They don’t ask how, but on a flaky Wednesday night in the Windy City, they were certainly asking, “How many?”
As in, how many posts did the Oilers hit on the night? (Answer: six.)
Or, on the front end of a back-to-back for Edmonton, how many minutes would Darnell Nurse (28:57), Connor McDavid (27:06) and Leon Draisaitl (26:13) have to log to secure a win against the NHL’s 31st-place team, a Chicago Blackhawks club that rode a seven-game losing streak into the game?
And, finally, how many wins in a row for the Oilers (three) after a lopsided but nervous 5-4 win over the Blackhawks in which Edmonton nearly blew a 4-1 third period lead?
“There’s been a few in a row where we’ve made it interesting at the end of the game,” Nurse said after the game on the TNT broadcast, on the occasion of his 500th NHL game.
Of course, Nurse was referring to a four-goal third period for the Oilers in New York, and a goal with 4.4 seconds left that preceded an overtime win over the Florida Panthers.
In this one, the Oilers controlled the game from puck-drop, outshooting the Blackhawks 41-25 and adding those six — count ‘em, six! — goal posts on the night. The Oilers took a tidy 4-1 lead with 10 minutes to play in the game on Mattias Janmark’s first as an Oiler, and with a late start and a game the next night in Minnesota, that’s where a good team is supposed to shut ‘er down and take the two points on to the charter.
Well, Edmonton is a good team, but it’s missing four of its top-nine forwards. So, a depth-challenged team had a hard time shutting the door against Chicago, and after the Hawks scored twice in 19 seconds, the game would end with the Oilers clinging to a 5-4 lead and goalie Stuart Skinner making a massive save on Taylor Raddysh with 13.9 seconds left on the clock.
“There were a couple of penalty calls made, and they made it interesting,” said Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. “But we found a way to get the win.”
Top Line: Fine
With a depleted top nine, Woodcroft put his top three forwards on one unit and they delivered. McDavid played between Draisaitl and Zach “Hard Luck” Hyman, and the young Blackhawks simply could not handle the Oilers trio.
Hyman played the least (24:34) and had five shots on net, a disallowed goal, two posts and an assist. He has 25 shots on net and three disallowed goals in his past five games — not to mention four points in his last two. McDavid (a goal and an assist) had a season-high nine shots on goal Wednesday, while Draisaitl (2-1-3) had six shots and was a force for 60 minutes.
That’s 20 shots on net, three goals and six points by the big line.
What was Woodcroft’s take after the game? Well, the 8:30 p.m. local start on the front end of a back-to-back had the Oilers coach keeping his postgame avail rather tight on Wednesday.
“What do I take away?” he asked. “We got the two points and we’re ready to move on. It’s 11:45 at night right now and we’re gonna get on a plane and go to Minnesota and prepare for a real good Minnesota Wild team. Thanks.”
Bison King Breakout
With three assists in his past five games, Jesse Puljujarvi is finally beginning to get rewarded on the score sheet for his responsible defensive play. Both his linemates — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Janmark — had goals Wednesday.
“I felt good there with Nuge and Janmark, making those little plays,” he said. “Then when you have a chance to shoot, we shoot. That was a nice couple of goals with those guys.”
Puljujarvi has 10 goals in his last 82 games — playoffs included — and has just a single goal in 23 games this season. But he’s been digging in defensively, and slowly finding the requisite confidence to improve the play when the puck finds his stick. You can see his confidence building as good things happen.
His check sent a rolling puck to Evan Bouchard, who set up the two-on-one that resulted in Janmark’s goal. No point for Puljujarvi, who played just 11:41 and had two shots on net, but the goal does not happen without staunch defensive work by Puljujarvi.