We’ll always have the first period. Final Score: 3-2 Sabres in OT
After the mindbender on New Year’s Eve that saw the Oilers nearly blow a five-goal lead in the third period, I was very curious to see how they’d respond tonight against the Sabres. For the first 40 minutes of that game, the boys looked as though they were out for blood and would not be denied in getting it, but in the third period, that killer instinct vanished and they allowed the Rangers far too much time and space to do whatever they wanted with the puck, narrowly avoiding disaster in the process. Against the Eichel-led Sabres, that kind of inattention to detail was not going to fly and the Oilers were going to have to do a better job of locking things down in their own end if they were going to get a winning streak going. The good news is that Connor McDavid seems to step it up when he and Jack Eichel face each other and I was hoping that the captain was going to be able to come up with some 2020 McMagic.
As always, the most important thing the Oilers could do for themselves was to get a strong start that would set them up for success and that’s exactly what they did. With a pair of quick goals early in the first period, the Oilers were relentless on the forecheck and it put the Sabres back on their heels as they struggled to manage the waves of pressure that were coming at them. In the second period, the Sabres found their legs and started to produce more opportunities for themselves, but the Oilers were able to keep them at bay mostly in part to a strong goaltending effort from Mike Smith. I don’t know why, but the Oilers, just as we saw against New York, looked progressively worse as the game moved forward. Heading into the third period with a one-goal lead, the boys had the opportunity to close out a big win provided that they could turn in a much better effort than we saw against the Rangers. Not only would they have to play well defensively but they had to make sure that they got away from trying to sit on a lead, something that nearly blew up in their face on New Year’s Eve.
The bad news is that the third period started a goal against as the Sabres took advantage of some shoddy defending that left a wide-open Sam Reinhart in front of the net and available for a deflection. The even worse news is that the Oilers seemed content to just let Buffalo do as they pleased for the final 20 minutes as they limped their way into a pity point. The worst of the worst news came in the bonus frame when the Oilers didn’t even touch the puck a single time before the Sabres were awarded a penalty shot that they used to close out the game. At the end of the day, that was another disappointing effort after what was an incredible start to the game and the Oilers were lucky to get a single point.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
- After starting the season in a major drought, Riley Sheahan has found some life lately as he continues to chip in with some secondary offence. The fourth line got to work on this goal with a strong cycle play that resulted in some extended zone time before Sheahan opened the scoring after driving towards the net and finding a rebound than fell in front of Ullmark and sinking it into the open net.
- Only 1:54 after Sheahan got the Oilers on the board, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins extended the lead to two goals on a similar play that saw him receiving a pass from Kailer Yamamoto in the slot with an open side to shoot at and he made no mistake of burying it. With the goal, Nuge maintained his red hot pace and finds himself with seven points (3G, 4A) in his last five games.
- Mike Smith got his first start since December 20th against the Penguins as he is looking to get himself back into fighting shape after a very tough month. Since November 30th, Smith has an average save% of .840 which is obviously not near good enough for a guy that the Oilers need to lighten the load from time to time. To his credit, Smith had one of the best games we’ve seen from him in a while and he stood tall between the pipes and provided the kind of goaltending that gave his team a chance to win. Frankly, Smith was the only reason that the Oilers got a point tonight and the fact that they made it to overtime was a credit to his strong play.
- Kailer Yamamoto got a big chance to shine tonight playing alongside RNH and Leon Draisaitl, and, once again, he looked very good in his second game of the season. Not only was he tenacious on the puck and using his speed whenever the opportunity presented itself, but he was also throwing his body around and getting physical despite being fun-sized. Not only that, Yamamoto added an assist on RNH’s first-period goal to give him a pair of points in as many games since being recalled.
- I just want to go ahead and thank the Hockey Gords that Oscar Klefbom was able to play tonight because the Oilers would be absolutely hooped without him.
- As I did on Tuesday night against the Rangers, I like the way William Lagesson looks on the third pairing. He plays the kind of quiet, steady game that is perfect for that role, and while there will be the odd mistake or two as he figures things out, I think he’s definitely showing well for himself. The only question I have is how long they’ll keep Caleb Jones up with the big club if Lagesson is going to come in and play is minutes?
- The Oilers killed off both penalties they took to maintain their road dominance on the PK.
- Edmonton won 65% of the draws tonight and it had the Sabres chasing the puck, especially early in the game when the visitors were actually able to make plays.
THE FACE PALMERS
- Curtis Lazar got the Sabres’ first goal of the night by driving towards the crease and poking a loose puck through Mike Smith’s legs and into the net. The Oilers were a little bit sloppy in their defensive zone coverage but it would have been nice if Smith was able to squeeze this one. By no means do I hang the goal on him, I’m just saying it would have been nice.
- Sam Reinhart tied the game up at two apiece after he deflected a point shot as it made its way through a high screen and beat Smith low to the glove side. Frankly, I don’t know how much the goaltender saw of it but I can certainly say that neither Nurse nor Russell seemed to have any interest in moving the player out of Smith’s face.
- After what can only be described as a questionable penalty shot call, Jack Eichel ended the game in overtime to complete the comeback and give the Oilers dose of humiliation after they were unable to even get a sniff of OT possession.
- I wasn’t a big fan of the Oilers’ second period as they gave the Sabres too much time and space to try and make something happen. It was like they were sitting back and waiting for the play to come to them or something and had it not been for Mike Smith then they could have easily watched their lead evaporate.
- You know what? The third period was somehow worse. That’s what I get for writing that last point during the intermission.
- The Neal-McDavid-Kassian line was very quiet on a night when the team needed them to be better.
- By my eye, the Nurse/Russell pairing was an adventure of weird pinches and tough defensive zone coverage and I’ll go on record and say that I was not a fan. They can certainly both be better than that.
- WHY CAN’T THEY MAKE A TAPE TO TAPE PASS ANYMORE!?
- Speaking of passing, the NHL site had the giveaways at 9-5 for the Oilers but I can’t help but feel like that number is a little bit light.
|05:06||Edmonton||Riley Sheahan (4) ASST: Josh Archibald (3), Adam Larsson (2)||1-0|
|07:00||Edmonton||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (9) ASST: Kailer Yamamoto (1), Leon Draisaitl (40)||2-0|
|08:39||Buffalo||Curtis Lazar (3) ASST: Marcus Johansson (13)||2-1|
|03:53||Buffalo||Sam Reinhart (13) ASST: Zach Bogosian (4), Victor Olofsson (19)||2-2|
|01:09||Buffalo||PS – Jack Eichel (26)||2-3|
— Alice Moran (@Alice_Moran) January 3, 2020
— Garett (@g_dika) January 3, 2020
The McDavid vs Eichel rivalry ended when the Sabres apologized to their fans for having to pick Eichel because they failed to win the lottery
— Arch (@Archaeologuy) January 3, 2020
he's so dreamy pic.twitter.com/mkiSfE3VY5
— AJ Parr (@archieparr) January 3, 2020
I kept hearing Finkle (Eichel) and Einhorn (Reinhart) the entire game. pic.twitter.com/e2b1O5ca9a
— Carly Dermott (@carlydermott) January 3, 2020
Oilers didn’t touch the puck in OT…
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) January 3, 2020
This new shirt is a steal of a deal and you won’t have to trade an overpriced fourth-liner to get one. Click the link here to buy