The Edmonton Oilers started out the first period with four Grade A chances and got three goals, the kind of things that usually happens to them, not in their favour.
But I’m sure they’ll take it.
And they’ll take the hat trick from James Neal, just as some fans of the Calgary Flames were starting to (improbably) suggest the the Flames just might have got the best of the Neal-for-Milan Lucic deal.
And, of course, Edmonton will also take the two points in a cliffhanger win, which saw Edmonton collapse in the third period but claw their way back to real .500, 21 wins and 21 losses on the year.
In the end — even if the Rangers had a strong push to almost tie it and remind every Oilers fan of just how undisciplined and disorganized this team can be on defence — the Oilers won 7-5, getting 12 Grade A scoring chances to nine for the New York Rangers (running count).
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Cult of Hockey game or player grades
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Connor McDavid, 7. He wasn’t involved much in the first three goals, but he led two dangerous shifts late in the first that had plenty of o-zone time, including McDavid setting up Nurse in the slot for a shot that went off the post. McD made a brilliant deke and pass to Neal on the one-timer hattie goal for #18.
Zack Kassian, 7. He came out flying, setting up James Neal in the slot. Had four shots on net.
James Neal, 9. Whatever else you want to say about James Neal, he’s still got his goal scorer’s touch, which he flashed on the first goal 11 seconds into the game, then again nine minutes in when he deflected in Oscar Klefbom’s power play shot, then on the hattie with a wicked one-timer snipe in the second period. Picked up a power play assist in the second. But he also made a bad line change on New York’s third goal.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 8. Four point night! He did what he needed to do early in the game, creating something positive, setting up Jujhar Khaira in the goal mouth. Next he made a sweet pass leading on Neal’s power play goal and an even sweeter tip on Edmonton’s third goal. In the second, he and Ethan Bear got their signals crossed on a dangerous Ranger chance, then RNH took a penalty. His skate-pass was key to Draisaitl’s goal. He allowed a cross-seam pass on the Rangers second goal, then again on the third goal, but the game was pretty much out of reach by then. Or so it seemed.
Sam Gagner, 3. He flipped the puck into RNH on Khaira’s dangerous early chance. But he let go his check Ryan Strome on the second New York goal, and allowed a cross-seam pass on the third. The fifth Rangers goal also went through him when he lost his stick.
Jujhar Khaira, 5. He went hard to the net but failed to cash in on an early Five Bells chance. Quiet game otherwise.
Leon Draisaitl, 6. He got beat up the ice by Brett Howden on New York’s first dangerous slot shot. Mikko Koskinen made a swell save, keeping Draisaitl from getting another unwanted -1 goals. But he got an excellent tip chance on the power play in the second, then hacked in a wide-open slot shot for a power play goal of his own.
Joakim Nygard, 5. He left his check Adam Fox open in the slot early in the second, but Fox missed the net. In the second period, though, he and Ethan Bear broke up a dangerous chance. He was part of the strong passing that led to Kailer Yamamoto’s near one-timer goal.
Kailer Yamamoto, 7. Almost got his first NHL goal this year on a one-timer shot off a Draisaitl feed. He did get it into the empty-net, first shutting down the New York attack in the Oil zone. Impressive that coach Dave Tippett trusted him enough to have him out there late in the game protecting a one-goal lead. By then, of course, most of the other veteran forwards had let down the Oil with weak defensive play in the third.
Riley Sheahan, 6. Kicked off the game with some strong work on the Edmonton’s first penalty kill. He also made a fine pass to Archibald on his second period goal. He lost track of the danger man on the fifth New York goal, allowing a cross-seam shot.
Josh Archibald, 7. He joined in the early stomp fest with his best snipe of the year late in the second. Not at fault on the ugly and ongoing team-wide sequence of pain in the third period.
Gaetan Haas, 5. He hustles hard, skates fast, falls down quite a bit, makes the odd good play. He gave away the puck late in the second, leading to a four-on-two Rangers rush late in the second and Chris Kreider’s goal. That mental mistake by Haas late in the second foreshadowed the many mental mistakes in the third period.
Ethan Bear, 7. He commanded the offensive blueline in the first period, making an excellent heads up shot pass at RNH for Edmonton’s third goal. He made mistakes on a few chances against, but nothing too major.
Oscar Klefbom, 7. He got the puck on net fast on Edmonton’s first power play and it was suddenly 2-0 for the good guys. He left the game in the third with a sore foot on a blocked shot. It will be bad news, if he’s out for long, said Captain Obvious.
Darnell Nurse, 6. He put one off the post in the first. He allowed the cross-seam Artemi Panarin pass late in the second leading to Kreider’s goal. But he wasn’t much part of the ugly, ugly, ugly in the third.
Kris Russell, 6. He takes a lot of guff from a small but loud faction of haters, but there Russell was, bumped up into the Top 4 again on the right side at a time of need. He got the job done this night. He did allow a cross-ice pass on the second New York goal.
William Lagesson, 5. He did well in his first game, helping set up a couple of Grade A chances with stretch passes in the second. But he got walked on a breakaway chance early in the third.
Adam Larsson, 4. Quiet game as he helped break in his new defence partner, Lagesson. He made a weak glove pass, though, on Panarin’s fourth goal and was also part of the group that allowed a cross-seam pass on the sequence of pain leading to New York’s third goal.
Mikko Koskinen, 7. Five goals against but a good game? Yes, that’s how I saw it, because Koskinen came up big when the game was on the line. He made a fine early save on a Five Bells chance by Howden early in the first. That was huge. He had a few other tough shots in the first but saved them. Early in the second, he made another great save on a goal mouth shot by Ryan Strome. He made some trouble of his own, a bad turnover that led to a dangerous cross-seam pass and one-timer shot in the second. Early in the third once more he came up big on a deflected shot off of Klefbom’s skate and a moment later on a breakaway by Greg McKegg of the Rangers. Not at fault on any of the New York goals, save for the fourth. He should have had Panarin’s shot. Could it be he got hurt early in the third? If so, the Oilers are done for 2020. He’s the team’s most vital player, as there’s no one else to put in net at this time.