Penguins 5, Oilers 2
Fourteen NHL seasons have passed since the last time Pittsburgh Penguins lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers. Not since Shawn Horcoff’s hat trick, Jussi Markkanen’s stingy netminding and Chris Prongers 27 minutes of ice time powered the Stanley Cup Finals-bound Oilers to a 3-1 win back in January of 2006 have the Oil toppled the Pens within 60 minutes. Since then Pittsburgh has posted a near flawless 15-0-4 mark with Edmonton scraping out a few regulation ties and some points in gimmick time.
Friday night the homestanding Oilers had a big chance, facing a depleted Penguins squad missing superstar Sidney Crosby and four other regulars who among them account for 35% of the salary cap. Yet after a promising start by the home team, the visiting Penguins went ahead to stay just 8 minutes into the game when third-pairing defenceman Chad Ruhwedel lobbed a 56-foot wrist shot through Mike Smith’s six-hole. The Oilers visibly sagged after that, rebounded in a better second period to cut the deficit to one, but sagged again when Kris Letang bombed home a powerplay goal in the opening minute of the final frame to restore the visitors’ two goal lead. The Pens were in cruise control thereafter, holding the Oil to just one Grade A look in the third period before adding the inevitable empty-netter to seal the deal at 5-2.
Overall the game was fairly close — shots were 28-26 Edmonton, Grade A scoring chances 7 for each club. Those low-event outputs favoured the team with the lead, which was Pittsburgh for the game’s last 52 minutes, 37 of them with a multi-goal bulge including almost the entire third period.
Make it a 3-7-3 mark for the Oil in their last 13 home contests, with all 7 of those regulation losses being by at least 3 goals including the last 3 home games in a row. It’s been tough slogging in the “friendly confines” for two months now.
#4 Kris Russell, 4. The brand of hockey he provided — low-event with just 5 shots for, 3 against and no major scoring chances let alone goals during his 13 minutes — would be a lot more useful to a team that was tied or leading.
#6 Adam Larsson, 6. Played another proactive game with 3 shot attempts, 2 hits and 4 blocked shots, but he was unable to get in the way of Kris Letang’s one-timer on the powerplay that ended the suspense in the opening minute of the third. Nailed another post from distance, something he seems to do fairly often especially when considering how rarely he actually scores. His drive to the net-front helped create some “good chaos” on Sheahan’s goal.
#10 Joakim Nygard, 4. His line did some good work on the forecheck and generated a bit of territorial pressure but nothing dangerous. Took a careless penalty late in the second. In the end it was a wash as each team scored once during the penalty. 1 shot on net, which put him ahead of 5 other Oilers forwards.
#15 Josh Archibald, 6. Played a hard physical game with 8 hits. 0 shot attempts on the night, but did make a key play when he intercepted Evgeni Malkin’s pass, fed the puck ahead to Sheahan and jumped in on the 2-on-1 that resulted in Edmonton’s first shorthanded goal of the entire season. Had one strong defensive stand when he covered off for a pinching D, then wound up covering for the other one as well to be isolated in a one-on-one battle, which he won.
#16 Jujhar Khaira, 4. Played just under 10 minutes, generating 0 shot attempts and chipping in on 0 scoring chances, though he allowed nothing at the other end either. See Russell comment on the usefulness of a quiet game when trailing on the scoreboard.
#18 James Neal, 3. His best weapon is his shot, of which he mustered exactly 0 all night long. Wound up a ghastly -4, while his line largely chased the game, being outshot 12-6 during his 15½ even strength minutes. Part of an ineffective Oilers’ powerplay,
#23 Riley Sheahan, 5. Played 9 minutes at evens during which time the shots on goal were 0-0. Yes, you read that right. He did muster a nice shorthanded goal late in the second to briefly give the Oilers hope, wiring a hard wrister from the slot past Tristan Jarry, but was sucked out of position on the continuing penalty kill early in the third and was tabbed as the major culprit on the clinching goal that followed.
#25 Darnell Nurse, 5. Helped bring Edmonton back into the game when he fired a good low shot that was tipped home by Kassian, but minutes later he handcuffed his partner with a grenade that turned into a breakaway, and a goal, the other way. Skated well, fired 4 shot attempts at one end, blocked 4 at the other.
