Player grades: Edmonton Oilers grin and Bear it, hold off Red Wings 2-1

Red Wings 1, Oilers 2

Edmonton Oilers got the job done on Friday night, barely. Or is that Bear-ly?

The Oil’s youngest player, rookie defenceman Ethan Bear, scored a key goal for the second straight game to put the home side ahead 2-0. That seemingly “safe” lead against a tired opponent turned out to be just enough, as the Detroit Red Wings cut the lead in half, kept battling right to the end, and fell just short as the Oilers hung on to a hard-fought 2-1 victory.

The home side was the better team on paper and on the ice, outshooting the Wings 37-26 and outchancing them by 12-8  in Grade A opportunities, but a combination of excellent goaltending by Jonathan Bernier and four, count ’em four, Oilers’ shot that rang the iron kept the home faithful in nail-biting mode right to the final buzzer.

Indeed, this was a game that could have been stolen by the hot goaltender in white, except the other padded man wearing blue (-ish) also put in a strong performance. That would be Mikko Koskinen who was again stellar in the Oilers’ cage, making a couple of huge stops down the stretch as his mates got caught in extended chase mode on a couple of excruciatingly long shifts.

Player grades

#4 Kris Russell, 6. Led the team in even-strength ice time with 21:27. Active first period with one dangerous wrist shot through traffic, a lost battle behind his net that led to some serious Detroit pressure, a fine move that left Athanasiou in a heap before feeding Kassian with a sharp breakout, then a penalty for slashing the same Red Wing who’d been sent in alone by a fine scoop pass. Made a terrific play to clear the zone in the final minutes. Blocked 4 shots including a critical kick save (and a beauty) of a dangerous centring pass that was the game’s last meaningful act.

#15 Josh Archibald, 5. Played 8 low-event minutes during which the Red Wings mustered just 1 shot. Not much doing at the good end in the way of , but at least the puck was there for the most part. Involved in 0 dangerous chances at either end.

#16 Jujhar Khaira, 6. Much more engaged that he’s been of late, battling in the trenches and moving the puck effectively. Drew a penalty along the wall after his line with Sheahan and P.Russell dominated on the cycle.

#18 James Neal, 7. Made a strong early rush and shot, drawing the foul. Rang the iron on the subsequent powerplay after a superb four-way passing play from McDavid to RNH to Draisaitl to McDavid to Neal. Put the Oilers ahead early in the second with a quick release from the high slot to convert a rebound. Continued to be an effective force on the powerplay and on the forecheck. Had a couple of iffy moments in the defensive zone as his line played chase for extended periods; his last 8 shifts were all over 50 seconds, and 6 of them were 65+.

#19 Mikko Koskinen, 8. For all that the Oilers controlled the play early, he was called upon sporadically for a strong first period. Stopped speedsters Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou on multiple fast breaks, and got the knob of his stick on a dangerous Anthony Mantha chance. Made a number of other stops through traffic, square to the pucks, no rebounds. Made a terrific play to deflect a deadly-looking pass through the blue paint just before it reached an enemy stick. Made a huge save down the stretch when he stoned Trevor Daley on a well-designed Detroit play, and stared down Larkin twice more in the closing minutes. 26 shots, 25 saves, .962 save percentage. Now 4-0-0, 2.20, .933 on the season.

#23 Riley Sheahan, 5. Bumping and grinding along with his mates Khaira and P. Russell. Fired one heavy drive on net after a good rush. 6/12=50% on the dot.

#25 Darnell Nurse, 7. Activated offensively throughout, firing a team-high 5 shots and earning secondary assists on both Edmonton goals. Moved the puck fairly effectively, skating it out of trouble on more than one occasion. Was among the culprits on the Detroit goal. Used his stick to good advantage in the d-zone, tipping a couple of dangerous shots safely out of play. Played 22:24 in all situations.

#26 Brandon Manning, 5. Kept things simple, keeping the play and the puck in front of him for the most part. Each team mustered just 3 shots during 12 quiet minutes.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 7. A game high 9 shot attempts, while chipping in on a team high 6 Grade A scoring chances. Let fly from dangerous spots time and again but had trouble getting them through (5 blocked). Narrowly missed on one spinnarama off a McDavid feed on the powerplay which is becoming a go-to move for the tandem. Broke into the slot off a terrific McDavid tip pass only to ring a low shot off the pipe. Set up Bear’s goal by first protecting the puck in traffic, then feeding the point. Delivered a pair of sumptuous cross-ice passes off the backhand side of his blade. Ramped up his defensive game down the stretch, eliminating one Detroit rush with a strong backcheck. In the last minute with Detroit pressing 6v5, Draisaitl knocked down one pass to clearing the zone, then took another puck out of the air and fed McDavid for what should have been an easy empty-netter. 7/10=70% on the dot.

