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Player grades: Edmonton Oilers can’t shake tight-checking Flames, fall 3-1


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Oilers 1, Flames 3

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Credit to Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter for getting straight to the heart of the matter. First words out of his mouth in the post game avail were: “First goal wins, probably. I thought both teams looked tired to be quite honest.” Sutter later followed up with “I don’t think their top guys were quite on top of their games. It’s a tough schedule. Look at their team, they were on a long trip, they went home to play one game and then they come here, it’s hard… Those guys [Edmonton’s stars] have played big minutes all the time, it’s hard on them.”

With that repeated point I suspect coach Sutter showed more empathy for his opponents than they might be receiving from their own fan base after a frustrating, borderline tedious affair. This game was a slog from the 1st minute through the 60th featuring precious little in the way of high-flying, entertaining hockey. Sutter’s Flames made sure of that with a dogged defensive effort that presented few cracks for the Oilers to break through, ultimately prevailing 3-1.

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It was in fact a make-up game originally scheduled for Dec 27 and jammed into one of the few remaining gaps in the schedule of both teams. Fair to say that both looked as if they needed the rest. Especially the Oilers, missing several regulars to injury or illness and with several more down a couple of quarts.

If not more rest,  maybe more practice time. Edmonton’s sagging powerplay unit had a dreadful night, mustering 0 goals and just 3 shots on net in 8 full minutes of powerplay time. Despite the proverbial “man advantage” the Oilers never seemed to outnumber their opponents around the puck, and ultimately were pressured into a couple of critical mistakes that led to jailbreaks the other way. Indeed, Calgary had the 2 best chances on those 4 Edmonton powerplays with a breakaway and a 2-on-1.

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After the first 3 PP fails by the Oilers, it was the Flames own powerplay unit that produced the all-important first goal as the game neared its midway point. Minutes later, the Oil were facing that of-so-familiar 0-2 hole again. They got one back with some very fortunate puck luck, but with time winding down yet another fatal error at the offensive blueline sent Johnny Gaudreau on a breakaway and that was that.

The Flames held a narrow 29-28 advantage in shots, and 10-8 in the Cult of Hockey‘s preliminary count of Grade A shots (running count).

Player grades

#2 Duncan Keith, 6. The partnership of the 38-year-old greybeard with the 20-year-old Broberg was comfortably Edmonton’s best. Shots on goal were 9-3 Edmonton during Keith’s 17 minutes at evens. Stepped on to the first unit powerplay after the first two fails and didn’t provide any answers offensively but at least limited the damage.

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#5 Cody Ceci, 5. A fairly quiet game, even as he was credited with 4 shots on net to lead the D corps. None of them registered as a dangerous chance.

#10 Derek Ryan, 5. Earned an assist on the Oilers lone goal by alertly jumping on a puck in the low slot after it had bounced off the ref’s skate and quickly directing it on net, creating a rebound.

#14 Devin Shore, 6. Cashed that very rebound to account for Edmonton’s only goal. Otherwise played an OK game on Edmonton’s 3rd line, other than that one time all 3 guys tried to make the long change at the same time with Calgary in possession, leading to the rarely-seen 5-on-2 rush and a dangerous shot that Koskinen blockered aside.

#16 Tyler Benson, 4. In the battle all night and won one leading to a good Malone chance. But lost another and took a penalty trying to fix it. When he had a good look of his own from the slot, his stick exploded. Squeezed too tight?

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#18 Zach Hyman, 5. Yet another game well over the 20-minute mark, a tough grind for a tough grinder. Helped out on 3 good Oilers chances with a shot tip, a goalie screen, and a good pass. But his weak backcheck was part of the problem on the second Flames goal.

#19 Mikko Koskinen, 6. Held his team in the game, especially in the first period. Had little chance on the 3 that beat him. As for that old saw about the goalie needing to be a team’s best penalty killer, on this night Mikko might have been Oilers’ best power player. Took a two-handed slash from Milan Lucic with the puck firmly lodged in his glove, an obvious infraction that went undetected by the men in stripes much to his chagrin. 29 shots, 26 saves, .897.

