Edmonton Oilers Stun Kings 4-2


The Edmonton Oilers proved, tonight, why I sometimes laugh at jaded commentators who write a sports team off before they’ve actually played the game they supposedly have no business being in. The Oilers deserve full marks for a “playoff-like” spoiler effort against an obviously tired defending Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings, tonight, and the 4-2 win. 9 Things:

9. Little things win hockey games at this level. One such “little thing” was a fantastic back-check by Matt Hendricks at the 16:00 mark of the 3rd Period. A puck sprang loose, Richard Bachman was on the wrong side of the crease, and the L.A. Kings player was looking at nothing but net, until Hendricks lunged back and knocked the puck away. What a play, by a real gamer.

8. This was my first opportunity to watch David Musil live, and by the end of the game I was pleasantly surprised. I saw his Dad often when I covered the Flames back in the 90’s. It’s hard to refer to a 6’4 NHL player as a “mini-Me”, but he is a version of Frank. That Todd Nelson had him on the ice in the final 45 seconds was a real tell of how well his 19:47 of TOI went.

7. Somebody, sometime, somewhere published a report that suggested face-off wins were overrated. I thought that report was wrong then, I think it’s wrong now, and I always will believe that. Tonight was “Exhibit A”, of how important possession is in winning games. The Edmonton Oilers, missing their 2 best centers, went 31-17. Taylor Hall, a winger, was over 60%, Derek Roy over 80%.

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6. Lordy, is Drew Doughty ever a splendid hockey player. He is my favorite NHL blue-liner, and has started to sneak up to my all-time favorite. Doughty plays such a complete game, 30-ish minutes a night, and loud minutes…not sitting back and conserving his energy. He is not Bobby Orr, who is my hero, but Doughty may be the defenseman I’ve enjoyed watching the most since #4.

5. I have begun to believe that the Edmonton Oilers do not need to bring in another center. Taylor Hall was very effective, in both ends of the ice tonight, in almost 20 minutes at center. But Anton Lander is making me a believer, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a lock, and Boyd Gordon a gamer. Sign Derek Roy, start Leon Draisaitl in the AHL, and spend your assets in Goal and on D.

4. Oscar Klefbom will continue to have games where it appears he has never played defence in his life. That’s because he has played 75 career games. But more and more, you will see the stud who put up a brilliant 26 minutes tonight, against one of the best fore-checking and cycling teams in the entire league. His combination tonight of grit and lightening speed was…well…dreamy.

3. Matt Fraser is on the bubble, in his NHL career. He has tools, but has not been able to display them on a consistent basis. But tonight was by far and away his best game as an Edmonton Oiler. In 14:34 TOI, he scored twice, was +3, and had 5 hits, several of them of the crushing variety. I am somewhat biased (Matt is my cousin), but he showed tonight that he can belong.

2. In fact, the Matt Fraser, Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick line was the Edmonton Oilers best, tonight. Lander had 2 assists, but could easily have had two goals, from chances point-blank in the slot. And Tyler Pitlick, who looked absolutely gassed early, found his second wind in the final 40 minutes, was effective on the fore-check, and…oh yeah…scored the winning goal!

1. One of the things that I have always loved about this game, both as a player and then later as a reporter, has been that is it so much more than what you see happening on the ice. It is such a human game, such a team game with countless integrated elements, that when it is played at it’s highest level, is breathtaking. Think about it…

Richard Bachman played the game of his life, against these same L.A. Kings a year ago, under Dallas Eakins, facing 50-some pucks. Then, in a demonstration of how cruel this sport can be, he was injured, and then ultimately…banished back to the AHL. His career appeared all but over.

Then, he gets his second chance, a chance so many pro players never get, and is recalled on an emergency basis. He proceeds to go on a 2-game winning streak. Then, as if this story couldn’t get more tragic, his brother passes away. He leaves the team, to be with his family.

Tonight, at Rexall Place, he returned. And this collection of players who have so often this year been (rightly)accused of not playing for each other, proceeded to do just that, and in an admirable fashion. Together, they all but knocked the defending Cup Champs out of contention.

It is a beautiful game. And tonight, the Edmonton Oilers demonstrated that they may just be figuring out the parts of it that great teams already understand. It gives one hope for “next year”, doesn’t it?

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