#39 Alex Chiasson, 6. May have found a home on a veteran line with RNH and Neal. Strong shot from the slot early in the game. Made a good rush and backhand shot to test Bernier.  Made a splendid play on the 1-0 goal when he first won a puck battle along the side boards, worked it back to the point and headed for the slot where his deflection of Nurse’s point shot created the rebound that Neal cashed. Drilled Danny DeKeyser with a clean, heavy hit. 3 shots, 2 hits, 1 block.

#44 Zack Kassian, 7. An effective force, largely without the puck. Landed a game-high 6 hits, several of them punishing blows. More importantly, he cast heavy shade on Bernier on Bear’s goal which simply wouldn’t have happened without that screen. Logged a solid 18:24, most of it at evens with a bit of time on the second powerplay unit and none at all on the penalty kill, a role his previous coaches tried without much success. Dave Tippett seemingly has him playing where he can do his club the most good, and Kassian is responding with some excellent hockey.

#52 Patrick Russell, 6. Played responsible two-way hockey, battled in the trenches and landed a couple of solid hits along the way. Rang the crossbar from the slot after a solo rush. 2 shots and 1 heart-wrenching miss when McDavid’s shot off the post seemingly took a friendly bounce right to him but wobbled and he was unable to bury it from point blank range for what would have been his first NHL point let alone goal. That said, the fact he was out there in the game’s final minute defending a one-goal lead speaks volumes about his coach’s trust.

#74 Ethan Bear, 7. Some more splendid work moving the puck in, and out of, his own end. Scored the 2-0 goal on a lovely reverse move at the point to change his shooting angle followed by a laser-guided wrister through the screen and into a tiny area of exposed netting. Was victimized on the 2-1, though, when he twice overskated the puck deep in his own territory, the second leading immediately to the scoring shot. The only tiny thing separating him from an 8 and a “great game” rating; as it was he was named the game’s first star as his coming-out party continues. Played 21:40 including a minute on each special team as Tippett becomes ever more reliant on him in all situations.

#77 Oscar Klefbom, 5. Played a game-high 24:54 (exactly tied with Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser) and recorded strong flow-of-play numbers (65% shot share).  Moved the puck time and again, but not without incident. His 5 giveaways were easily a game high, and he was victimized on 4 Grade A chances by the Wings. Got happy feet a time or two floating around the defensive zone in ragged pursuit of the puck.

#83 Matt Benning, 6. Played 15:01 on the third pairing with Manning and got the job done. 2 shots, 3 hits, 2 takeaways and 0 egregious lapses.

#91 Gaetan Haas, 6. Returned to the line-up with some serious jump in his step, be it on the forecheck deep in Detroit territory or cleaning up a loose puck behind his own net 200 feet away and starting the counter attack. Played just 7:22 during which time the Oilers outshot Detroit 4-1. Haas delivered some strong puck support and landed 4 hits for good measure. 3/5=60% on the dot.

#92 Tomas Jurco, 5. All over the puck in the early going with 3 takeaways in the first period alone. Turned one of those into a dangerous shot from the edge of the crease. Did some nice work covering the passing lanes in his own zone, but was victimized on the Detroit goal when Mike Green’s slot shot deflected off him and past Koskinen.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 6. Came out fast, setting up both of his linemates, Chiasson and Neal, with sharp passes in the early going. Then set up Draisaitl in the slot on the powerplay.  Made another slick play to set up Neal after first drawing a pair of Wings to him. His line dominated shot shares, however they did have a couple of extended shifts trapped in their own zone in the late going. 7/15=47% in the dot.

#97 Connor McDavid, 6. Had plenty of drive but no finish. He took the puck hard to the net a few times, but didn’t have a lot of real estate at the denouement as the Red Wings defended the net front reasonably well. Was robbed by Bernier on a couple of occasions. Chipped in on 6 Oilers chances, just 1 against. Had what seemed to be a “gimme” on the empty net from inside the offensive zone but somehow hit the inside of the post, keeping the game’s outcome in doubt until literally its final second.

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