Player grades: Oilers recipe for success? A dash of McD, a dram of Drai, and a smothering of Smith

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Flames 1, Oilers 4

After a poor showing against Calgary Flames on Thursday night, the Edmonton Oilers shot out of the gate on Saturday night and dominated the early going of the final Battle of Alberta. By the 8-minute mark of the first, the Oil had built a 2-0 lead. They spent the final 52 minutes of the night defending that lead, saw it get cut in half at the midway point, but held on the rest of the way. A pair of empty netters in the final 66 seconds increased the final spread, but this was in essence another 1-goal win for the blue and orange. In regulation, as usual.

The Oilers were led once again by their key players. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were involved in all 4 Edmonton goals, netting 7 points between them. Defenders Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse put in yeoman service on the back end. And ancient stopper Mike Smith had every answer but one in leading his current team past his old one.

Calgary controlled the flow of play for long stretches but much of it was along the perimeters. While the Flames held a 62-40 bulge in shot attempts, shots on goal were virtually even at 30-29 Calgary, while our count of Grade A scoring chances had Edmonton with a 17-11 advantage (running count). Importantly, the Oil held the Flames to just one Grade A chance in the final period.

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The win not only wrapped up the longest-ever regular season series between the two provincial rivals at 6-4 in the Oilers’ favour, but also mathematically clinched that Edmonton will finish the season ahead of Calgary. They need but a single point in next week’s four-game set against Vancouver Canucks to formally seal a playoff berth.

Player grades

#6 Adam Larsson, 8. Another first-rate game of defensive hockey from the stalwart Swede, who controlled an area of the ice extending from the top of the slot to the blue paint and all the way to the right defensive boards and end wall. Won a ton of battles, moved the puck efficiently, and took his usual pounds of flesh with 6 (official) hits. Also 4 shot blocks, 2 of them (against Matt Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm) during a key defensive stand in the dying seconds of the middle frame. Played a whopping 23:54, 3:15 of that on a rock solid penalty kill that shut down all three Flames powerplays.

#13 Jesse Puljujarvi, 7. Strong showing on an effective second line with McLeod and RNH. Burst through the defence for a breakaway chance in the first, and while he couldn’t solve Markstrom with a deke to the backhand side, he did draw penalty on the play which led directly to Edmonton’s first goal. Contributed to 3 later scoring chances, drilling Mark Giordano with a check that led to a pair of RNH chances, and the third via a hard charge to the net front away from the puck that contributed to the general chaos. Excellent shot metrics as Oilers outshot the Flames 8-2 during his 13 minutes, with zero defensive mistakes.

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#14 Devin Shore, 5. A little shaky at the centre position, surrounded by the slow boots of Neal and Chiasson. Spent most of his ice time deep in Edmonton territory, as shot attempts of +2/-12 and actual shots of +0/-5 attest. Did contribute 2:22 on the penalty kill, landed 3 hits, and recorded an excellent 8/10=80% on the dot to salvage his night’s work.

#15 Josh Archibald, 6. The king of the empty netter hit the yawning cage to clinch the win with 1:06 to play, then set up Nurse for a second ENG to finish the deal 40 seconds later. Has now recorded 6-3-9 against the empty net in his two seasons as an Oiler, more than a quarter of his goals and points. Clearly Tippett trusts him in that situation as he is a regular alongside the likes of Draisaitl and McDavid as the Oilers defend a late lead. Also led the forward group with 3:03 on the penalty kill, and the team as a whole with 5 hits. Won a race to an icing, and won a battle that helped set up a Kahun chance,

#18 James Neal, 4. After a couple of effective games earlier in the week, was a day late and a dollar short in this one. All 3 of his shot attempts were blocked. Played just 8:55. Did contribute an important zone clearance in the late going.

#21 Dominik Kahun, 5. Had a pair of good chances in rapid succession when he tipped Kulikov’s outside shot on net, then nearly jammed home the rebound only to be foiled by Markstrom’s blocker.

