EDMONTON — Sometimes you get sick of watching two teams play each other in this new NHL schedule. Personally, I never need to see Arizona and St. Louis play each other ever again.
There is something about these two teams that makes for fabulously watchable hockey, whether they’re playing a 6-5 game like the Jets won on Monday, or a 3-2 nail-biter like the one Edmonton gutted out on Wednesday.
“Those are the playoff-type of games we have to learn how to win,” said Leon Draisaitl, who had two goals. “I don’t know if I’d consider tonight a playoff game, with all the penalties, but those are the tough ones to win. The ones we want to win, 3-2, 2-1. We did a good job.”
This game overcame the officiating, as referees Michael Markovic and Brad Meier blew a few calls, then got caught over-managing the game. In the end, Edmonton had six power plays to Winnipeg’s five, and no one left the building happy with the zebras.
Nice Round Numbers
On the night that was all about Connor McDavid scoring his 500th career point in game No. 369 — exactly as fast as Sidney Crosby conquered the same feat — Draisaitl also nabbed career point No. 450, while Dave Tippett won his 600th career game as an NHL head coach.
“It’s a little milestone I guess. A little thing along the way here, which is nice,” said McDavid. “To feel some of the reaction from my teammates, friends and family, it’s always special. I appreciate the support… And, onward.”
Tippett was asked if he ever steps back and smells the roses of having a front row seat to watch the game’s next legendary performer make his way through what will be a Hall of Fame career. Here in Edmonton, many accuse themselves of getting a little blasé to all of Wayne Gretzky’s accomplishments back in the ‘80s. Tippett says he appreciates McDavid’s superiority every day — when he calculates the stats that he keeps.
“I’ve been doing these different kind of stats for a long time,” Tippett began. “I’ve had some pretty good teams. In Dallas we had Mike Modano, with (Bill) Guerin, (Jason) Arnott and (Pierre) Turgeon — some real good players. And I’ve never seen anything like it in the stats that I keep. Not even close.
“And the players who play with him? They seem like they do a little better (also).”
McDavid opened the scoring with a feed to Jesse Puljujarvi, who sniped a wicked puck past Connor Hellebuyck for McDavid’s 500th, and Puljujarvi’s fourth in his past six games. Then McDavid got an assist on Draisaitl’s power-play game-winner.
“It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it for the last two years,” goalie Mike Smith said of the Connor McDavid Show here in Edmonton. “I’ve played against him for a few years now. It’s nice to be on this side of the highlight-reel goals.”
What makes McDavid McDavid?
“His speed, the way he can change directions,” began Smith. “Every game there’s a highlight-reel something, where you look down the bench, or shake your head when you’re playing. ‘Did you see that?’”
McDavid would prefer a root canal to talking about his latest accomplishment, though he did say he’d call his Mom on Thursday, and likely debrief on the win with his Dad over the phone Wednesday night.
“I know he doesn’t look at milestones like that much,” said Tippett, “but later on in life he’ll look back and be proud. He wants the team milestone ahead of the individual milestone. That’s what he’s striving for.”
“Take the over,” they said.
“The over/under is set at 6.5,” they advised. “These two teams have combined for 28 goals scored in the three games they’ve played this season. That’s a 5-4 game every night!”
Well, for the first time this season the Jets and Oilers produced less than seven goals in a game. And that, folks, is how Vegas was built.
Players are going to make mistakes, and every game isn’t going to be a defensive gem. Coaches realize that, and so do we.
But an issue in Edmonton — going back to their Qualifying Round ouster at the hands of Chicago — is net-front play, especially when it comes to deflection goals. It’s been too easy to stand there and tip pucks past the Oilers’ goalies, as Mathieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler did in Monday’s 6-5 Jets win, and the Blackhawks did seemingly at will in the summer.
The Oilers cleaned that up in Wednesday’s rematch, but it will be a focus for a while yet.
“We need to be harder in front of our net. There are some goals goin’ in where we’re in the right position… We’re there, but we’re not there,” Tippett said. “There just has to be a more physical element to compete in front of our net, and I think we’ll take some goals against away.”
The Jets scored two deflection goals Monday that made Tippett’s point. “On both of those deflections we’ve got a guy standing right next to the guy that’s deflecting the puck,” he said.
Kyle Turris was derelict on Perreault’s high-slot tip, while rookie Evan Bouchard stood by as Wheeler deflected home the winner just above Mikko Koskinen’s crease.
So what does a D-man do? You can’t just cross-check guys, like it’s 20 years ago.
“Well, you can crosscheck a little bit still. They still let you get away with a little bit,” allowed Darnell Nurse. “It’s hard, but … you know when pucks are coming from the point. If they get through clean, our goalies are going to take care of it 90 per cent of the time.
“It’s important to find that stick and get under them,” he said. “A light tap on the stick can go a long way when trying to take away a guy’s tipping options. There are times when they’re tipping pucks and we’re standing beside guys. We have to be better in that department.”