Sports

Oilers slowly becoming less fragile as they grind out win over Senators


EDMONTON — It was one of those games that you’ll only remember if you lose.

A 3-2 win over last place Ottawa? It was already fading from our memories by bedtime Monday, just another two points collected from a team you were supposed to beat, right?

Yeah, that’s how you and I look at a game like this one, as the last place Senators lost their fifth straight to Edmonton this season. If the actual players were to approach the game like that, well, we’d let’s just say we’d likely remember the outcome.

So there were the Oilers, defending like mad in the final moments of a one-goal game with the Sens goalie pulled, calmly limiting Ottawa to barely a sniff until the final horn sounded.

“I like the way we don’t get flustered at the end. There are people in shooting lanes, you win some battles on the wall,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “We knew we were going to have to play the whole 60 to win this game, right until there was a bouncing puck that came with about four seconds left.

“The goal is to get two points. Now we re-rack and get ready for Game 2.”

Three in a row at home against the Senators this week.

Remember how the last three-game opponent went for Edmonton? Yeah, this is Leafs redemption week for Edmonton, a team that has now won two 3-2 games in a row in which the opponent scored the first goal of the game.

Slowly, methodically, this Edmonton team is becoming more chilled. Less fragile.

Mikko Koskinen lets in a stinker 56 seconds into the game?

“It’s early. Stuff happens,” said Kyle Turris. “You can’t get rattled by that. You still have lots of time left. A full game to play.”

And so they began to grind down the Sens, a team that is ultimately grindable. Ottawa would get five more shots on net in that first period, none of them dangerous, as the Oilers skaters gave their goalie time to recover from yet another shaky start. By night’s end, he had limited the opponent to two goals, the very definition of “giving your team a chance to win” in today’s NHL.

“Our group is learning how to use the whole 60 minutes to find ways to win games,” said Alex Chiasson, who sniped a lovely powerplay goal. He came from the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals three seasons ago and has watched his new team take baby steps towards where Washington was, learning about resiliency, integrity, mental toughness and culture.

“Those aspects don’t happen overnight,” Chiasson said. “It’s been a work in progress here in the last three years. We’ve added some key pieces, and I think we’re learning on a nightly basis how to play those games. Our group, we stay in the fight and find ways to win games when we may not be our best right off the bat. It’s good to see our group maturing, finding ways to win games.”

So Koskinen coughs up a lame one in the opening minute. But Kailer Yamamoto got that one back at 7:03 when he deflected a Darnell Nurse point shot. Then Chiasson rips one top corner on a powerplay six minutes into the second. Draisaitl follows with a lovely wrist shot past Joey Daccord eight minutes later, and this Oilers team has three goals — enough goals to win, now.

“We gave up two goals that were both kinda tough,” Tippett said. “One’s a deflection, and the first one just squeaks in. But we were all right.”

Kyle’s Smiles

The season, thus far, has been just this side of a disaster for Kyle Turris.

Signed to a two-year, UFA deal where the Oilers are paying him $1.65 million on top of the $3 million buy-out dollars coming from Nashville, Turris found himself in the press box of late. He was supposed to be the third-line centre here, but Jujhar Khaira took his gig. Then Gaetan Haas, who is faster and younger, claimed the 4C job.

So Turris floated from centre to wing, where he had a bigger impact in Monday’s game than any other game this season.

“I thought I played better tonight, just creating chances,” said the humbled first-rounder. “I haven’t been playing well, so I’ve got to turn things around. I played a bit better tonight.”

Forget the salary‚ these guys are proud people. It’s not easy coming to a team like this and failing, the way Turris has so far.

On Monday he made three passes that created Grade A scoring chances for Khaira, Chiasson, and Draisaitl, who buried it for the game-winner. Who knows? Maybe it’s the start of something for a buy-out guy whose career is hanging out there.

“I’m just trying to work on simple things,” Turris said. “Having more jump; just being harder on battles. Just having the puck more, so I can start to create. I feel like I’ve had more jump lately, and tonight things were going in the right direction.”

“That’s the Kyle Turris that I knew,” said Tippett, who had Turris in Arizona many moons ago. “He’d make three or four real good plays in a game — his skill level is real strong. It’s good to see him feeling good about having the puck and finding ways to make plays, and finding ways to make those pays count.”

Jury Still Out

What did Tippett think of his experiment of putting McDavid and Draisaitl on a line together, rather than having them centre their own lines?

“A work in progress,” Tippett said after the game.

That’s coach-speak for, “I don’t like it yet, but I may not be finished looking at it.”

McDavid had two assists and Draisaitl the game-winner, but for the most part, they weren’t points derived from great chemistry between the two star centremen. Tippett was tepid about the whole affair in his postgame comments.

“There are certain things that happen during a game, where you’re looking at different rhythms and different parts of the game where you need certain kinds of players on the ice, and it’s a bit of a change with McDavid and Draisaitl playing together,” he admitted.

Asked to clarify if he didn’t like the two players’ work, or how it affected his 12-man forward unite, he said it was the latter.

“The whole lineup, all the way through it. The rhythm of your lineup,” Tippett said.



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