EDMONTON — Newsflash: With their 6-1 loss at Edmonton Monday, the Arizona Coyotes are officially eliminated from the National Hockey League playoffs.
Hey, don’t say you never learn anything from this space.
What else did we learn from a night where the 32nd place team in the NHL was on the second game of a back-to-back with travel? A scheduled loss for a free space on the bingo card?
Well, we learned that the Edmonton Oilers‘ psyche was not irreparably damaged by that 9-5 loss in Calgary on Saturday. We also learned that, despite the opponent or lack thereof, Edmonton can buckle down defensively and play a game where their goalie — on this night Mikko Koskinen — can pick up the ‘W’ without having to play like his hair is on fire.
“It was really important that we learned a lesson from our last game,” said Koskinen. “It was an embarrassing game on Saturday and I think we got exactly the result that we needed (against Arizona). Not just the result, but the way that we played. We didn’t give any odd-man rushes. We played well. That was the most important thing, with the two points.”
Nobody was hiding the fact that the Meltdown in Cowtown had left a mark. But it appears to have been only a bruise, not a brand.
“It was the obvious reaction,” admitted Koskinen. “When you give up nine goals, you need to tighten up a little bit. We reacted really well and played a tight game. They only had a couple of good chances in the game.”
Koskinen made one five-bell save on a Clayton Keller one-timer, faced 31 other ‘Yotes shots, and watched as Zach Hyman deflected the only puck of the night that eluded him. For a guy who got the hook after allowing five goals on 12 shots two nights before, this was exactly what the doctor ordered — an Arizona team that had played in Winnipeg the night before.
“Every time you face something like that (Flames game), you want to go back as soon as possible and kind of wash your face after that kind of loss. It was a good bounce back for the whole team, not just for me,” he said.
Other than Evander Kane taking four minor penalties in a span of 7:41, nothing happened here that was not entirely expected.
Connor McDavid scored first just 4:05 into the proceedings, running his league-leading points total to 98 points. Leon Draisaitl scored once, pulling into a tie with Auston Matthews at 48 goals, though Draisaitl has 13 more points than the Leafs shooter.
We take that back — there was one thing we haven’t seen before:
Ryan McLeod led the Oilers with three points, scoring twice and adding an assist. As the fourth-line centre behind McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, there often isn’t a lot of opportunity left when it’s McLeod’s turn over the boards.
But he has ignited a second powerplay unit of late, and on Monday his speed was too much for Arizona. He was, alas, the roadrunner to these Coyotes.
“I’ve had a front-row seat to Ryan’s development over the last three and a half years,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft, who had the 22-year-old McLeod in Bakersfield before both were promoted. “I’ve seen him score lots of goals over that time. We charged him with driving his own line and he did a heck of a job. They gave us good minutes.”
McLeod might just be that fourth-line centre on an entry-level deal that helps come playoff time. Or, he might also be too valuable for fourth-line minutes, pushing his way up the lineup as a left winger.
“For a young player in his position in the league, he’s figuring out what his capabilities are and what he needs to work on,” Woodcroft said. “I think it’s a compliment when some of our best players want to play with him.”
It was a good night all around for an Edmonton team that lost ground on the weekend. Both Vancouver and Los Angeles lost on Monday, and now Edmonton can pull into a tie with the Kings if they can beat L.A. at Rogers Place on Wednesday night.
This one was a foregone conclusion before the puck was dropped.
Wednesday’s tilt will be nothing of the sort.