Former Calgary Flame Cory Sarich joined Sportsnet 960 The Fan’ Boomer in the Morning to discuss everything Game 4 from the Battle of Alberta. They worked their way to the end of the game, where Edmonton Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the game-winner on a rebound.
Did Anyone Pay Attention to the Oilers in Game 4?
The discussion that led up to that point was the Flames’ lack of coverage by the fourth line and pairing on the ice, which then led to the rebound goal to put the Oilers up 4-3 late in the third period. Dean “Boomer” Molberg, host of the show, had this to say about the result: “It’s Nugent-Hopkins. Drives me nuts because the guy did nothing last night and ends up with two goals. He was sleeping through the whole game. Where was he the rest of the game? What did he do?”
Nugent-Hopkins may not be at the same level as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Evander Kane, but he is still a good player and can be impactful in games. He did just that in Game 4. Despite what people on the Flames’ side may think or say, Nugent-Hopkins may have had one of his best games of the postseason. To start, he scored two goals that included the game-winner. If the Flames didn’t pick him up in front of the net and cover him, that’s on them. He was in the right position, and it paid off greatly.
Speaking of the so-called “nothing” that Nugent-Hopkins did in Game 4, what would you call leading the Oilers, not just the forwards, in ice time (22:44), having five shots on goal, five blocked shots, and one hit? He led the team in shots, tied for the team lead in blocked shots, and his line had an excellent xGF% (expected goals for percentage) of 63.
The line of Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, and Jesse Puljujarvi had 27 shot attempts against, but only four of those shots hit the net. The entire line did a great job of keeping shots to the outside and from poor locations, resulting in almost no good chances against. The shot differential was because only roughly 30 percent of their draws were in the offensive zone, and they were out there for two goals for and zero against.
Nugent-Hopkins’ Important Role in Oilers’ Success
Nugent-Hopkins has scored four goals in this postseason, the other two in their blowout Game 3 win in the first round. Those goals may not have been critical, but his timely goals in Edmonton in Game 4 surely were. He has been tasked with many different roles, and for the most part, he has done a great job.
His point totals may not be the same as they were when he was playing beside McDavid during the regular season a few seasons ago, but he can play centre or the wing on any line without a bad thing to say about it. Similar to Ryan McLeod, Nugent-Hopkins can play in all situations and play them effectively. He is a key contributor to a power play that fell off during the regular season while he dealt with a month-long injury. Also, he doesn’t only contribute points to the top unit, he is integral to zone entries to allow the Oilers to get full possession of the puck in the offensive end.
Nugent-Hopkins is one of the main penalty-killers on the Oilers and works great as a duo with Hyman. His Corsi is well above average while shorthanded, and not only did he score three goals and two assists while down a man during the regular season, that has carried over to the playoffs with a shorthanded assist.
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His line is successfully shutting down and contributing offensively even if not many people are noticing or giving them the recognition that is due. He has four goals and 10 points in 11 games this postseason, and five of those points have come against the Flames in four games.
There may have been other games throughout the season when Nugent-Hopkins is less noticeable, but getting yourself into a position to be successful and playing a good all-around game is important, and he made himself known for more than just the two times he scored goals. Many people like to comment on players, especially on the other side of a heated battle like the Battle of Alberta, but we all must judge for ourselves. Go back and watch the game again to see how often Nugent-Hopkins makes his presence known. If you’re an Oilers fan, it’ll be worth it.