#22 Tyson Barrie, 5. Earned the cheapest of second assists when he bumped the puck to McDavid behind Oilers’ net on the early powerplay, then watched as McDavid-to-Draisaitl-back-to-McDavid worked their magic. That was his 42nd point of the season, the most of any Edmonton d-man in 12 long years and quite a remarkable total for a 49-game campaign. Otherwise a fairly quiet night, other than the running feud he had with Tkachuk that at one point landed both of them in the penalty box. Some welcome edge from a finesse player.

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#25 Darnell Nurse, 7. Not his finest game by most measures, until one notices on the Event Summary that he logged a massive 31:34. His fourth game north of 30 minutes on the season — ALL of them against the Flames. Also led the club with 3:22 on the penalty kill, particularly noteworthy since he was the man in the box on one of the three Edmonton kills when he was tagged for mashing Rasmus Andersson into the boards. 2 shots, 3 hits, and a bonus empty netter, his 15th goal of the season.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 8. Assisted on all 4 Oilers goals, posting a +3 on the night to ameliorate Thursday’s -3. Made a wonderfully subtle pass to McDavid on the game’s first goal, which set up to be a standard deep drop pass to the late-charging teammate. Calgary had it so well-defended at first that Draisaitl held the puck for an extra beat, then another as McDavid zoomed by him. ultimately eventually slipping a through pass right on the speedster’s tape as he hit the blueline. A slick reverse pass to McDavid on the cycle led to the second. Took a fine McDavid pass and burst around the defence for a close range shot that was turned aside.  Two more helpers with calm, safe clearing passes on the empty netters. In between times had a couple of defensive miscues that were dealt with by Smith. His persistent backcheck of a dangerous looking Johnny Gaudreau rush in the third was outstanding. Was felled by a dirty Milan Lucic slewfoot which somehow went undetected by the game officials. 4 shots on net, 3 giveaways, 2 takeaways all tied for the team lead, while posting an excellent 12/19=63% on a night the Oilers as a whole dominated the faceoff dot. Most of that work came in the d-zone, where Leon won 8 of 13 including 3 of 5 on the penalty kill. Had his ice time curtailed to “just” 24:08 which included ample times on both special teams as well as the game-ending 5v6.

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#39 Alex Chiasson, 5. His line was very quiet at evens. But as usual A.C. did his best work on the powerplay, where he generated 3 of his 4 shots on net, all of them dangerous efforts from in tight to the net.

#41 Mike Smith, 8. On most nights, 6:27 into the first period would be considered a trifle early for a game-changing stop, but Smith delivered one at that early juncture when he flat-out robbed the dangerous Andrew Mangiapane from point blank range, flashing out his left pad to kick out a well-placed drive. A goal there — after the Oilers had completely controlled the early play and could well have led by more than 1-0 — and it’s a completely different game. Instead, Smith made the stop, play carried on, and before the next whistle was blown Edmonton had doubled that lead with what would stand up as the game winner. That was the best of Smith’s 29 saves, though he had a few other dandies along the way, such as his pad stop of a close-in Tkachuk deflection. Not his best night handling the puck with a couple of hair-raising moments. Somehow tied Draisaitl for the team lead in both giveaways, with 3, and takeaways, with 2. Made a terrific poke check to disrupt one dangerous Flames chance. 30 shots, 29 saves, .967 save percentage.

#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 5. Involved in a dangerous sequence in the opening shift, recording his only shot of the game in the process but failing to cash from 6 feet out. Started the cycle on the Oilers second goal by recovering Draisaitl’s rebound and feeding the point. Made one weak pass leading to a jailbreak, and another poor decision in the neutral zone reuslting in an offside. Now has just 1 goal in his last 20 games despite ample opportunity playing with high-end players.

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#70 Dmitry Kulikov, 6. Solid if unspectacular playing with Larsson on the shutdown pair. A hair slow moving the puck a time or two, but used his partner well as a safety valve. They seem to be connecting on the same wavelength. 2 shots, 2 hits, 2 blocks.

