Oilers 1, Lightning 3
It was a strange situation in Tampa Bay on Thursday night, with both teams missing a handful of key players. Evenly split between the two teams, 10 players with a combined cap hit of over $50 million were unavailable to play, including the two guys who between them won the last three Art Ross Trophies.
In a game where depth was an even bigger factor that usual, no real surprise that the high-powered Lightning had a little more of it, just enough to squeeze out a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
The visitors actually sawed off the 5-on-5 portion of the game 1-1 and committed no penalty infractions all night long. Alas the powerplay let them down, not only failing to score on two opportunities but yielding the game-winning goal on a shorthanded breakaway by Yanni Gourde. Ouch.
It was a hard-checking affair that saw Edmonton struggle to break through one-on-one, or to thread enough pucks through passing lanes that were inevitably short-lived against the hustling Bolts. When the Oilers did get a decent look they couldn’t solve Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 29 of 30 Edmonton drives to run his unbeaten-in-regulation string to a startling 20 games over two full months (18-0-2). The defending Presidents’ Trophy champions won their ninth straight even in the absence of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Ryan McDonough. Overall the Bolts were the better team, outshooting the Oilers 37-30 and generating 11 Grade A scoring chances to 7. But it’s tough to criticize the visitors’ effort which was close but no cigar against a leading Stanley Cup favourite.
#6 Adam Larsson, 5. Got caught on the wrong side of Pat Maroon who stuffed home the first goal on a broken play. Rang a screened shot off the iron.
#12 Colby Cave, 5. A decent performance with 2 shots and 2 hits, though his line spent too much time chasing the game. Drew a penalty. Posted a miserable 2/9=22% on the faceoff dot.
#15 Josh Archibald, 5. His usual rough-and-tumble effort, though he was on the receiving end a couple of times, first when he was squashed by big Zack Kassian and bigger Erik Cernak, the second when he was crosschecked right in the numbers by big Luke Schenn and nearly took a skate in the face in the aftermath. Bounced up none the worse for wear from all that to keep on plugging. A couple of decent passes but 0 shots on net. Twice mashed Bolts pest Mathieu Joseph with solid hits.
#16 Jujhar Khaira, 5. A strong physical effort with 5 hits, the heaviest of which nearly put Alexander Volkov right into the Bolts bench. Was in great position and appeared to have a great chance to tie the game very late, but the pass was tipped by a defender just before it reached him.
#23 Riley Sheahan, 5. His best moment came late when he made a nifty play to control the puck at the blueline and fed Bear in the slot for a hard shot that Vasilevskiy did well to turn aside. But made a questionable decision to try a cross-ice pass through traffic to a hard-charging Nurse rather then simply let fly from the slot with teammates converging on the net front. 6/14=43% in the faceoff circle.
#25 Darnell Nurse, 5. Skated miles, jumping into the rush time and again, especially down the stretch. Led the D corps in shots (4) and hits (3). Made an important clearance of a fat rebound in the blue paint. But was caught on the wrong side of the puck more than once. One whiff on the puck led to a 2-on-1 against, forcing a strong blocker save by Smith. Led the Oil in even strength ice time with 22:40.
#29 Leon Draisaitl, 6. A solid overall game included his 90th point of the season (a cheap assist) where his greater contribution was a nifty manoeuvre at the offensive blueline to keep the play onside. Had a number of strong defensive plays including 3 takeaways, some excellent work controlling the puck in tight quarters, and a couple of great feeds. Mustered just 1 shot on net but it forced an outstanding save by Vasilevskiy. But it was his turnover at the offensive blueline, exacerbated by a lack of defensive support, that led to the shorthanded breakaway. 10/21=48% on the dot.
#39 Alex Chiasson, 6. Had easily the best shot metrics of any Oiler, mostly on a hard working line with Haas and Gagner. Was central to 2 Grade A scoring chances, getting rejected on a jam play in the first and making a centring pass with 2 minutes left that found Gagner for a good look. Solid enough in his own end.
#41 Mike Smith, 7. Competed hard, battling through screens to deal with a number of tricky outside shots while turning aside 9 of 10 Grade A chances (with help from his metal friends at least a couple of times). A couple of his better saves cleaned up his own mistakes, namely fat rebounds. Lost his focus briefly on the 1-0 goal when he first lost his stick, then his short side post when he inexplicably lifted his leg out of position, leaving just enough room for Maroon to jam the puck underneath, off his other pad, and an inch over the line. A bit deep in his crease on Gourde’s game-winner. His bigger issue on this night was a lack of goal support. 36 shots, 34 saves, .944 save percentage.
