EDMONTON — Over the course of their six-game losing streak, the Edmonton Oilers would normally have been buried. Down 1-0 at best. Likely 2-0.
Inside the first five minutes of Thursday night’s win, the Oilers allowed a two-on-one to the Columbus Blue Jackets, took a too many men on the ice penalty, and then surrendered a three-on-one.
But somewhere along the way in this, the worst six-game homestand in club history, luck found this team.
“I don’t think it was all luck. I just thought it was (goalie Stuart Skinner) playing great,” said centreman Derek Ryan. “I agree that we haven’t had the most puck luck in the last few games. Hopefully we can turn that corner and continue to have luck like we did tonight.”
Skinner made his saves, and the Blue Jackets executed like a team that has two wins in its past 10 games. Then, seconds later, the biggest break arrived: Jakub Voracek lost his helmet, then inexplicably continued to play on, like a guy who doesn’t know the NHL rule book. And on the same sequence, Kailer Yamamoto drew a tripping call.
“It was a little bit of a brain cramp from Jake,” said Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen. “You can’t play the puck when your helmet is off.”
That was the fortune this Oilers club has not stumbled across in two weeks or more. Four minutes of five-on-three for a team on a six-game losing skein — that had not held the lead in a hockey game since puck drop six games ago.
Two minutes to end this thing, once and for all.
“They’re probably first with the power play in the league, so it was a huge challenge,” said Columbus defenceman Vlad Gavrikov. “Two minutes of five-on-three — that’s huge for them and they scored twice.”
It’s that time of year when the Grinch’s heart grows three times in size. And so it was that the Hockey Gods took their foot off the Oilers’ collective neck — for one night, at least — and they took it from there.
Jesse Puljujarvi scored on both ends of that early power play with goal just 46 seconds apart, and then Ryan poked home a loose puck at 11:07. Edmonton’s power play was awake, they had a fourth-line goal that has been almost non-existent for the past month, and they were on their way to a comfortable 5-2 win.
“It’s exactly what we didn’t want,” said assistant coach Glen Gulutzan of his team’s wonky start. “But I’m not going to lie to you… There’s a part in my head that said ‘OK, Skins is warmed up and we got out of it.’”
Puljujarvi has a pair of power-play goals in the 1st. pic.twitter.com/P5AK2dlbzX
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 17, 2021
Stuart Skinner did what a goalie is supposed to do: He gave his team a chance to survive a rocky start. A chance for the mistakes to be forgotten about, and still be in the contest when the things turned their way a few minutes later.
“The start is huge for everybody on this hockey team,” said Skinner, who is well aware that his team hasn’t opened the scoring in a game for two weeks. “It was nice to get a couple saves in right away. It gave us some momentum and we just took over from there. It was a lot of fun tonight.”
Just up from a stint in the minors, Brendan Perlini found himself on a line with Ryan and Zack Kassian and decided to play like the guy who had six pre-season goals at training camp last fall. He rifled seven shots on goal Thursday, and went home with a goal, an assist, and a spot on a line that has been percolating of late.
Depth scoring has been a very sore spot — the Oilers recently went 10 games without a goal from their third or fourth lines — so to win a game 5-2 where Connor McDavid (two assists) and Leon Draisaitl (one helper) only combined for three assists is major news here in Oil Country.
“It is a huge confidence builder, not only for the bottom-six, but for the top-six as well,” Ryan said. “I think my line in particular has … started to come across some confidence. We’re playing well and playing in the offensive zone. We were not getting scored on and playing well defensively.
“Whether we score or not, we have to find ways to contribute and I think we have done that.”
Yeah, scoring would be nice. That was Ryan’s first point in 23 games. Kassian added an assist for the second straight game after six pointless, and Warren Foegele — playing on the top line in Zach Hyman’s absence — guided in an empty netter for his first goal in 21 games.
Depth scoring like that is why Edmonton has become known as a two-man team. Until they disprove that label, that’s what they’re always going to be.
But for one night, at least, there is some joy in Snowville.
The Oilers won a game.
Let the trumpets sound.