#71 Ryan McLeod, 5. Promoted to the second line in just his fourth NHL game. His lack of experience showed a time or two, notably on the Mangiapane chance where he seemed to miss his assignment. Did block a couple of shots and began to transport the puck more authoritatively as the game went on. Missed the target on his best shooting opportunity, recorded 0 shots on net, just 2/7=29% on the dot. Did make a nice pass to RNH for a tricky low-angle shot. Also showed good attention to detail when he came deep in the neutral zone at the tail end of an Edmonton powerplay to ensure the Flame coming out of the box wouldn’t have room to breathe.

#74 Ethan Bear, 6. Scored the game-winner on a well-placed one-timer from the left circle off a terrific McDavid feed. Was among those beaten on the one Flames goal when Gaudreau’s rebound shot found a hole in Bear’s desperation block attempt. Other than a couple of shaky moments, moved the puck well. Solid in 2:45 the penalty kill, though took as penalty of his own for “marginal interference”.

#82 Caleb Jones, 4. Mostly OK, including two good handles of the puck in the sequence leading to the game winner. Drew a penalty when he got crosschecked by Milan Lucic. But… made another of the glaring errors which continue to dog his game when he allowed Tkachuk to get behind him for a breakaway on a routine transition play, ultimately leading to Gaudreau’s goal on the rebound. Didn’t see the ice for the remaining 9 minutes of the middle frame, then got three short shifts in the early part of the third before being nailed to the bench down the stretch. Played just 9:09 on the night, far less than any other rearguard.

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#91 Gaetan Haas, 5. Very quiet at even strength, with no shot attempts and about that much offensive zone time. Now has gone 16 games since his last point, and has just 3 in 33 GP on the season. Gets a bare passing grade for his work on the penalty kill and for 3 shot blocks. The best and most courageous of those came in the aftermath of his own weak clearing attempt on the PK. Another time his excellent defensive stick forced a Flames offside. Recorded a decent 5/7=71% on the dot.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 6. His line with McLeod and Puljujarvi was effective in possession and gave up little the other way. Was directly involved in 7 Edmonton Grade A chances, with perhaps his best moment being a deft kick pass over to McDavid for what looked to be a certain goal. Had 3 dangerous shots of his own from close range in the third period but was unable to solve Markstrom. Made one weak pass leading to a Flames jailbreak, but later made a key defensive stop after a Smith turnover.

#97 Connor McDavid, 8. Another “routine” night of 1-2-3, exactly on par with his seasonal ratio which now sees him at 29-58-87. That’s 16 points ahead of Draisaitl in the scoring “race” and an astounding 23 points clear of any non-Oiler. Was at his brilliant best in the early going when the game was decided, slashing through the defence on a high-speed rush and golfing a hard drive into the top corner. Then set up the second goal off the cycle, cutting off the boards into the middle to open up the defence before feeding Bear on the far circle for the one-time blast. Appeared to have another sure goal on his stick in the second period with Markstrom trapped on the far side of the crease, but semi-whiffed the shot at the open side and was stymied by a desperation shot block by d-man Michael Stone. His group was trapped in its own zone at times but didn’t panic and yielded little in the way of dangerous shots. Made a fine defensive hit when he drilled Mikael Backlund to end a Calgary possession. Set up both empty netters with good d-zone passes to Draisaitl, but was rewarded with a point on only the first of those. 5/8=63% on the faceoff dot. Took a shot at Lucic soon after the Flame’s nasty slewfoot of Draisaitl, an appropriate response that managed to avoid detection, which seemed fair enough given the initial, far more dangerous foul was also missed.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

McCURDY: Examining the Tyson Barrie conundrum

STAPLES: Oilers top internal free agent priority is Larsson, not RNH, insider claims

STAPLES: Broberg coming over from Sweden, Konovalov to sign as well

STAPLES: Player grades in 3-1 loss to Calgary Flames

McCURDY:  Defensive driving Oilers success

LEAVINS: Player grades from 3-1 win in the ‘peg

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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