Player grades: McDavid, Draisaitl break open another one as Edmonton Oilers come from behind to win yet again  10/12/2019 22:33:44   Bruce McCurdy, Edmonton Journal Updated: October

Hard to imagine a more satisfying start to a young season than the one Edmonton Oilers have provided their long-suffering fans in 2019-20. The Oilers have been the masters of bend-but-don’t-break, overcoming a long series of one-goal deficits to roll off five straight wins. In so doing they have become the first team in NHL history to win their first five games in come-from-behind fashion.

Remarkably, the Oilers have trailed by a goal on no fewer than ten different occasions, and have been able to generate the tying goal each time, usually in short order. Overall, they have trailed on the scoreboard for just 39 minutes and 58 seconds, over which span they have outscored their combined opponents 10-0!

They followed that template yet again on Saturday afternoon in Manhatten, allowing the opening goal late in the first, then taking a leisurely 8:17 to net the equalizer, though it’s worth noting an earlier apparent tying goal was waved off for goalie interference. The game stayed tightly locked at 1-1 to the midway point of the third before Edmonton’s big guns took command. McDavid, from Draisaitl. Draisaitl, from McDavid. Draisaitl again, into the empty net, and with that the Oilers cruised to a deserved 4-1 triumph.

While the Oilers’ game-breakers did just that at the appropriate time, this was very much a team effort with solid performances up and down the line-up, not least by netminder Mike Smith who had a strong outing between the pipes to backstop the W.

Player grades

#4 Kris Russell, 5. Versatile defender lined up on the left side with Benning at evens but on Klefbom’s right on the penalty kill. Got his stick on Chris Kreider’s close range shot and got just enough of it to deflect it off the post. Took a high sticking penalty that put Oilers two men short. His pairing with Benning kept things tidy at even strength.

#10 Joakim Nygard, 6. Contributed on an effective fourth line with Granlund and Chiasson. Played a shade under 10 minutes during which time Rangers had just 2 shot attempts. Nygard himself had 2 shots and combined with Chiasson on a pair of dangerous odd man rushes.

#15 Josh Archibald, 4. Returned to the line-up after three games in sick bay but showed signs of rust. With McDavid joining his shift late and streaking for the net, he failed to either make a decent pass or shot, instead firing blindly wide, the puck ringing the boards and leading to a fast Rangers’ counter attack and the game’s first goal. Quiet thereafter, though 4 of his 5 shot attempts missed the target.

#16 Jujhar Khaira, 6. He and his linemate Sheahan were saddled with fully undeserved minuses on the first Rangers’ goal, given both were sitting on the bench at the time. Spent the majority of his time in the o-zone, including a very strong shift with 3 minutes left in which Khaira generated 2 good looks. 4 shot attempts, 2 hits, and 2:10 on a penalty kill unit that was one of the keys to victory.

#18 James Neal, 5. Took an o-zone hooking penalty on the forecheck. Took away a probable Oilers goal when his attempt to redirect RNH’s great deflection was stopped by a diving Lundqvist who would have had no chance had the puck simply been left alone. Had a good deflection foiled by the star netminder. Later tested Lundqvist with a wicket blast off the Swede’s shoulder. 4 shots to co-lead the team.

#23 Riley Sheahan, 6. During his 10 minutes at evens the Oilers generated 15 shot attempts for, just 5 against. When the time came he did some heavy lifting deep in his own territory in the dying seconds of the second to safely protect the 1-1 score to the buzzer. Was strong on the PK (2:22 SH TOi) and on the dot (7/10=70%). Officially -1, but like Khaira that was a scorekeeper’s error.

#25 Darnell Nurse, 7. Continues to win a lot of puck battles and is transitioning the disc better than any time in memory. Made a terrific play to corral a loose puck high in the defensive zone and spring McDavid on the quick counter, leading to a Draisaitl wrister off the pipe. His point shot seconds later found the back of the net only to be waved off due to goalie interference. Made a good clearance to Draisaitl on the empty-netter to run his point streak to 5 games. His 22:26 led the D corps.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 9. Took a bit to get going, making a series of moderate-to-high-risk passes in the offensive zone, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. Unable to finish McDavid’s pass from a low angle in the first, then rang iron on a great chance early in the second. Blew into New York territory to test Lundqvist with a pair of backhand shots from close range. Set up the game winner with a rote pass after first winning three straight faceoffs on the powerplay (10/21=48% on the day). Scored the clincher himself when his close-range shot trickled through Lundqvist, then added the cherry on top with a terrific solo effort for the empty netter. Played a strong game behind his own blueline, including 2:27 on the penalty kill to lead the forward group. Made major contributions to 8 Grade A scoring chances for, 0 against. Led the Oilers in TOi (23:24), shots (4), shot attempts (8), and boxcars (2-1-3, +2). His 11 points rank 2nd in the NHL, just 1 behind his super linemate McDavid.

#36 Joel Persson, 6. Served as an effective foil to Klefbom, moving the puck north for the most part. Did have 4 official giveaways, but the more eye-popping stat was on-ice shot attempts of 30 for, just 8 against in 16½ minutes.

