Edmonton Oilers fans can take a calming breath of fresh air as their favourite team beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 last night, doing away with their ugly three-game losing skid. Head coach Dave Tippet knew the game would be a close one as both teams needed to get back on track.
The Oilers have a six-point lead over their provincial rival and are now 3-1 during the Battle of Alberta season series with six more matchups to go.
There’s a Fight Again in the Battle of Alberta
As we know, the Oilers went into last night’s game ticked off after suffering three blowout losses to the Maple Leafs. There’s usually a bit of animosity when these two provincial rivals face-off, although the games were less feisty in seasons prior to last season. Last season we got to witness the first-ever goalie fight in the Battle of Alberta as current Oiler Mike Smith and former Oiler Cam Talbot duked it out during a line brawl late in the second period at the Saddledome.
Last night we were treated to more fistfights as former Oiler Milan Lucic squared up against Darnell Nurse in a heavyweight tilt with four and a half left in the first period. Nurse was definitely swinging above his weight class but stood in there long enough to fire up his teammates. Not just a minute and a half later, Matthew Tkachuk and former Flame James Neal threw down the gloves and shared some knuckles. This was definitely a welcomed sight as both teams were looking to rekindle their flame, especially from Calgary’s side as they fired their head coach two days ago.
McDavid Is Back, Draisaitl and Yamamoto Feeling Dangerous
Oilers captain Connor McDavid hasn’t been his regular self as he didn’t record a point during the three games against Toronto. He’s been held to a bagel for three games in a row three times over his entire career. However, in 95 games following zero-point performances, he racked up 50 goals and recorded 131 assists. The Oilers went 48-35-12 in those games. Throw in there that McDavid has never gone four games in a row without a point in his career, that meant that all eyes were on him to have a break-out game.
After recording one goal after almost 11 periods of play, Tippett seized the opportunity to change up the look of his team. At the start of the second period, he put his two most lethal players, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, on the first line together for the first time in 14 months, and it definitely worked out in their favour. (from ‘OILERS NOTEBOOK: Draisaitl and McDavid may be together again for Ottawa series,’ Toronto Sun, 03/07/2021)
After trailing 1-0 after the first frame, McDavid passed backhand to Patrick Russell at the blue line. Russell took a long wrist shot that was redirected by Jacob Markstrom’s right pad and into the post. Jesse Puljujarvi drove the net and backhanded the puck past Markstrom for his seventh goal of the season, and sixth all-time against the Flames. Connor recorded his first assist in five games. The Oilers would go into the third tied at one.
The Flames struck back quickly as Noah Hanifin scored his first goal of the season on Calgary’s first shot of the third period, making it a 2-1 affair. Later in the frame, McDavid, Draisaitl and Yamamoto entered the zone with the puck. McDavid, at the far boards, fed it to a streaking Leon, who passed it back to an open Yamamoto. Yamo wasted no time and fired it on the net where Flames Mikael Backlund unintentionally redirected it past Markstrom’s glove hand, tying it 2-2.
With under four minutes left, it was nearly the same setup that gave the Oilers the first lead of the night. The same three players entered the O-zone, McDavid took the shot from the far left and rang it off the far post and in for the go-ahead goal and his 15th of the season. It was a three-point night for McDavid and Yamamoto had two, with a goal and an assist. That was enough for the Oil as they took the game to the tune of 3-2. McDavid received the first star of the game honours with his three points (1-2-3), and Yamamoto got the third star with his goal and assist (1-1-2).
Heroes Can Sometimes Be the Villains
The other side of that blade is the fact that both Yamamoto and Draisaitl had penalties called against them during the game, with Leon being the bigger offender with two on the night. Now Yamamoto’s tripping of Rasmus Andersson in front of the net was unnecessary and an avoidable offence. Leon’s two infractions were out of frustration, both were crosschecking. It’s easy to say that the Flames got under Drai’s skin and that there were already two fights to round-out the first period, but that doesn’t mean that he had to wack the opposition so blatantly in the open during an airtight game.
The Flames capitalized on their first power-play opportunity but the Oilers were lucky that they couldn’t convert on the other two. Edmonton’s penalty kill is operating at 75.9%, which ranks 23rd in the league. Both Draisaitl and Yamamoto played great at the offensive attack, however, should try to stay clear of dealing self-inflicted harm to the team.
Another Strong Performance From Smith
Mike Smith faced 21 shots alone in the first period and did his best to limit the damage with only one getting past him. The Oiler’s defence tightened up during the second period, as the Flames didn’t have a shot on the net for the first seven minutes and went from peppering Smith with 21 shots to only seven. It’s often said that your best penalty killer is your goaltender and Smith was that for Edmonton as he stopped the Flames from scoring on him two out of the three times on the man advantage. I was running out of fingers trying to keep an ongoing count of how many Grade A scoring chances the Flames had throughout the contest.
Smith’s record is now 7-2-0 with a .925 save percentage (SV%) and might start in the upcoming three-game series against the Ottawa Senators.
Still Looking For a Power Play Marker
Edmonton hasn’t netted the puck on the man advantage since before the three-game series against Toronto. The Oilers didn’t get many calls in their favour during those games but had two chances against Calgary and didn’t get the job done. They dropped to 10th in the league with a PP% of 25.3%.
The Oilers are 3-0 in games tied after 2 periods and have won seven of nine one-goal games. The Oilers have started down the right path to another win streak with a strong performance against their QE2 rival. If the Oilers can clean up their act and not take as many unnecessary penalties, while having more depth scoring from each line of the roster, then they’re in great shape to take advantage of the struggling Ottawa Senators.
Teagan Giselbrecht is a writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning & Colorado Avalanche here at The Hockey Writers. He completed the Television Broadcasting and Journalism program at N.A.I.T. in 2019. During his first stint in Edmonton, he did Play-by-play for the NAIT Ooks Men’s and Women’s hockey teams. He also worked for the Oilers Entertainment Group, Oilers and Oil Kings respectfully. He has covered various sports at different levels including the NHL, CFL, WHL, AJHL and ACAC. Former television news and sports reporter for Prime Time Local News in Lloydminster, he moved back to Edmonton to pursue career development opportunities with 630 CHED. When he’s not writing for THW, you can find him playing sports and spending time with loved ones.