EDMONTON — Warren Foegele had just made the score 5-0 Edmonton before the first TV timeout in the second period, at which time it was poor Darren Pang’s assignment to conduct a bench interview with Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour for the TNT broadcast.
Pang sidled up to the disgruntled Hurricanes head coach and lobbed the softest softball he could conjure up: “A disappointing start to this game. Anything you’re seeing out here that that you can build on?”
Brind’Amour’s eyes bugged out of his head.
“We are on our way to losing 50-0,” he said. “I’ve never seen our team play this brutal.”
From there, Brind’Amour stumbled through the rest of his answer, trying only to avoid using one of hockey’s five favourite words. The ones that get you fined, when uttered on national TV.
“Can you get fined for cursing out your own team?” he would ask after the game, a 6-1 pounding administered by the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers scored twice in the opening 41 seconds of the game and led 4-0 after 20 minutes, shellacking a Hurricanes team that had owned Edmonton in its previous nine meetings (7-1-1).
Two weeks ago in Raleigh, the Hurricanes held a 4-0 lead over Edmonton after 15 minutes of hockey. On Wednesday, Zach Hyman scored his second of three goals just 14:03 into the game, giving the Oilers a 4-0 lead.
Hyman’s hat trick gives him 15 goals on the season, while Mattias Janmark had three assists and Connor McDavid’s three helpers leaves him with a seven-game point streak (4-15-19).
It started with a savvy move by Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch, who inherited a team with a reputation for neglecting its depth players in favour of the stars on the top lines. He’s found a third line of centre Ryan McLeod with Janmark and Foegele, and gave them the starting faceoff Wednesday.
They responded with a goal on the opening shift.
“It’s trust,” Foegele explained. “When you get that trust, you don’t want to let it go. We knew to have a good start. I find when we do start we are usually always in the O-zone. It was kind of nice to keep that going.”
It’s a small thing that’s big, finding a depth unit that gets some mojo going and bleeds that energy throughout the lineup.
“I thought McLeod’s line started the game off with a statement, and they were amazing the whole game,” said Hyman. “That really gets the team started, a goal on the first shift. And then obviously we followed up with another one and then you’re up 2-0 before you blink.”
Mattias Ekholm slipped in from the point on a deft faceoff play to make it 2-0 just 41 seconds into the game. It was the second fastest two goals to begin a game in team history, behind two in 24 seconds vs L.A. back in ’82.
“We just weren’t ready,” lamented Brind’Amour. “The face-off play they ran, we showed it to (our players) 15 times. Fifteen times before the game! And we fall asleep on it.”
Entering the game on a four-game winning streak in which they outscored opponents 20-7, Edmonton showed no signs of rust after a five-day break between games. Now it’s five straight wins, and another night where the puck simply stuck to goaltender Stuart Skinner, who has quietly whittled his goals-against average down to 3.04, his save percentage lagging a tad at .889.
Behind a responsible, less gamble-prone Oilers defensive posture, Skinner has proven himself a goaler who can make the saves he’s supposed to make — as long as there aren’t three per period that require pure heroism to thwart.
Somehow, a team that was dead and buried two weeks ago, hoisted on the sword of these same Carolina Hurricanes, has won all five games since and climbed past Anaheim into sixth in the Pacific on Wednesday.
The Oilers are a point behind Seattle with three games in hand, two back of Calgary with two in hand, and close enough to the wildcard (six points) that folks in Edmonton can stop looking at the standings — at least for the Christmas break.
“It brought us back to striking distance,” Janmark said of this five-game skein. “If you look at the standings, I think if we didn’t get five we would be far behind. It got us back into the race but it doesn’t mean much more than that. We have to go for six now.
“We’re back in the race, but we have a long way to go.”