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RECAP: Oilers 2, Sabres 1 (OT)

by Ryan Frankson / Edmonton Oilers

BUFFALO, NY – Connor McDavid put forth a heroic effort, scoring two goals including the game-winner as the Oilers beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in overtime on Tuesday.

In the highly-anticipated first-ever matchup between 2015 first and second-overall draft picks, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, it was McDavid’s night as Edmonton emerged victorious thanks to his impressive two-goal effort.

The icing on the cake for McDavid was the fact that his family made the trip from the Greater Toronto Area for the game and he had many friends in attendance from nearby Erie, where he played junior for the Otters.

“I’m excited,” the OT hero said post-game. “Any time you can score the overtime goal, it feels good. And to do it in front of friends and family, it feels even better.”

McDavid played 22:23 vs. Buffalo and had five shots on goal, two for goals, while Eichel played 20:43, nearly scored the OT winner as well and tied for his team lead in shots with five.

“I thought 15 and 97 were probably the two best players on the ice tonight,” said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. “That’s a real positive, both for Buffalo and their future, and ours in Edmonton, and the League. They’re fun players to watch and they didn’t disappoint tonight, by any means.”

It took a mere 22 seconds for McDavid to make his presence felt, as the Oilers certainly knew which line to start the game with. The centreman penetrated the offensive zone on the forecheck, stole the puck from Sabres defender Zach Bogosian and dropped the puck back to Jordan Eberle, who returned the favour sending McDavid in alone on goalie Robin Lehner.

The 2015 first-overall pick made a brief move to his forehand and then a powerful deke to his backhand, completely fooling Lehner and giving him an easy open net to slide the puck into. It was McDavid’s 11th NHL goal and 30th point in just his 28th game, also his 18th point in his 15th game back from his collarbone injury. Eberle got his 39th point with the lone helper.

“He played a big-league game to get us going right off the bat,” McLellan said of the lightning-quick opening tally. “I thought Jordan made a great play to create the turnover and then (Connor) finished.”

“He’s so fast and pushes defenders back,” Eberle said of his centreman. “He’s able to make a lot of plays that maybe a lot of us can’t. That’s a perfect example of his speed and his deception to shoot.”

Buffalo’s best chance to even the score in the opening frame came after Cam Talbot made a save and the loose puck careened off the skate of Brandon Davidson. The puck was dribbling towards the goal line when newly-acquired defenceman Adam Pardy swooped in and swatted it out of harm’s way, making a great first impression on the team that claimed him off waivers from Winnipeg on Monday.

Each team got its first power play during the middle frame, but neither the Oil nor the Sabres were able to convert. Andrej Sekera appeared to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead, burying a rebound with just 0.3 seconds to go in the period, but Anton Lander was a half stride offside as he headed to the bench for a line change, and after a Buffalo challenge, the goal was negated.

The offside call ended up being a costly one for the Oilers as the Sabres were finally able to get on the board and net the equalizer with 10:54 remaining in the third period. Sam Reinhart made a no-look, cross-ice pass that snuck through the Edmonton defenders and landed right on the stick of Cal O’Reilly, who made no mistake burying his first of the season.

As has become commonplace in the new three-on-three OT format, sudden-death was full of drama, and even included an Oilers PP that they were unable to score on. Back at even strength, Eichel nearly ended it on a brilliant backhand move, which led directly to McDavid bursting down the right wing and beating Lehner on a backhand of his own to seal the win for the visitors.

“It’s almost ironic,” McLellan said. “Eichel had an opportunity to go wide with speed and on his backhand, and it just goes wide. Connor picks the puck up and does the same thing going the other way. Big time players, big goals. I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more from Connor, and probably Jack as well.”

“It’s a big win for us,” said McDavid, who picked up his 12th goal and 31st point with the winner. “It’s important for us, in this next month, to keep having something to play for."

Talbot surpasses 30 saves for the fourth-straight game, turning aside 31 Sabres shots as the Oilers now have five of a possible six points in their last three games.

Edmonton's four-game road trip continues Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers in the City of Brotherly Love. The Oilers defeated the Flyers 4-2 back on Nov. 3, 2015 at Rexall Place, as Taylor Hall scored a goal and had two assists in the win.

Patrick Maroon, acquired by the Oilers via trade with the Anaheim Ducks just prior to Monday’s trade deadline, is expected to make his debut with his new team against the Flyers. The big winger joined the team in Buffalo on Tuesday afternoon, but rather than force him to play after a long day of travel, Maroon got the night off and will suit up Thursday.
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