#24 Brad Malone, 5. Had a fine chance off a Sceviour feed in the low slot, picked his spot but was beaten by Markstrom’s blocker. Had 3 shots on net in just 8 minutes of ice time which included nearly 2 minutes on the penalty kill.

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#25 Darnell Nurse, 2. So far off his game I wondered if he might be one of those suffering from the illness that is reportedly running through the team. He got flattened early in the game by a Blake Coleman hit that produced a turnover and 25 seconds of Calgary pressure. Didn’t respond with a little aggressive pushback of his own as one might ordinarily expect. Promoted to the first powerplay unit in the absence of Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard, he had a dreadful time of it, twice turning the puck over at the offensive blueline leading to a breakaway and a 2-on-1. Among those beaten on the powerplay goal, limiting his own (plus) mobility by dropping to one knee, a persistent habit that to this eye seems to lead to more problems than it solves. Then made one last horrid turnover (this one at 5v5) at the offensive blueline that led directly to the Gaudreau breakaway. I strongly suspect he is one Oiler who may be fighting something, but am obliged to grade the performance as delivered, which on this night was nowhere near good enough.

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#29 Leon Draisaitl, 4. Ditto for Draisaitl who seemed to have a Flame in his face all night long and struggled to cope with it. His best passes were foiled by good defensive sticks and/or coverage of the recipient. Personally had just 1 shot on net for the 2nd game in a row, not near enough from the 38-goal man. Oilers needed more from him on this night. Did manage to go 19/28=68% on a night his mates were getting slaughtered on the dot (a combined 11/38=29% for the rest of the crew). One of those who has played a lot of hockey in a lot of time zones in a short period of time, and the cracks are starting to show.

#37 Warren Foegele, 4. Had 0 shots, 0 hits, and 0 contributions to Grade A shots. He too was trailing the play on the 2-0 as Edmonton’s defence pair was outnumbered without forward help. Was also part of the triple bad line change. Did manage 2 takeaways, but it wasn’t his finest hour. Did have one good sequence where he came back hard to win the puck, then flip a nice lob pass into McDavid’s lane.

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#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 5. Among the more noticeable Oilers with his skating and general hustle, but 0 shots on goal.

#70 Colton Sceviour, 5. Made a nice pass to Malone for an excellent chance. Otherwise quiet in just 5:20 TOI.

#71 Ryan McLeod, 4. An off night for the rookie, who played 17:45 but didn’t do a lot with it. 0 shots, took a penalty, and a dismal 2/10=20% on the dot.  

#80 Markus Niemelainen, 3. Played just 10:39 on the third pairing and was among the culprits on 4 Grade A shots against, including the 2-0 goal. On a night the Oilers were outhit by nearly a 2:1 ratio, their big bopper had just 1, though it was a doozy on Rasmus Andersson, always an inviting target. Stepped up at least one other time only to find himself on the wrong side of the puck.

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#84 William Lagesson, 3. Among those beaten on both the first and second Flames goals, allowing a key pass in both cases. A bit unlucky in the first instance when he correctly engaged Matt Tkachuk’s stick only to have the puck roll off of it and straight to the goal scorer.  Stayed on his toes and made a couple of decent defensive stops later. Was on the ice for all 4 goals in this game.

#86 Philip Broberg, 7. For the second straight game I saw him as the best Oiler on the ice, which is very good news in a limited sense but not so much on the big picture. The 20-year-old was promoted to the second pair with Keith, played his offside and played it well in a whopping 22:34, which is to say more than Niemelainen and Lagesson combined. Fired 3 shots on net including perhaps Edmonton’s 2 best chances to tie the score down the stretch. 0 defensive errors. Alas, it was he who was in the sin bin when Calgray opened the scoring after being called for hooking. Later survived a scary crash into the boards after being creamed by Lucic in a risky spot.

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#91 Evander Kane, 6. One of the more inspired Oilers and it showed on the stat sheet with 6 shot attempts, 4 of those on goal, and 2 hits, all 3 of which were enough to lead the Oilers on a low-event night. Took a coincidental penalty exchanging pleasantries with Mikael Backlund.

#97 Connor McDavid, 5. Gave it the old college try but couldn’t produce any magic sufficiently bright to light up the scoreboard. A couple of flashes but then the Flames would be back all over him. 3 shots, 2 of them dangerous.

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