Forty minutes in this one could have gone either way.
The Edmonton Oilers had surrendered two leads in Nashville on Monday night over the first two Periods. In years past that would have been the start of a long, sad script toward yet another Edmonton loss in the Music City.
But that was then. In the now, the club instead exploded for five 3rd Period goals in just 5:13 to bury the shell-shocked Nashville Predators 8-3 and send Pekka Rinne to the locker room with his tail between his legs. The furious comeback (led by Leon Draisaitl) vaults the Oilers within a win of the top of the Pacific.
Buried in the sparkling performance by Edmonton’s biggest stars on Monday? That Dave Tippett was able to run his bottom 2 lines for the back half of the 3rd Period. Fresher(er) legs for Lines 1 & 2 tomorrow in Dallas.
Here’s the tale of the tape:
Edmonton Oilers Player Grades
MIKE SMITH. 7. Mike Smith stopped 25 of 28 pucks on the night. A 1st Period save off Matt Duchene was among his best. Another contender was a sharp blocker save off a charging Mikael Granlund, also early. Was all but abandoned on all 3 goals against as the Oilers suffered a couple of serious D-zone breakdowns. But all this guy does is win, lately. Mike Smith still has only 1 regulation loss since Christmas. 19-10-6 on the season. He has earned the #1 job.
LEON DRAISAITL. 10. What an absolutely dominant performance from start to finish by Leon Draisaitl. He registered his 2nd career regular season hat trick and 1st ever 4-goal game. His first was a one-timer off a lovely high slot to the bottom-of-the-circle pass by Connor McDavid. Leon’s 2nd off a slick feed from Yamamoto. His hat-trick goal was a 120-foot give-and-go with Nugent Hopkins, ending in a quick Leon release that beat Rinne 5-Hole. His 4th was a patented back-hand-fore-hand exchange with McDavid from the corner. Added an assist on Yamamoto’s 10th of the season with a great puck battle won along the wall. In the process, also Draisaitl padded his lead atop the NHL scoring race to 107 points, a 13-point bulge over teammate Connor McDavid (ow alone in 2nd spot, by the way). 32nd multiple-point game on the season for #29. Kinda goes without saying…the game’s 1st Star. MVP. MVP. MVP.
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS. 8. Just a gorgeous back-handed pass to Yamamoto for his line mate’s 10th. Then Nugent-Hopkins was part of a splendid end-to-end dash with Draisaitl that ended in Leon’s 3rd and The Nuge’s 2nd helper. 93’s 3rd apple was a Yamamoto-Nugent-Hopkins effort that ended in Draisaitl’s 41st. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ 18:59 lead all forwards and was excellent from start to finish. Man, this line is crazy dangerous together. The game’s 3rd star. 12-24-36 since December 31st.
KAILER YAMAMOTO. 7. Scored his 10th by finding a quiet sliver of ice around the Pred’s net and quickly converting a Nugent-Hopkins pass short-side. Earned a filthy no-look assist on Draisaitl’s 41st. 2 shots and a block in 16:57. Yamamoto is now +17 in 22 games. Dogged on pucks as we’ve come to expect. Not bad for his first game back from injury. Didn’t look like there was much rust. As per Bob Staffer, the club is 14-5-3 with Yamamoto in the lineup.
DARNELL NURSE. 6. Earned a lovely assist on the Kassian goal with a sharp pass from the corner. Added 2 more on the night as well. Led the D-core in TOI at 26:04. Also had 4 blocked shots. I felt that Nurse could have stayed in the slot on the 2-2 instead of heading into the corner to support Athanasiou (where Sheahan had already headed). One of them should have. But in fairness to #25, it was Athanasiou’s give-away that triggered the break-down. Nurse and his young partner did have their eyes on the puck instead of their 2 men in front on the 3-3.
ETHAN BEAR. 5. An assist with a nice effort to move the puck lower into the zone and then feed Draisaitl in the corner. Was +3 21:02 of work. 1 shot, 3 blocks. On the 2-2, when a forward has a puck deep behind his own circle like that one D-man is supposed to curl back of the goal line and create a pressure valve for his teammate. That’s what Bear did. I saw it as a communication issue between he, 23 and 25. And again, none of that happens if the winger chips or even just eats that puck. Both he and Nurse were puck-watching on the 3-3 though.
CONNOR McDAVID. 9. McDavid scored his goal on his only shot of the game after taking a feed behind the net from Archibald. He then skated a half-horseshoe around all of the Nashville Predators (it seemed, at least) and slung a long, screen wrister past Rinne. Found Archibald in front on a terrific “triangle” passing play around the Pred’s net for the 1-0. A centering pass to Kassian for his marker. A beautiful high-to-low pass to Draisaitl set up the 2-1. Then fed Leon again on the PP for his 4th apple of the night. +3. The game’s 2nd star. That won’t happen often on night when McDavid puts up 5.