#39 Alex Chiasson, 6. Like Archibald, he returned from a three-game absence, but was considerably more effective. Set up on the doorstep by Nygard but robbed by Lundqvist on the redirect. Fired a rocket on another 2-on-1 which nearly overpowered the Rangers’ tender. Made a key defensive play to clear up some d-zone chaos with Smith down and scrambling. Made a great backcheck inside his own line late in the third.

#41 Mike Smith, 8. Didn’t face a ton of rubber but made some high-quality stops. Under fire right away, stopping red-hot Mika Zibanejad on a partial breakaway in the opening half-minute. Stood tall through an extended penalty kill that included 40 seconds of 3v5. Twice got help from his posts in the opening frame. Made a great blocker save off Artemi Panarin on a third period NYR powerplay to keep the score level at 1-1. Made a stellar pair of saves in the late going, especially on the rebound where he scrambled across the crease to slam the door on Lias Andersson. 21 shots, 20 saves, .952 save percentage.

#44 Zack Kassian, 5. Strange game where his body played pretty well but his stick betrayed him time and again. 6 shot attempts but just 1 was on target, 4 giveaways, but 4 hits and a strong physical presence throughout.   Had a great chance from a tough angle but missed the open net. Took a highly-dubious goalie interference penalty that robbed the Oilers of an apparent tying goal. (New rules likely prevented a coach’s challenge, which if unsuccessful would have resulted in a delay of game penalty and a full 2-minute 3v5.) Blew a great chance when McDavid sent him clear but tried to pass it off to Draisaitl and flubbed the attempt.  Couldn’t handle another pass from McDavid on the doorstep. Whiffed yet another McDavid setup but was finally rewarded on the continuation when he jammed at Lundqvist’s pads at a puck that trickled over the line. The goal was officially credited to Draisaitl but that puck doesn’t go in without Kassian bashing away at it.

#60 Markus Granlund, 6. Moved into the middle on the fourth line to fill in for Gaetan Haas (healthy scratch) and Colby Cave (waived before game time). Made one decent play to corral Russell’s lob pass and create a good look which barely missed the top shelf. Another nifty play in the neutral zone sprang Chiasson and Nygard for a semi-2-on-1.  Got hauled down twice on the same d-zone sequence but the zebra was in see-no-evil mode, leaving Granlund to complain bitterly about the injustice of it all.  Drew a call on his next shift when he got decked from behind in a neutral zone puck battle. Had 2 takeaways and chipped in 1:45 on the PK in a quietly effective game that was his best to date.

#74 Ethan Bear, 6. Got a rookie’s welcome to the slick, sick stick skills of Panarin and survived to tell about it. Took a rocket off his hand in the dying seconds of the first when cleaning up a Rangers jailbreak. Made a terrific centre outlet pass that set Draisaitl away on the rush leading to the 3-1, earning his first point of the season in the process. No shot attempts but lots of good touches along the way.

#77 Oscar Klefbom, 7. Got on the wrong side of Kaapo Kakko on the game’s first goal, leaving the hotshot rookie a free pass to the net for the easy finish. Made up for that by beating Lundqvist with a screened point shot to tie the score a few minutes later, then earned a secondary assist on the game winner to up his early season production to an impressive 1-6-7 through 5 games. Oilers dominated possession during his time at even strength, while he chipped in over 7 minutes on special teams which collectively were a key to victory.

#83 Matt Benning, 7. Great shot block and clear late in the extended penalty kill, paying a physical price in  the process. Made another big-time shot block in the low slot to erase another dangerous NYR chance. Did a fine job standing up at the defensive blueline to prevent multiple zone entries. His terrific stretch pass to Khaira led to a good look from the slot. Hammered a one-timer off an RNH feed off the post. Made one loose clearance into the neutral zone that came back hard into Oilers territory, otherwise did a splendid job retrieving, protecting and moving the disc all afternoon long. Without it he was stellar, as supported by a statistical line with 3 hits, 2 blocks, 2 takeaways, and +1.

#92 Tomas Jurco, 6. Showed some good defensive awareness collapsing to the low slot to take away an apparent one-timer. Good work in the slot to tee up a Neal blast. Lots of smart little plays with the puck along the walls to move it to an open teammate in good position.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 7. Strong two-way game. Earned an assist on the 1-1 with a clean faceoff win, then came close to putting Oilers ahead with a great mid-air deflection of a point blast. Good on the penalty kill in 2:22 of action.

#97 Connor McDavid, 8. Dangerous throughout but nothing was clicking until the back half of the third. Took a penalty for tripping Zibanejad, but drew one the other way shortly after emerging from the box. Made it count when he scored on the subsequent PP, bouncing a centring shot off of Jacob Trouba and in to put Edmonton in front to stay. Set up Draisaitl for the 3-1 tally minutes later. Did I say “game-breakers”? Each has been named a game star in 4 of the 5 contests to date.

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