#29 Leon Draisaitl, 4. Rang the iron yet again early in the second, his NHL-leading 12th goal post of the season. But his line was lit up for 2 goals against, his group a third just after the expiry of an Oilers powerplay, and a fourth on the empty netter. Make it dash-4 on the night and a ghastly -21 in his last 17 games despite scoring 17 points in that span. Was not a visible culprit on the GA in this one. 3 shots, 7 attempts, but 3 giveaways and a mediocre 5/11=45% on the dot. Drew a penalty and had some decent moments, but not enough of them.
#39 Alex Chiasson, 5. A couple shots, a couple hits, and decent possession numbers, but 0 contributions on Grade A looks and not a lot that moved the needle.
#41 Mike Smith, 3. Allowed an awful-looking goal to open the scoring, a long floater that somehow squeezed under his stick arm and dribbled over the goal line as he dove back in vain (pictured). He had a good look at the point of release, though when the puck subsequently went through a couple bodies in front he lost track of its trajectory and couldn’t close the hole. Just a killer GA before Pittsburgh had generated so much as a single Grade A look. With the Oilers subsequently pushing from behind, Smith was beaten on a pair of breakaways, the Pittsburgh forward beating him across the net on a deke to make the backhand deposit both times. Tough saves, but his team needed him to stop at least one of those and he couldn’t. The final tally, Kris Letang’s one-time rocket, was not on the goaltender, but by that point he had faced 4 Grade A chances and had allowed 4 goals. He made a few stops down the stretch and physically challenged Malkin after the big Penguin had crashed the crease, but the damage was long since done and the netminder’s frustration on full display. 25 shots, 21 saves, .840 save percentage. Make it 5 straight games and 8 of his last 10 below .870, with the Oil losing all 8 of those games. One wonders how much longer Ken Holland will sit on his hands.
#44 Zack Kassian, 6. Scored the Oilers first goal on a nifty goal mouth deflection, had a couple more shots and dished out 4 hits. Among the more visible Oilers on the night.
#74 Ethan Bear, 5. Logged over 22 minutes at even strength to lead the D-corps in that category. Earned an assist on Kassian’s goal with a routine pass at the blueline. Made one critical error when he was unable to control Nurse’s D-to-D pass at the right point, and then failed to contain his man Jared McCann who won the puck battle and sped away unmolested on a 140-foot breakaway that produced the game-winning goal. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the rookie defender.
#77 Oscar Klefbom, 4. Led both teams with 25:55 ice time including all 4 minutes on the powerplay. He was among 5 Oilers who played the full 2 minutes of the first PP only to be caught out at the end of it and burned for a breakaway by the man coming out of the sin bin, who made no mistake. Lost a battle on the PK on the 4-2. Had 9 shot attempts, 5 of them on goal, to lead the Oilers in both departments. Generated a couple of dangerous looks deep in the zone, the best of them a backhand shot which forced a tough save by Jarry.
#82 Caleb Jones, 5. Third pairing wasn’t the problem. Jones managed 3 shots on net, none of them especially dangerous, but also limited the damage at the defensive end.
#89 Sam Gagner, 4. His weak coverage was part of the issue on the Ruhwedel floater, even as the point shot that resulted was eminently stoppable. Had nothing going offensively, underscored by 0 shots on net.
#91 Gaetan Haas, 5. His line with Nygard and Chiasson largely carried play (shots 9-4 Oilers during his 9½ minutes) but generated nothing of danger. He did have one mid-air tip that narrowly missed the target.
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 4. Moved up to LW on the McDavid line where he had very little impact on the game, generating 0 shots on net. A couple of passes to set up chances early in the game, very little thereafter. Missed the net from the slot on his one good look on the powerplay. Lost a puck battle just before the 2-0 goal. Took just 1 faceoff as the hand injury that kept him out of the line-up a while back continues to hamper him. Led the forwards with 23:42 in ice time.
#97 Connor McDavid, 5. A few flashes but a quiet overall game by his high standards. Generated a couple of shots on quick opportunities but very little in the way of sustained pressure from his line. Was peripherally involved on Kassian’s goal, working the puck back to the point from where the danger shot was eventually generated. Appeared to score late in the third to cut the deficit to 4-3, but the ref ruled McDavid himself had contacted the goaltender sufficiently to wave it off. Failed to contain the puck at the point on the empty netter. 9/20=45% on the dot, smack dab on the team average for the night. When he and Draisaitl are both held off the sheet, as they were in this one, the Oilers invariably wind up on the short end of the scoreboard.
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