Stars 0, Oilers 1 (OT)
Oscar Klefbom was the ultimate hero on Tuesday night, but you have Mikko Koskinen to thank, and in more ways than one. Koskinen made the biggest of his 28 saves with under 2 seconds left in regulation when he robbed former Ross Ross winner Jamie Benn from point-blank range to spare the Edmonton Oilers what would have been a devastating defeat, after Klefbom was among those caught puck -watching on the play. Disaster averted, the Oilers and Dallas Stars moved on to overtime, still locked in a 0-0 deadlock.
No surprise the stalemate was lifted in 3-on-3 play, and the Oilers power trio of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Klefbom took over. McDavid came within a billionth of scoring the winner on a breakaway chance but video review was officially "inconclusive." On their second shift, the trio connected again, with McDavid playing decoy while Draisaitl and Klefbom did the work with the puck, Leon bursting past Jason Dickinson and hitting Oscar with a perfect pass for the clinical finish. It was Klefbom's 81st shot of the season but the first one to find twine. Pretty good time to break the ice.
Other than that heart-stopping Benn chance was a solid 60+ minute effort by the home side. They outshot the Stars 31-28 and held a significant 10-6 edge in Grade A scoring chances, as tabulated by the Cult of Hockey'S David Staples (log and summary). The Oilers dominated the opening frame, then the two teams settled into a conservative, grinding style with a lot of breathing room and a bouncing puck with a mind of its own. Perhaps 1-0 was a fitting score for Ken Hitchcock's first home game in Edmonton, against his old team that caused so much misery in this city over the years.
# 4 Kris Russell, 7. Rock solid on the blueline, playing 21 minutes at evens and 2 more on the penalty kill without a single mistake on a Grade A chance against. In a defense-first contest the veteran was right at home. Did some decent work pinching in the offensive zone.
# 6 Adam Larsson, 6. Saw a bellyful of the ridiculously dangerous Benn-Seguin-Radulov trio, much of it with the Oilers own top trio on his own side of the puck. Won a ton of board battles, often through physical dominance (6 hits), and moved the puck effectively. Made a key clear of a loose puck in the blue paint. Among the group that could not contain Radulov-to-Benn in the dying seconds.
# 13 Jason Garrison, 5. Played just 9:57 a.m. Hitchcock leaned heavily on his top 4. The third pair had a very solid flow of play results with Garrison firing 3 shots of his own, although his most notable moment came when he tried to stand up for a 4-on -2 rush at the blueline and it quickly became a 3-on-1 instead. Thankfully Koskinen had the solution that time as well.
# 16 Jujhar Khaira, 4. Brought precious little offensively (0 shots, 0 scoring chances), had another bad turnover inside his own blueline, and took an unnecessary hooking penalty that his mates killed off.
# 19 Mikko Koskinen, 9. Merely perfect in a 28-save shutout, his second in just 9 starts as in Oiler. Not a lot of work with just 6 Grade A chances against, but in a 0-goal game there was no room for error. Gets a rare +2 boost in his grade for a single play, one for each standings point his mammoth last-second save off of Benn was ultimately worth. Not only the save of the season, that stop may well have saved the current season. What would have been a devastating loss was rejected by the big Finn in staring down one of the best in the game. Had a couple other fine stops against Benn including on a 3-on-1 rush, and turned aside 10 shots in all from Dallas's stacked top line. He's a very cool cucumber with knack for getting stoppages in play when his mates get caught running around.
28 shots, 28 saves, 1,000 percent savings.
# 23 Ryan Spooner, 5. Lined up at 4C, which is to say the same position but one notch down the depth chart from the guy he was traded for. Played just 7:39 at evens during which very little happened, just 1 shot for each team. A team-worst 3 giveaways, but a decent 5/8 = 63% on the dot.
# 25 Darnell Nurse, 6. A fairly passive, almost deliberate game from the defender who often plays with his heart on his sleeve. No major mistakes, a couple of secondary contributions to Oilers chances, and part of the reason this was a low-event game. Logged 24 minutes.
# 27 Milan Lucic, 5. Played 12 mostly-solid minutes, which included some solid grinding and cycling in the o-zone. 5 hits to lead the forwards, but 0 shots.
# 28 Kyle Brodziak, 6. He also was solid on the cycle, mustering 3 shots on goal including a good look at Kassian set-up in the third. Just 5/13 = 38% on the dot but very strong flow-of-play numbers (shot attempts + 16 / -9, best among Edmonton forwards).
