Bouncing from a pair of road losses early in the week, the Edmonton Oilers extended their home winning streak to five games with a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place on Thursday (March 24). Leon Draisatil scored twice for the Oilers, who also got goals from Derick Brassard, Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto. Goalie Mike Smith also made 28 saves to pick up his seventh win of 2021-22.
Brassard and Brett Kulak were both playing their first games as an Oiler, after being acquired before the trade deadline on Monday (March 21) in separate deals with the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens, respectively.
From the Oilers saluting Ben Stelter, a five-year-old who is currently battling glioblastoma, to veteran forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins returning after being sidelined with an injury for nearly a month, this was an evening filled with positive vibes. After the game went final, Draisaitl acknowledged the crowd with his NSFW catchphrase. Here are three takeaways that Oil Country can also feel good about:
Brassard and Kulak Make Immediate Impact
Not only did Brassard score in his Oilers debut, but his goal at 6:49 of the third period proved to be the game-winner. Sure, the 34-year-old forward got a bit lucky, with the puck going in off the skate of Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, but when you’ve scored more than 200 times in your career, they’re not all going to be things of beauty.
Kulak’s debut with the Oilers was a bit less noticeable, which is exactly what you want from a defenceman. Partnered with Tyson Barrie on Edmonton’s third pairing, Kulak provided 18:27 of solid, steady, unspectacular hockey. In short, he was every bit the depth shutdown defender as advertised.
Oilers First Line Continues Hot Streak
Edmonton’s top line with Kane and Yamamoto flanking captain Connor McDavid is on fire. On Thursday the trio combined for two goals and three assists (two for McDavid, one for Yamamoto), and now have 37 points between them over the last eight games.
Yamamoto shifted the game’s momentum Thursday when he scored on the power-play at 4:34 of the middle frame, just over three minutes after Karlsson had given San Jose a 1-0 lead. The diminutive forward’s 18th goal of the season was the first of three unanswered goals by the Oilers, who never trailed from that point on. Yamamoto has now scored in seven of Edmonton’s last eight games and registered two points in five of the last six.
Kane, who was playing for a second time against the Sharks since signing with the Oilers after San Jose terminated his contract in January, put the game on ice by scoring Edmonton’s fifth goal, into an empty net at 17:18 of the third period. The 6-foot-2 left winger is on a seven-game point streak and has seven goals in six games over the last 10 days (March 15-24), which leads all NHL players over that span.
McDavid assisted on Kane’s goal, as well as a power-play tally by Draisaitl earlier in the third period. The leader in the race for the Hart Trophy now has points in eight straight games, with at least two points in all but one of those contests.
Another Solid Outing From Smith
When the puck dropped Thursday night, Smith, who turned 40 on Tuesday (March 22), officially became just the third quadragenarian to play for the Oilers in Edmonton’s NHL history, joining Adam Oates and fellow netminder Nikolai Khabibulin.
While Smith looked all out of sorts on Karlsson’s ice-breaker at 1:08 of the second period, it’s otherwise hard to find fault with a performance that yielded only two goals and resulted in a win.
The veteran netminder now has gone three straight games without allowing more than two goals in regulation for the first time this season. That itself is a reason for optimism in what has been a mostly miserable season for Smith, whose struggles between the pipes have been broken up only by stints on injured reserve.
In the six weeks since Jay Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett as Oilers head coach on Feb. 10, Smith is 5-4-1 with a 2.84 goals-against average (GAA) and .905 save percentage (SV%). In the previous 41 games – the equivalent of half of a full-length season – Smith had been limited to only five games, going 0-4-1 with a 4.22 GAA and .872 SV%.
Could Smith yet rediscover his form from last season, when he was a stellar 21-6-2 with a 2.31 GAA and .923 SV%? 40 might not be the new 30, but Oil Country would be very happy if, in Smith’s case, it’s the new 39.
Battle of Alberta on Tap for Oilers
With 17 games remaining on their schedule, Edmonton is third place in the Pacific Division with 77 points, only two points behind the second-place Los Angeles Kings, and seven back of the division-leading Calgary Flames.
If the Oilers are to make a run at finishing atop the Pacific standings, they need a win (preferably in regulation) on Saturday (March 26), when they return to action by visiting the first-place Flames for a much-anticipated Hockey Night in Canada match-up between the provincial rivals.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.