Oilers look back on track as Skinner leads team to patient, professional win

Stuart Skinner and the Edmonton Oilers held off the Seattle Kraken late in the third to get the two points in regulation. Brett Kulak scored his third of the season which was the game winner as Edmonton beat Seattle by a score of 2-1.

It wasn’t sexy, which is fine. Every now and again it’s OK to win an ugly one.

It’s all right, now and again, to win on a goal by a third-pairing defenceman. To get by on some fine shot blocking by a lanky No. 6, or rely on a goaltender who never looked for a second like he wouldn’t bring this one home.

The Edmonton Oilers beat the Seattle Kraken by a 2-1 score Saturday, forging a three-game winning streak where they haven’t given up more than two goals in a game. Whatever fever ailed Edmonton after the All-Star break has broken — this was a patient, professional win, capping a perfect 4-0 season series for the Oilers over Jordan Eberle’s Kraken.

[brightcove videoID=6348113815112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

This one was, as an old mentor once wrote, more paint-by-numbers than Rembrandt, won on a long Brett Kulak wrister that may or may not have been tipped by Leon Draisaitl. To Draisaitl’s credit, on a two-point night that gave him an even 30 goals and 75 points on the season, he made sure everyone in the rink knew the goal belonged to Kulak.

“Whether it’s his or mine, no matter. Just to see the game-winning goal go in, it’s nice,” said Kulak, who has 21 career goals in 474 games.

Draisaitl only ever had one full NHL season — his first — where he failed to reach 21 goals. He is that classic 50-goal, 100-point superstar who wasn’t going to get in the way of watching a depth defenceman walk out of the rink with a game-winning grin on his face.

“He’s just happy to see the puck go in, whether it’s off his stick or off a teammate’s. That’s the kind of guy he is,” said Kulak, a farm kid from Glenn Hall country around Stony Plain, Alberta who now has four career game-winners. “I don’t think he’s out there sneaking around looking at the video after, making sure it was his or something. No, it’s good whether it’s his or mine.”

Meanwhile, Draisaitl, who one-timed a classic McDavid-to-Draisaitl feed home from a tough angle for the game’s first goal, has his sixth straight 30-goal season. He has 24 games left to score 20 more and notch 50 for the third straight year, and the way McDavid seems focused on collecting apples, we wouldn’t bet against it.

[brightcove videoID=6348104673112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

McDavid had just a lone assist to give him a league-leading 73 on the season (95 points in all). He’s very likely going to beat his career-high 89 assists in a season, and if he’s got his heart set on 100 helpers, how many of those will Draisaitl finish?

However, this fine afternoon in Seattle wasn’t about the stars. It was about the guys nearer the bottom of the roster, and a goaltending department that GM Ken Holland gave a vote of confidence to when he declared this week that he’s not in the market for a new ‘tendy before Friday’s Trading Deadline.

Let’s start with big Vincent Desharnais, who was plus-two on the day and trusted with fending off a Seattle six-on-four when Draisaitl took a holding penalty in the 59th minute, with Seattle goalie Philipp Grubauer already on the bench.

Desharnais may or may not lose some ice time if Holland brings home a veteran NHL defenceman at the Deadline, but on Saturday he made a case for himself to remain a vital part of this Oilers lineup. The six-foot-seven Quebecer just keeps getting better at age 27, going from a guy we wondered about at the start of the season to a heart and soul D-man that teammates simply love to play with and for.

“Really happy the way that we played, especially on that six-on-four,” Skinner said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to my D-men, blocking those types of shots that they did. I saw Vinny’s back (postgame). He’s a warrior.”

It doesn’t really matter what they say about you, when you’re a Craig Ludwig-type defenceman like Desharnais. The fact he’s on the ice in the final minute with his team down two men in a 2-1 game, that will tell you everything you need to know about what the coaching staff thinks of Desharnais.

“He’s really taken it up another level,” head coach Kris Knoblauch said. “He’s transporting the puck up to the forwards (now), and what I think has always been there is, he’s a really good defender. He takes up so much space with his size, and he’s able to break up plays. And got a pretty good work ethic. He’s blocking shots, stepping up in front of shots, battling for loose pucks…”

When the pucks did get through — Seattle had just 25 shots on a low event night at Climate Pledge Arena — Skinner was calm and solid. He came across the crease to make a spectacular save on Jordan Eberle with about 16 seconds to play, as the best comeback team in the NHL led this one wire-to-wire for its 36th win.

[brightcove videoID=6348109006112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“Being able to get across on Eberle, I think that was really big moment for myself,” admitted Skinner, who has proven he can provide more than enough goaltending behind a team playing with proper defensive structure.

Edmonton has shed whatever it brought home from Mexico at the All-Star break, and Skinner’s game has been fantastic.

“Look at the play of Skins the last four games — he’s been outstanding,” Knoblauch said. “We’ve been tightening up a little bit defensively, but the biggest thing is the goaltending has been outstanding.”

Edmonton crawled to within nine points of first-place Vancouver, with four games in hand and one game left with the Canucks. They left Seattle in second place in the Pacific for the first time all season long, with the Vegas Golden Knights set to drop the puck in Buffalo later Saturday evening.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.