JOSH ARCHIBALD. 7. Deposited his 11th on a creative 3-way passing play that buzzed the Pred’s net and ended with Archibald alone in the low slot. Earned an assist on the McDavid goal by starting the play behind the net and then providing the screen in front. Also, a significant contribution (again) on the PK with 1:21 of spotless work. Not sure he’ll stay on that McDavid line but didn’t hurt his chances tonight.
TYLER ENNIS. 6. A well-earned helper on the Archibald goal with 2 nice touches down below the goal line. A “3rd Assist” on the Kassian goal for the initial zone entry. Late to the original shooter on the 3-3 (and, in fact, the goal scorer Bonino had originally been his man as he entered the zone). 2 shots of his own and a block in 14:07. Looks good alongside 97 so far.
ADAM LARSSON. 8. He’s back. Adam Larsson played just a whale of a game. 3 shots on goal and +3 on the night. He was a beast in the D-zone, winning one board battle after another. Registered 5 hits, 2 blocks, 2 take-aways. Was 27-20, 57% All Events CF. He and Jones were the Oilers best D-pairing on this night by a fair margin.
CALEB JONES. 7. But it wasn’t all Adam Larsson on this pairing. Young Caleb Jones was “on” tonight as well. Played a very strong possession game. No assist but the kept the puck in the zone on the 1-0 pay. Ended the night +3. 2 hits in 21:48. He did have a couple turnovers, one early, the other late and with the game well out of reach.
RILEY SHEAHAN. 4. Riley Sheahan was sort of a “Tale of 2 games” on this night. He was buried in terms of possession 5×5. Also-in-Photo on the 2-1. Soft play on the 2-2 goal when his man walked out of the corner on him. But also produced 1:46 of glittering work on the PK, which was a perfect 0-2. 62% on faceoffs. 2 shots.
ZACK KASSIAN. 5. Scored the game’s 6th goal on a wrister from the high slot after a nice centering pass by McDavid. That was one of 3 shots on the evening for Kassian. Landed a heavy hit on Granlund, 1 of 2. Had an early turnover and was also slow-ish to Josi on the 2-1 but shook those off and ended the night in solid enough fashion.
ANDREAS ATHENASIOU. 4. Was principally at-fault on the 2-1 goal. Instead of making a nice, safe chip of the puck behind his own net the winger tried to instead beat his man. The rubber squibbed loose and was in front and in the net in a flash. His game evened out a bit after that. 3 shots in 12 minutes of work. -1.
MATT BENNING. 4. The 3rd pairing struggled And Benning was a significant part of that. Stripped of the puck in the corner on the Josi goal. Lost the possession battle on his watch and was a -1 on a night when his team scored 8. That’s hard to do. A shot, a hit, a block in 14:06. His best work came on the PK in 1:24 of SHTOI.
KRIS RUSSELL. 5. Wasn’t on the ice or the bench for the final few minutes after a blocked shot, which is good news in that it probably is not a re-occurrence of his recent concussion. After clearing the zone with a lovely pass to Draisaitl he limped to the bench and didn’t return. Part of the pain on the 2-1.
JUJHAR KHAIRA. 5. A quiet, efficient game. Strong again on the PK, a role he probably does not get enough credit for. Drew a penalty in the 3rd when he won a board battle and got the puck safely out of the zone despite being tripped in the process. JJ’s on a run of much better performances lately.
GAETAN HAAS. 5. I still worry about how Gaetan Haas can handle the heavy going. But credit where credit due tonight. He created on the attack, played 11:16 and had one shot. Good defensive work. Just 30% on the dot.
ALEX CHIASSON. 5. The puck was headed in the right direction on Chiasson’s watch, a 5×5 CF of 13-5, 72% to pace the club.
We don’t grade the Coach in Cult of Hockey Player Grades. But a stick tap to Dave Tippett for using his time out after the 2-2 goal. It settled his players down and perhaps prevented the game from going in the wrong direction. I also liked how he sent out 97-29-56 after both 1st Period Nashville Power Plays, which helped wrestle back momentum.
This win puts the Oilers at 35-23-8. That’s 79 points, 1 off of the total this club amassed all last season. More importantly, Edmonton is now within 2 points of the Pacific Division lead. More importantly still, 3 points up on the 3rd place Flames, 6 up of the Wild Card cut.
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