The Edmonton Oilers scored five goals in the third period on Monday night in Nashville, blowing the Predators out of the rink by an 8-3 score. The next night in Dallas, Edmonton battened down the hatches, withstood 60 minutes of pressure from the Stars, and dragged a game into overtime at 1-1.
Then they collected the second point on an Alex Chiasson goal, a blood ‘n’ guts 2-1 victory that was as stark a contrast to that Nashville game as you could possibly imagine.
Good teams can win in every fashion. These days, Edmonton is looking very much like a good team.
“We’ve got to be able to win games like this,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins told reporters in Dallas. He had a goal and an assist on a night when the NHL’s top two scorers — Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid — had but an assist apiece. “As the rest of the year goes on we can look back on this game … a playoff atmosphere in here. It was a playoff (style) game tonight.”
The Oilers trailed the Vegas Golden Knights by six points in the Pacific just the other day, it seems. Today they’re just two points back of the Golden Knights with a game in hand, and Edmonton hosts Vegas twice in Edmonton’s final 15 games.
First place in the Pacific is well within Edmonton’s reach, as they’ll wake up in Chicago on Wednesday a full six points up on Vancouver and five ahead of the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, the Oilers are leading everyone in the Pacific in the primary tie-breaker of regulation wins, with 30.
Edmonton had 79 points at the end of the 2018-19 season. Today, they have 80 — with 15 games to play. They’re a playoff team for certain, and winning games like the one in Dallas is evidence of that.
“Stellar performance by Mikko (Koskinen) tonight,” said Alex Chiasson, who rifled the overtime winner past Anton Khudobin’s glove. “There were times where they were coming at us for three, four minutes. He gave us a chance to come back. To create momentum. Our goaltending has been a key part of our success this year.”
Mike Smith has taken over the No. 1 job in Edmonton, as we wrote about earlier this week. But ask the Toronto Maple Leafs: just because you have a solid starter does not mean that an efficient No. 2 doesn’t come in handy. Koskinen had lost four of his past five decisions coming in, but shut down the Stars — particularly on the power play, where Dallas went 1-for-6.
Teams that win a lot tend to find a new hero every night.
OK — the heroes in Edmonton are named McDavid and Draisaitl a lot of the time, but you may remember they both enjoyed career seasons last year and the Oilers were not close to making the post-season.
On this night, when the Oilers were outshot in every period — and 43-27 on the night — Mikko Koskinen wore the cape.
“We weren’t very good,” head coach Dave Tippett told reporters in Dallas. “Our goaltender and special teams were good.”
Even Dallas head coach Rick Bowness couldn’t complain about the way his team played.
“That was one of our better games all year, from start to finish. We just didn’t capitalize,” Bowness told the Dallas writers. “They did this to us last time when we played them. It was the same thing: we out-chanced them, we outplayed them and they won, 2-1. It was the same thing tonight. Give their goalie all the credit in the world, that’s his job.”
Koskinen makes more money than Smith, but he’s watched the 37-year-old walk away with the No. 1 job, getting two starts for every one that Koskinen has received since Jan. 1. But the big Finn’s attitude is healthy, and as we saw Tuesday in Dallas, so is his game.
“Whether it’s (playing) five in a row or once in a while, I have to put my best every night,” Koskinen said after the game. “We played really, really well (in Nashville) and had a lot of chances. Today was a different type of game. But, they give two points for one win.”
• Nugent-Hopkins is flying under the radar, playing in a forward group with the NHL’s two leading scorers. He was in on both goals Tuesday, had a quiet three-assist night in Nashville and since Jan. 1, he’s the fifth-leading scorer in the league with 12-22-34 — one more than Boston’s David Pastrnak.
• How good is the Oilers’ league-leading power play? It went 1-for-1 in Nashville and 2-for-5 against Dallas. They’re at 29.9 per cent, which is the highest power-play success rate in Oilers history.
The 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens hold the NHL record for best power-play unit at 31.9 percent, which may be a reach. But as Justin Bourne reported during Tuesday’s broadcast, the Oilers could go on an 0-for-32 cold streak and they’d still have the No. 1 unit in the NHL.
• Edmonton is now 7-1 on the second game of back to back games. That’s tops in the NHL.
The Oilers have an off day in the Windy City. They’ll play the Blackhawks to close out their road trip on Thursday. After that, of their 14 remaining games, only three will be played on the road.