Five weeks to the date since they last tasted victory, the Edmonton Oilers finally got back in the win column with a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on Saturday (Jan. 22).
Evan Bouchard and Leon Draisaitl had two goals apiece, Brendan Perlini also scored, and Mikko Koskinen made 44 saves for the Oilers, who snapped a seven-game winless streak and won for just the third time in their last 16 tries.
After allowing the first goal for the 15th time in 16 games, Edmonton fell behind 2-0 before rallying to earn two points and perhaps turn the temperature down a degree or two for their coach, Dave Tippet, who is rumoured to be on the hot seat.
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Here are four takeaways the Oilers’ crucial comeback victory over their provincial rivals on Hockey Night in Canada.
Koskinen Shows Resilience
No one player on the Oilers is more disparaged than Koskinen, the veteran netminder who has become the poster child for what’s wrong with Edmonton’s roster, between the pipes.
With Mike Smith on injured reserved and Stuart Skinner in COVID protocol, Koskinen was pressed into duty this week without a safety net, not because he was the best option, but the only option.
On Thursday, the Florida Panthers lit up Koskinen for six goals on 28 shots in their 6-0 trouncing of the Oilers at Rogers Place. Normally a goalie wouldn’t be thrown back to the wolves following such a nightmarish performance, but in this case, Tippett had no choice.
To his credit, Koskinen didn’t let the events of two nights prior affect his start, making some difficult saves while coming under attack in the early going. Even after Calgary scored at 8:29 of the first period and scored again just 41 seconds before the first intermission, Koskinen was able to regroup and kept the Flames at bay long enough in the second period to give Edmonton an opportunity to dig out of the 2-0 hole.
Koskinen was perfect in the third period, turning aside 17 Calgary shots, five of them in the last five minutes while Edmonton was protecting a one-goal lead. The 44 saves are a season-high for the 33-year-old Finn, who was credited with a win for the first time since backstopping Edmonton to a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 1.
“He saved the game for us,” Draisaitl said during Edmonton’s post-game media availability. “He was our best player, not even close.”
That’s high praise coming from Draisaitl, considering the Oilers alternate captain had one heck of a night, himself, with four points against the Flames.
Like Koskinen, these have been trying times for Draisaitl, whose recent scoring slump was eclipsed this week by his testy exchange with a reporter during media availability on Tuesday (Jan. 18) that made headlines around the league.
While that firestorm mercifully died down, the superstar forward’s stick remained uncharacteristically tepid against Florida, as Thursday’s goose egg left Draisaitl with just 11 points in the previous 14 games.
It didn’t help matters that fellow Hart and Art Ross Trophy recipient Connor McDavid was simultaneously under-performing, also with 11 points over the same stretch. If Edmonton was going to stop the bleeding, at least one of its two superstars needed to play like the Hart Trophy winners they are, and on Saturday, Draisaitl was up to task, scoring twice and adding two helpers.
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Draisaitl scored his seventh game-winning goal of the season, but first since Nov. 24, with a brilliant rush to the net where he waited for Calgary netminder Jacob Markstrom to go down before burying the puck, giving Edmonton a 4-3 lead with 5:31 remaining. It was a clutch performance from the German center, who equalled his goal, assist and point totals from the last six games combined.
For his part, McDavid picked up a pair of assists, for his first multi-point game since New Year’s Eve, but the captain has now been kept from scoring a goal in 12 of his last 14 appearances.
Draisaitl now has 58 points this season, tied with Washington Capitals’ forward Alex Ovechkin for the league lead. The Oilers forward sits third in the NHL with 28 goals, one behind Ovechkin and Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers.
Oilers Battle Back
Edmonton has opened the scoring just once in its last 16 contests. Saturday was the ninth straight game allowing the first goal by the Oilers, who have fallen behind 1-0 in 24 of the last 28 games and 27 times total in 2021-22, tied with the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Kraken for most in the NHL.
This time, however, the Oilers fought back to win, something they did a lot earlier this season, but have rarely pulled off lately. Over their first 21 games, which saw the Oilers vault to the top of the Western Conference standings at the start of December, Edmonton was 7-5-0 when the opponent opened the scoring. But in the following 15 games, leading up to Saturday, the Oilers had a record of 1-11-2 when trailing first.
Saturday was the first time in 2021-22 that the Oilers have won when trailing after the first period. Edmonton has now rallied from a multi-goal deficit to win three times this season.
More Time for Tippett?
During an appearance on TSN 1260 radio in Edmonton on Friday (Jan. 21), TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported that Tippett was on the verge of being fired, saying that if the Oilers” “don’t get a result tomorrow night against Calgary and an effort, then I think it’s over on Sunday,”
They did get the result, and most certainly gave a great effort, but it was still a performance rife with breakdowns by the Oilers, who allowed their goalie to be peppered with 47 shots.
The question is, where does this leave Tippett in the eyes of general manager Ken Holland? If the GM was this close to dismissing his head coach of two-plus seasons before puck drop Saturday, is Tippett’s job any more secure than it was 24 hours earlier?
Edmonton’s next plays Tuesday (Jan. 25), against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, where Tippett will presumably be behind the bench for the visiting Oilers. But if Edmonton loses in Vancouver, is that when the ax falls on Tippett? Or does it just move the veteran coach back to being one loss away from the end of the line? With 72 hours between games, this will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on.