he doesn’t have to.”
“He had a great start tonight,” Tippett said. “It’s all up from here.”
The Sens acquired goalie Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins then promptly signed him to a four-year, $25 million deal in the off-season. That made him the third-highest paid player on the roster, and, alongside Thomas Chabot, the only other Senator signed through 2023-24.
He is clearly the goalie of record for this rebuild, but boy oh boy, things haven’t started well for Murray. In seven games he’s sporting a .842 saves percentage and a 4.82 goals-against average.
Murray watched the final two periods of Sunday’s game from the bench after being pulled, and backed up again tonight while the Sens went with Marcus Hogberg and his .849 saves percentage.
“I’ve never changed from when I got here,” Smith said. “We want this team to be set up so it can be good for 10 years. Slowly, we’re integrating more and more young guys, and (Murray’s) going to be the goalie when this team is the team that we know it can be. He’s going to be the guy holding them every day.”
Murray spent some extra time on the ice following Tuesday’s optional morning skate working with goalie coach Pierre Groulx. He’s grinding away in search of the game that took him to two Stanley Cups as a Penguin.
“Right now, this is a good work day for him,” observed Smith, who had “a good talk with him” Tuesday. “We’ve got to put him in a spot where we can play good in front of them. We think (Tuesday) was a good day to get some work, get some rest and be ready for the next one.”
It can only go up from here.