Published by hockeybuzz, 10-17-2016
The Edmonton Oilers headed into yesterday's game against the Buffalo Sabres having beaten cross-province rival Calgary by a combined 12-7 score with a gameplan that hearkenened back to the 80's glory days of Wayne Gretzky and Co. Phenom Connor McDavid lead the charge for the Oilers with three goals and three assist in back-to-back three-point games but midst the euphoria surrounding the Oilers start, McDavid threw a cautionary note to the gathered press after practice Saturday .
“You want to want to win the game any way you can and it’s definitely nicer winning it 7-4 than losing 7-4,” he said. “If you’re going to win 1-0 or 10-9 it’s about getting it done but ultimately we do need to tighten it up. I don’t think you can expect us to get 5-7 goals every game. That’s not the type of hockey that’s successful.”
Seven goals is what the Oilers would have needed last night to beat Buffalo after the Sabres exploded for six goals in a 6-2 win at Rogers Place. Even though Buffalo was without Jack Eichel and winger Evander Kane, who are sidelined with long-term injuries, the cavalry did come in the form of Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov who both made their Sabres debuts last night.
Okposo got his first goal as a Sabre in the first period on a beautiful feed from linemate Sam Reinhart then proceeded to chip in primary assist on the first of Ryan O'Reilly's two goals. The Oilers who tie it up at 2-2 late in the first period but the Sabres scored four unanswered against a Edmonton team that was described by their head coach, Todd McLellan, as "The Bad News Bears."
Except for that stretch late in the first period when the Oilers tied the game, Buffalo was pretty much in control from start to finish. It was a team game through and through for the Sabres with every player strappin' on their work boots to get the job done. Buffalo frustrated the hell out of Edmonton all night to the point where the Oilers Patrick Maroon crashed the net hard and tried to get to goalie Robin Lehner by bumping into him. He was swarmed and in the process McDavid, who was right there in the crease got forcibly cleared out by Buffalo defenseman Josh Gorges. McDavid was having trouble with Gorges all night as he was held without a point and finished the game with only one shot on goal.
Lehner was stingy all night as he seemed hell-bent on not letting anything past him. It began early for the fiery Swede as the kicked out his leg to stop a point-blank shot from Jesse Puljujarvi less than two minutes into the game. Not long after O'Reilly stole the puck in the Edmonton zone, got it over to Reinhart who slithered a pass to Okposo who buried it into a wide open net.
Chemistry is often talked about and head coach Dan Bylsma may have found himself a top line in O'Reilly, Reinhart and Okposo who worked well together all night. Last year both O'Reilly and Reinhart seemed to be able to work with whatever linemates Bylsma gave them and Okposo looks to be the beneficiary moving forward.
Bylsma also tapped into a successful line from last year when he reunited Johan Larsson between powerforward Marcus Foligno and captain Brian Gionta. Larsson was his usual dogged, pesky self while Foligno rumbled across the ice all night while Gionta used his veteran savvy to score twice. The first was on a nice tip off of a shot from Jake McCabe at the point and while his second came from the hard work of Foligno and a nice feed from Larsson. That line finished the night with two goals, two assists and a plus-four rating.
The second of three games on this western Canada road trip is tomorrow at Calgary. Goaltender Brian Elliot was the victim in Calgary's first two losses at the hands of the Oilers allowing 10 goals on 55 shots (.818 save percentage.) Former Sabre Chad Johnson was in net on Saturday at Vancouver and was much better allowing only one goal on 31 shots but the Flames fell in the shootout.
On the same western Canada swing last season Buffalo was outscored by a combined 13-7 in three regulation losses to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.