#44 Zack Kassian, 3. Finds himself at the centre of another controversy for this apparent kicking motion in the general direction of Cernak while clambering back to his feet after an awkward three-way crash. The angle does not show whether contact was made, so further action will depend on availability of other camera angles, officials’ reports, interviews with the players involved and such. No penalty was called on the play — indeed the Oilers stayed out of the box all night — but stay tuned. Had an active game otherwise, jamming things up on Vasilevskiy’s doorstep a few times. Credited with 5 shots and 3 hits. But was among the culprits on 4 Grade A looks for the Bolts, a bad number for anyone but especially a winger. Made several questionable decisions managing the puck, especially in the late-game 6-on-5 when on three separate occasions he cycled the puck to nobody in particular, leading to two Tampa clearances and eventually to the empty-net goal that sealed the deal.
#52 Patrick Russell, 4. Had an excellent early backcheck to nullify a Bolts rush. Fired a decent shot off the wing followed by a post-whistle scrum. Was robbed from point blank His worst, the inability to clear a puck while under pressure in his own zone, leading to the first Tampa goal seconds later.
#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 6. Hit the 20-minute mark for the second straight game (21:48) as Dave Tippett leans on the Draisaitl line in McDavid’s absence. His hard charge to the net contributed to the lone goal, while a slick steal and pass to Gagner very nearly resulted in another. Made a strong backcheck all the way to the slot to foil a dangerous looking chance at the other end. But didn’t have the speed to separate from Victor Hedman on an apparent 2-on-1 with Draisaitl.
#74 Ethan Bear, 5. Spent a bit too much time behind his own blueline, but made 0 significant mistakes on major scoring chances. Had one of his own at the good end when he tested Vasilevskiy with a hard drive from the slot with 4 minutes to play.
#77 Oscar Klefbom, 4. Played 24:09 to lead the defence. Was “also in frame” on all 3 Lightning goals. The first was a nothing play, but the game-winner saw the defender caught in no man’s land standing still at the offensive blueline, where he was a trifle slow to read and react to the danger, and too deep to effectively chase. All five Oilers were strung across the blueline with nobody in a support position, which to me is the point man’s role. Unable to seal the wall on the empty-netter. Not his best night.
#82 Caleb Jones, 7. Struggled behind his own blue line if not goal line under heavy pressure in the early going, but became a positive factor as the game wore on. Scored the lone Edmonton goal on a play he handled the puck four times in rapid succession, eventually firing a shot that was blocked, then jumping on the loose disc to fire it past Vasilevskiy from the slot. Made a great cross-ice feed to Draisaitl for what was likely the Oilers best chance in the final frame.
#83 Matt Benning, 5. Took one for the team when he made a painful shot block, then couldn’t get to the bench as his teammates twice failed to get the puck deep enough for the long change, but hung in and tipped a later shot into the netting to force the stoppage. Appeared to get popped right on the chin by Cernak’s shoulder cap on a play that went undetected by the officials but left the hard-luck rearguard woozy and bleeding on the bench. Returned to the game a while later. 3 hits and those 2 blocks, but 0 shot attempts and a couple of defensive zone issues.
#89 Sam Gagner, 6. Fired 3 shots, the best of them with 2 minutes left when he fired a high hard one that may well have beaten a lesser netminder than Vasilevskiy, who kept his feet as he scrambled across the net and blocked the drive with his chest. Made a hustling defensive play to erase a 3-on-1.
#91 Gaetan Haas, 6. His all-righty line with Gagner and Chiasson held their own, creating a couple of decent chances while yielding little. Skated well and made good decisions with the puck. 2 shots, 2 hits, 1 takeaway, and 5/10=50% on the dot.
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 6. Time and again he found himself in good position but unable to quite make the telling play, being foiled by a sliding defender in the slot on one occasion, or not being able to handle a pass with an open net in front of him. Did earn an assist with a good zone entry and return pass on the Jones tally. Played a monstrous 24:50 to lead all skaters on both teams, firing 6 shot attempts.
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