Mike Smith stepped up his game last night as he stopped 32 shots to maintain the Edmonton Oilers’ thin lead in a close back and forth game against the Vancouver Canucks. Smith stopped every Grade-A scoring chance the Canucks had in route to a 3-0 Oilers victory at Rogers Arena.
The 38-year-old goaltender got back-to-back starts during this series as Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett believed he was on a roll in between the pipes and would be sturdy enough to get the Oilers the win. It was Smiths’ 41st career shut-out as they distended themselves from the Canucks and Flames in the standings.
The Oilers left the ice after the first period without netting a goal, however, thanks to Smith’s heroics they didn’t give up one either after 13 shots on net. Alex Chiasson was the man to open the scoring as he slid one past Thatcher Demko on a spin-o-rama move with eight seconds left during the Oil’s third power-play opportunity of the game.
Edmonton wasn’t in the clear yet as the Canucks had a plethora of high-quality scoring chances from the half-way point to nearing the end of the second period. Smith made a sprawling save on a front porch second chance opportunity shot from Jake Virtanen with 7:28 left in the second frame. Less than 30 seconds later he had to react quickly to a Bo Horvat-to-Virtanen across ice one-timer that was on and off his stick faster than me turning on the Sportsnet channel when an Oilers game is on.
Smith Makes Hockey History
Throw in there pulling off a Bill Ranford-Esque two pad stack and standing strong during four Vancouver power plays opportunities, it was one if not the best game performance from Smith this season, as he joined Curtis “Cujo” Joseph as the only goalies in NHL history with 3+ shutouts with five different teams.
Smith was the first star of last night’s game and continues his undefeated season with a 6-0-0 record with a 1.73 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .944 save percentage (SV%)
Improvement on the Penalty Kill
The PK has been rolling for the Oil as they’ve now stopped 30 of the last 34 one-man disadvantage. That’s something you may not have been expecting considering they’re in the bottom half in the league in PK% at 19th with 78.6%. However, this past series saw the Oilers have a couple of shorthanded chances that brought fans to the edge of their seats.
Draisaitl’s Close But No Cigar
On the topic of almost scoring when the chances arise, Leon Draisaitl has recently become the living embodiment of that unfortunate occurrence on the Oilers. Last season’s Hart Trophy winner has had two back-to-back 100+ point seasons and could reach the 500 NHL point milestone this season. He’s had six assists over the last three games, however, he hasn’t scored a goal since the Feb. 17 matchup against the Winnipeg Jets where he sniped two home. Draisaitl has had a few amazing chances to score against Calgary and Vancouver over the past week.
Last night he was robbed by Demko on the Oiler’s second PP attempt. Tyson Barrie took a slap shot from the blue line that made its way through to the net, was stopped by Demko and it fell to the “German Gretzky’s” feet. He seemed to have a clear-cut wide-open net to drill the puck in, but Demko had other plans getting back in time with his left glove and pad down to make the save.
Later in the second frame, Draisaitl had a breakaway opportunity with Quinn Hughes on his tail. Draisaitl went left to right, used his backhand to put it five-hole on Demko but was met by both pads followed with the gloves covering up the puck for no second opportunities. Now, listening to the 630 CHED broadcast of the game, Bob Stauffer kept pointing out that Draisaitl hasn’t been playing at full speed for a while now and that he could be playing with a minor injury. That’s just speculation at this moment in time when this article comes out, keep an eye out for if you notice it, although he isn’t slowing down in the points production department.
Those Darn Goal Posts
In Tuesday’s game agianst the Canucks, the Oilers rang shots of the posts and crossbars more times than I could count while there was action on the ice. It was the same last night as Kailer Yamamoto got around his defender, went down main street alone, raised the puck beating Demko’s glove hand but watched as the puck plunked off the crossbar.
That scoring chance was would have been the first goal of the contest but it just wanted to meet metal instead of twine.
Alex Chiasson Gaining Consistency
The 30-year-old right winger Chiasson is known to be a streaky scorer. That’s both a good and bad thing for the crew as that means he inconsistently puts up numbers. When he’s producing he’s gaining confidence, helping the team get in a position to win games and reaping the benefits of his skill. However, the other side of that coin is that when he’s cold, he’s ice cold and not playing at the best of his abilities points-wise.
Chiasson had just one goal through the first nine games this season. He’s found his stride again as he has produced two goals and two assists in the past four games, continuing to give the Oilers much-needed secondary scoring.
Power Play in Session
The Oilers got five chances on the PP and made the Canucks pay for with the Chiasson goal on the team’s third attempt and Jesse Puljujarvi slipped one home with 7:26 to go in the third period. Giving the Oilers some breathing room with a 2-0 lead. Puljujarvi now has six goals and three assists through 22 games this season (from ‘Everybody loves Jesse Puljujarvi right now, even his coach, who says: “I love Jesse”,’ Edmtonon Journal, 02/26/2021). Great production from the fourth overall pick from the 2016 NHL draft. The Oilers had two D-men out on the ice for their final PP as they tried to move the puck around and kill time.
It could be seen as a passive way to kill the ticks on the clock but never the less it was worth it in such a close game. Tippett wouldn’t have liked giving up a shorthanded goal late in the third making it 2-1. The Oilers PP is now operating at 27.2% which ranks seventh overall in the league. Things are looking up for the Oil in that facet of the game, let’s hope they keep it up moving forward.
Connor McDavid Reaches 40-Point Mark
McDavid, like his teammates, got close to scoring on a few different occasions last night. He did deke around Hughes and put the puck in for an empty net score with under a minute left to go in the game, adding to the assist he got from the Puljujarvi PP goal. Connor was named the third star of the game and now has 40 points on the season with 10 of those points being in the last five games.
Toronto Is Up Next to the Plate
The Oilers move to a record of 14-8-0 which is good for the second spot in the North Division only behind the Maple Leafs. The Oilers are going in hot as they’re on a five-game winning streak, plus being 11-2 over their last 13 games.
Throw in sweeping back-to-back series against division foes for the first time all season, those being the Flames and Canucks, and the Oilers are looking to be a more formidable team and they were at the beginning of the season. When Hockey Night in Canada comes this Saturday, Oilers fans best have their buts in seats, the Oil on their TV screens at 5 pm mountain standard time and watch the fireworks unfold.