# 29 Leon Draisaitl, 7. Some sluggish play early as he adjusted to life on left wing but got stronger as the night went on, chipping in with some defensive defensive plays down the stretch. Was not in a shooting mood (just 1 shot) but chipped in on a team-high 5 Grade A chances, including 2 brilliant feeds in overtime to set both game winning goals. I kid, of course, the first one (by McDavid after the superb Draisaitl chip to the streaking pivot) was ruled a no-goal after a video review. No matter that it seemed to show a sliver of white paint between the puck and the back edge of the goal line, it was considered insufficient to override a ref's call from a less favorable angle than the net cam. But there was no room for doubt about the second when Draisaitl turned on the jets to blow past Jason Dickinson and draw Miro Heiskanen to his side of the ice before delivering yet another of his inch-perfect saucer passes onto the tape of Klefbom for the coup de grace. He played the monstrous 24:52 to lead all Oilers forwards, and was the team's best on the dot as well with 11/17 = 65%. Have now played 8 shifts of overtime hockey this season which does not sound like a lot until you consider that you have 2 goals and 2 primary assists in bonus point situations.
# 39 Alex Chiasson, 6. Promoted to the top line, he played a reliable 2-way game against one of his former teams. Was stuffed on his best look from the edge of the crease.
# 44 Zack Kassian, 6. He was a driving force on the third line playing a whopping 17:32, more than 2½ minutes more than his previous season high. 1 shot, 4 hits, and a whole lot of purposeful skating. He was directly involved in zero Grade A scoring chances either way, fumbling the puck on his own best chance, but he and his linemates got their primary jobs done, giving up nothing and doing a lot of dump- and-thump
# 52 Patrick Russell, 5. Played too little (8:13) to have a big impact, but was more than solid in what time he had. Stars mustered just 1 shot during his time at Evens, and he chipped in a little bit on the penalty kill as well. 2 hits, 2 takeaways, and no false steps.
# 77 Oscar Klefbom, 7. His massive 28:30 TOi comfortably led both teams, as did his 6 shots on goal and 4 blocked shots. Oilers had the territorial edge during their time, although there were a couple of dicey moments, notably that great late chance that would have changed everything. Having survived that, Klefbom came through in the extra frame with his first of the season to both open and close the scoring, and did a nice job to pick and then hit his spot against a scrambling Khudobin.
# 83 Matt Benning, 5. On a night Hitchcock changed their entire third pair, the Garrison-Benning duo got the job done, with the Oilers enjoying a sizeable 15-7 edge in shot attempts during Benning's 9 even strength minutes. Just one second mistake on a scoring chance against in a mostly quiet night, which was a step in the right direction for the struggling defender.
# 91 Drake Caggiula, 6. A nice bounce from a weak game in L.A. saw Caggiula at his proactive best with 4 shot attempts and 4 hits in 17½ minutes. Landed a couple of crunching checks including a beauty on greasy Roman Polak. Won a few puck battles in the trenches. Contributed to 3 Oilers chances and 0 against.
# 93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 6. It played 21 minutes in all situations, and led both teams with 10 shot attempts. The best of these were a first-minute jam play that prompted a video review, and a powerplay drive that rang iron. Chipped in on 5 Oilers scoring chances, made mistakes on 2 against, but was caught puck-watching at a very bad time leading to the late Benn chance. 7/17 = 41% on the dot, and good on the PK. Drew a penalty.
# 97 Connor McDavid, 6. A few great moments, notably an overtime rush and shot that came within a hair of trickling over the goal line. Earlier made a dazzling shift and step that set Chiasson on the doorstep and fired some strong shots of his own (4 in all), the best of which was a one-timer off a Draisaitl feed that Anton Khudobin blocked aside. Played a shade over 24 minutes. Had some issues on the defensive side of the puck. In a game where the Oilers had a 10-6 bulge in Grade A chances McDavid was + 6 / -3, but it was held off the scores for the first time in 7 games. Drew a penalty.
# 98 Jesse Puljujarvi, 5. Bumped up to the second line, he was OK with 1 shot, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot, and contributions to 1 scoring chance at each end. It played 14½ minutes and was rewarded with the last shift of regulation, although that almost blew up in his coach's face when J.P.'s inability to handle a routine pass in the neutral zone led directly to the jailbreak the other way. Thankfully he, his teammates, and this writer survived that scare and ultimately prevailed. Showed enough to earn another look on this line in Edmonton's next game, Thursday night vs. the Kings
It was a huge win for the Oilers, a must-win 1-0 thriller over the Dallas Stars. David Staples and Bruce McCurdy dig into what went right and what went wrong for the Oilers in the match.
STAPLES: Puljujarvi where he belongs on Oilers second line
STAPLES: NHL refs let go endless hacking, hooking and slashing of Connor McDavid. Why
McCURDY: Is Chiarelli next GM to be fired?
LEAVINS: Player grades from loss in L.A.
LEAVINS: 9 Things as the Oilers chase a playoff spot
Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy