EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers haven’t had much hope all season in the scenario they were facing against the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday.
They’d lost all seven times when trailing while heading into the third period and they weren’t just down one goal to Seattle — they were down two. Things seemed bleak.
It wasn’t long before bleakness turned to jubilation, and the Oilers primarily have Evander Kane to thank for that.
Kane became the eighth player in NHL history to complete a natural hat trick in overtime as he capped off a 4-3 comeback victory. He also became the third Oiler to score his third goal in a game in the fourth period, joining Kelly Buchberger and Esa Tikkanen. Tikkanen’s goal came in Game 7 against the Flames in 1991.
“We did a good job of not being deterred and not having a letdown going into the third period after that second and pushing to get a victory,” Kane said.
“We’re starting to find our groove a little bit here.”
Things were hairy at times, but Kane’s heroics gave the Oilers their fourth straight win and improved them to 5-9-1 on the season.
“The season’s never going to be easy. There’s never going to be no adversity,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “The more things that you work through and fight through and have success when it’s all done, it’s great for team building.
“Hopefully, the way that we won makes us a better team in the long run.”
Here’s what else stood out.
Why was Connor McDavid not starting the three-on-three session and two defencemen were on the ice instead?
Leon Draisaitl took the ice faceoff and was joined by Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm. Talk about unconventional in these parts.
Listening to Knoblauch explain his rationale, though, it made a lot of sense.
“You always want to put your best players on. But if you lose the faceoff, you’re going to spend a minute trying to get that puck back,” Knoblauch said. “I don’t want my two best offensive players having to defend a minute. Once you get the puck (then), most likely they’re changing.
“What we wanted to do is win the draw and make that switch right away.”
Knoblauch didn’t get to do what he wanted because Draisaitl — the team’s best faceoff man — lost the draw. As a result, McDavid didn’t get on the ice with Draisaitl and had to wait until 1:14 to hop over the boards. Most of his shift was spent alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Darnell Nurse.
Then, rather than go back to Draisaitl for an offensive zone faceoff to the right of Kraken goalie Joey Daccord, Knoblauch went with Kane, Bouchard and Zach Hyman. Kane won it and he scored the winner 54 seconds later, finishing off a passing play with his linemates.
“Kane looked pretty good out there and made it look like I made a good decision,” Knoblauch said.
The extra period wasn’t the only time Knoblauch had to think on his feet.
Knoblauch suggested earlier in the week that he’s more inclined to keep lines together and separate McDavid and Draisaitl at five-on-five but for special occasions like after penalty kills and late in periods. He deviated from that plan in the second frame against the Kraken.
McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman got a shift together early in the period. Knoblauch then stuck with that trio for the remainder of the frame, moving Nugent-Hopkins down to the second line to centre Kane and Sam Gagner.
He went back to his original top-six trios with Nos. 97 and 29 apart to start the third period after what he called a “rock bottom” stretch that saw the Oilers go from up 1-0 to down 3-1 in 12 minutes.
Knoblauch tinkered a bit more in the third period when the Oilers were trying to come back. Derek Ryan got time with Draisaitl and Kane once the score was 3-2 and Gagner dropped down to skate with Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod.
The Oilers don’t win this game without two key moments late in the third with the Oilers trailing by a goal.
The first was a huge glove save by Stuart Skinner with 1:57 on the clock off Eeli Tolvanen — the signature stop of the 33 he made.
“He was spectacular for us,” Nurse said. “He made some big saves in big moments and kept our group in it.”
“It’s always a nice feeling when you give your team a chance to win,” Skinner said. “That’s my job. I’m going to try to do that every night.”
The second occurred 50 seconds later when Nurse dove to block a shot from Jaden Schwartz. With Skinner on the bench, the block saved an insurance marker for the Kraken.
“I tried to get everything I could in front of it,” Nurse said. “I got a piece of it.”
“The game would have been over. We don’t have two points unless he makes that defensive play,” Knoblauch said. “The guys who score the goals get the recognition — and they should. But guys who make plays like that should also. That’s a huge, huge play.”
Bouchard, like many of his teammates, had a rough go in the second period.
His work on the second goal against was particularly lousy. Granted his stick was hooked by former teammate and pal Kailer Yamamoto, but he lost a puck battle in the corner — which led to a turnover and a goal against. The defensive side of the game has been an issue this season.
Bouchard made up for it in the third and overtime.
With a secondary assist already under his belt, Bouchard made a gorgeous setup to Kane for a tip-in after he faked a shot and sidestepped Kraken winger Ty Kartye.
He followed that up by orchestrating a three-way passing play on Kane’s overtime winner.
Bouchard now has three goals and 15 points in as many games, putting him tied for fifth in scoring among defencemen. Eight of those points have come away from the power play, too.
There aren’t too many blueliners like him from an offensive standpoint.
More to give
The comeback for the Oilers was nice and all, but there’s a belief they’re not close to their best yet.
There are two areas of improvement.
The first is from a physical standpoint — hitting (cleanly) more often and checking opponents better in coverage.
“It can obviously improve greatly,” Kane said. “We all know that in this room. That’s only going to lead to more scoring opportunities for us when you get all 20 guys playing that way. Some of the goals we gave up, we could have been a little harder, a little firmer.
“I want to see our team play physical. That’s an important part of the game,” Knoblauch said. “You have players that are going to be hitting more than others. But it’s very important that you’re not making hits and putting yourself out of position.
“There’s a fine line between playing physical and playing responsible.”
The second area is to key on net-front play at both ends of the ice.
Offensively, Hyman was effective there against the Kraken last Saturday as he recorded his natural hat trick. Ditto for Kane on Wednesday. More players must follow. Defensively, there were a few lapses against the Kraken.
“We want to pay the price to score goals and prevent them,” Knoblauch said. “Usually, it comes down to a lot of work around the net.”
(Top photo of Evander Kane scoring his game-winning overtime goal against the Kraken: Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via Associated Press)