The Oilers hit the road for four games against the Eastern Conference, beginning in Ottawa on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. MT. The game can be seen on Sportsnet West or heard on 630 CHED and the Oilers Radio Network.
EDMONTON, AB – It was a joyous return in a few ways for the Oilers, as they downed the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1. The Oilers 2015 first-overall pick scored a beautiful goal and recorded three points in his return from injury and Edmonton starts their post-All-Star break schedule with a victory.
If there was rust from missing 37 games with a broken clavicle, Connor McDavid didn’t display any early in his return to action. The Oilers rookie drew a tripping penalty 26 seconds into the game, then helped generate sustained pressure on the ensuing power play.
Unfortunately, a broken stick during a shot attempt allowed a scrambling Columbus penalty kill to clear. The Oilers couldn’t capitalize on that man advantage. Less than six minutes into the game, the Oilers lead in shots 8-0.
“It set the tone for our team and the team just followed,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said of that first shift and power play. “We had as good a first period as we’ve had all year. I was truly concerned about our get-up-and-go and our ability to jump on them. We had a real good start. Unfortunately, we were down one but he was the catalyst there to get us on the power play right away. He had a hell of a night and we certainly missed him.”
McDavid’s night was not over there.
At 9:58 of the middle frame, Rexall Place exploded as McDavid scored the go-ahead goal to make it 2-1. McDavid skated across the Columbus blueline and deked through the Blue Jackets, eventually going one-on-one with Joonas Korpisalo. The top pick undressed the netminder, sending the home crowd into fits.
“He was the catalyst tonight and you have to have a catalyst if you’re going to have success,” said McLellan. “He certainly was (a catalyst), and the group responded to him. I was concerned with him being the catalyst and our group sitting back and not participating. But they did, so we’re maturing. It’s a good thing. Hell of a win for us.”
McDavid would finish the game with that goal and two assists.
“I definitely didn’t expect to be able to do that or play that kind of game,” said McDavid. “I was very happy with how I felt. The timing and all that felt pretty good. It’s one game though. I’ve got a bunch left.”
It was the Blue Jackets who opened scoring however. Following a superb Oilers chance that fell short at the Columbus end of the ice, a 2-on-1 rush came back the other way and paid off for the visitors. Matt Calvert potted his seventh of the season at 11:37 of the first to make it 1-0 Blue Jackets. Shots on the board at the time were 13-2 for the Oilers.
Despite outshooting Columbus 18-8 in the opening frame, Edmonton went into the second trailing by one.
Defenceman Eric Gryba evened scoring at 3:02 of the second period, fluttering in a long-range shot from the Oilers bench. Zack Kassian and Mark Letestu each recorded an assist. That was Gryba’s first goal as an Oilers player.
That goal was followed by McDavid’s, which was assisted by his linemates Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle.
Edmonton extended their lead to two when Andrej Sekera threw a point shot through traffic and Pouliot tipped it in at 16:32 of the second, on the power play. McDavid recorded the second assist on the goal.
The crowd had barely finished celebrating that score when they were again brought to their feet. 29 seconds following the power-play goal, number 29 for the Oilers made it 4-1. Leon Draisaitl sniped a shot from out in front, following a behind-the-net setup by Taylor Hall at 17:01. Adam Clendening recorded the second assist on the goal, giving him his first point with the Oilers in his debut after being claimed off waivers a week ago.
Early in the third, Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot gloved down a Nick Foligno backhand attempt to keep Edmonton ahead by three. Talbot finished the game with 36 saves.
Eberle made it 5-1 for the Oilers with 5:19 to play. On the power play, McDavid hacked away at the loose puck in the crease and eventually it squeaked out to Eberle in front and the winger deposited it in the largely empty net. McDavid and Sekera notched the assists.
“When we get to where we want to get to, that game will be played a little different,” said McLellan. “It will be tightened up in the second and third periods. There will be less loose periods. We’ll be suffocating teams, and I talked to our group about that.
“When you play against LA, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Washington and they’re up 4-1, you just keep looking up at the clock because you don’t believe you have a chance. We’re not there yet. We don’t get to play in enough of those games where we get to work on it. We’ll get better eventually when we get in more of those games. When we finally get to that point, we will have arrived. We’ve got some work to do.”
Edmonton now hits the road for four games, beginning with a showdown with the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday.