Player grades: Connor McDavid leads the charge yet again as Oilers fly past Jets into second place

Author of the article:

Bruce McCurdy  •  Edmonton Journal

Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (right) celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets with Jesse Puljujarvi in Winnipeg on April 26, 2021.
Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (right) celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets with Jesse Puljujarvi in Winnipeg on April 26, 2021. Photo by Kevin King /Postmedia

Oilers 6, Jets 1

It began as a battle for second place in the NHL’s Scotia North Division. It ended as something of a laugher as Edmonton Oilers cruised 6-1 over Winnipeg Jets, passing their gracious hosts in the standings while still holding two games in hand.

In truth it was a hard fought game with Winnipeg holding the edge on the shot clock in all three periods and by 37-30 overall. Grade A scoring chances tracked here at the Cult of Hockey split evenly at 12-12 (running count). But the Oilers had the greater number of five-bell chances, the better finishing touch, and the better goaltending as well. Mike Smith stood tall in the early going as the Jets pressed, then the Oilers solved Connor Hellebuyck half a dozen times in barely 20 minutes of playing time, eventually sending the Vezina Trophy winner to the bench after 40 minutes and just 17 saves. The third period played out uneventfully as the Oilers held their big lead to the final buzzer.

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It was a night of milestones for the Oilers:

  • Ryan McLeod played his first NHL game
  • Alex Chiasson opened the scoring with his 100th career goal
  • Leon Draisaitl became the highest scoring German national in NHL history

Those moments of individual glory aside, the driving force behind the Oilers’ success was the indomitable Connor McDavid, who scored a delightful hat trick and added an assist in yet another dominant performance. McDavid’s powerful influence weaves through the game story in much the same manner as he weaved through the Jets all night long.

Player grades

#6 Adam Larsson, 7. Responded to the challenge of a new partner with a strong game. Oilers dominated all shot shares by a 2:1 margin on his watch, and by 2-0 on the goals front. Larsson was instrumental on the first of those, sending a terrific feed across the Royal Road to Chiasson for the one-timer that put Edmonton ahead to stay late in the first. Made 0 defensive mistakes that resulted in Grade A chances the other way.

#13 Jesse Puljujarvi, 7. Strong two-way game, good in transition, dangerous in attack. Contributed to the second Oilers goal with a strong drive through the middle lane that created sufficient chaos for McDavid and Barrie to exploit, even as the assist originally awarded J.P. was later reversed. But was rewarded a belated assist on the third Edmonton tally, also by McDavid, for his work deep in Oilers territory that started the puck on its rapid journey north. No doubts about his involvement in the 5-0 tally, in which Puljujarvi made a fine breakout pass to begin the counter attack, then joined the play as the middleman who took McDavid’s pass and quickly skimmed it over to Nurse for the one-timer that found the back of the net. Another quality celly from the charismatic Finn was the cherry on top. Officially 0-2-2, +4 on the night and now at a career-high 21 points for the season.

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#14 Devin Shore, 5. Decent at even strength and did his part on a quietly effective line with McLeod and Archibald. Had his struggles on the PK, where we tagged him with individual mistakes on 3 Grade A looks for the Jets including the one goal, albeit on a bit of a broken play.

#15 Josh Archibald, 6. Credited with 3 shot attempts, 3 blocked shots, and 3 hits in a typical hard-working performance. Was in the box when Winnipeg scored their only goal. A slight worry when he appeared to block a shot with his hand just before the final buzzer. Oilers are already down a couple of bottom six bangers in Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian, so can ill afford to lose Archibald.

#18 James Neal, 5. His hands had an OK game, his feet not so much. Made a nice pass to Chiasson for an excellent early chance, was burned for one against in garbage time.

#21 Dominik Kahun, 7. Finally got a real chance to play on McDavid’s line and made the most of it. Twice got the puck to 97 with space on the same shift, with the phenom converting the second of those into a goal. Made a more subtle play to help force the turnover that resulted in McD’s hat trick tally, officially unassisted. Had a solid game on the defensive side of the puck, twice cutting out dangerous passes with diligent backtracking and an active stick in the lane.

#22 Tyson Barrie, 6.  Made a terrific play on the game winner, starting the play in his own territory, wisely dishing off to McDavid, then joining the rush to take the return pass and first the shot that bounced to 97 for the deft finish. Had some questionable moments on the other side of the puck and was bailed out by Smith on more than one occasion. In 18 high event minutes at 5v5, the Oilers were outshot 18-13. Hard to quibble with boxcars of 0-1-1, +3.

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#25 Darnell Nurse, 7. Similar shot shares as his partner Barrie, but a stronger overall game. His aggressive defence of a Pierre-Luc Dubois rush set the stage for the first Edmonton goal on the counter. Broke out of a 6-game pointless drought when he joined the rush and buried Puljujarvi’s feed from the right circle for his 14th goal of the season, the most of any Oilers d-man since Sheldon Souray tallied 23 back in 2008-09. Posted crooked numbers all across the Event Summary with a goal, a penalty, 4 shots, 5 hits, 2 blocks, and a +4 goal differential.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 8. Made a brilliant play on the game’s first goal when, seemingly pinned along the boards, he was able to pull the puck with his skate up to his stick and from there whip a backhand pass to Larsson in the high slot, opening up the Winnipeg coverage in the process. Added a splendid goal of his own when he buried RNH’s fine pass on a 2-on-1 with his trademark one-timer that left Hellebuyck no chance. That moved him past Marco Sturm into first place among German-born NHLers with 488 points, though it took him just half the time (468 games for Drai, 938 for Sturm). Another solid night on the dot at 10/15=67% in a game just 40 pucks were dropped all night long. 2 takeaways, 0 giveaways.

#39 Alex Chiasson, 7. Opened the scoring with a sizzling one-timer that blew past Hellebuyck to finish a terrific three-way passing play with Draisaitl and Larsson. A picture perfect way to notch his 100th career tally. Accomplished that via the overland route, 8 full seasons as an honest grinder in the NHL. Had 2 other shots, a block, and a takeaway. Some defensive chaos in a late-game shift when his tired group got caught out against the Mark Scheifele line.

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#41 Mike Smith, 8. Mr. Smith goes to Winnipeg for the second time in the last 10 days, and once again outduels the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. First it was a 26-save shutout on April 17, then a 36-save performance with a single blemish on Monday. In fact over the last three games between the two rivals, Smith recorded a shutout streak of a few ticks under 7 full periods, over which interval the Oilers outscored the Jets 12-0! He came up big in the early going, making a trio of strong stops in rapid succession in the opening minute and holding the fort until his mates started to find the range at the other end. Beaten just once on a bit of a broken play when Paul Stastny’s flubbed a pass intended for the slot right on to Scheifele’s stick in the far circle and the Oilers, Smith included, couldn’t recover as the Jets sniper made no mistake. Later got some revenge with 3 consecutive excellent saves off Scheifele in rapid succession. Stopped 11 of the 12 Grade A looks he faced, an excellent rate. 37 shots, 36 saves, .973 save percentage.

#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 6. Battled his butt off with a strong 200-foot effort. Not a lot to show for it at the offensive end, but contributed one of the night’s best defensive plays with a hard backtrack to cut out a dangerous pass across the slot to what appeared to be an open man. Landed 2 hits and was on the receiving end of 5, none of which deterred him in the slightest.

#70 Dmitry Kulikov, 6. Made his Oilers debut and was impressive on a shutdown pairing with Larsson that recorded strong overall possession numbers, primarily matched against the Connor-Dubois-Wheeler line. A solid defensive showing highlighted by 4 hits, but also did some nice things moving the puck. There were a couple of miscommunications along the way but nothing costly, as he like his partner wasn’t a culprit on a single Grade A chance by the Jets.

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#71 Ryan McLeod, 7. Debutant gets the automatic +1 bonus in his grade for the monumental feat of making it to the best league in the world. Gets a further bump of +1 for his actual play in what I saw as an impressive debut. Skated miles, looked after his defensive assignments, cleared, passed or carried the puck out of the d-zone on a number of occasions. Strong in puck support. Was decent enough in the o-zone, especially along the end boards where he did solid work. Modest but positive stats of 1 shot, 1 hit, and 3/5=60% on the dot in 14: 13 of action, fifth most TOi among Oilers forwards. Did manage to accomplish something no other teammate could on this night, namely draw a penalty.

#74 Ethan Bear, 6. The shot metrics suggest he and his partner Jones were caved, but the eyeballs saw a different story. Withstood plenty of forechecking pressure and survived unscathed, at least until late in garbage time when Smith had the answers for some terrific zone time by the Scheifele group. Made a fine pass to RNH for a shot that hit the crossbar.

#82 Caleb Jones, 6. Skated extremely well and moved the puck confidently for the most part. Made a lovely stretch pass to Draisaitl in the build-up to the first Oilers goal.  Played a robust game with 4 hits and blocked 3 shots as well. His 19: 06 TOi was a season high.

#91 Gaetan Haas, 5. Played a quiet, competent game centring the fourth line between Neal and Chiasson.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 7. Played his best game in some time. Was unlucky not to find the twine, ringing one hard shot off the crossbar and another off the goal post. Made a terrific play on the fourth Edmonton goal, jumping on a bobble by Derek Forbort to chip the puck past the scrambling defender, break up ice on a 2-on-1, hold the puck until the right moment before slipping a perfect pass that Draisaitl hammered past Hellebuyck. Unbelievably, just his second primary assist of the season at 5v5. One suspects there will be more to come, especially if the DYN-amite Line remains reunited. Nuge had the best stretch of his career playing with the same group in 2020.

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#97 Connor McDavid, 9. Another virtuoso performance from the phenom, who skated brilliantly all night long starting from the first shift when he tested Hellebuyck off a solo dash not 30 seconds in. He was stopped that time but would later find 3 different ways to beat Vezina Trophy winner. The first was a nifty one-touch backhand from a tough angle that he somehow managed to get up and over the goalie’s outstretched pad. The second, a Gretzkyesque hold-and-drag shot along the ice that fooled Hellebuyck through the 5-hole. The last, a dazzling demonstration of dekes and dangles on a clearcut breakaway after first picking off an errant pass. In all he fired 7 shots on goal to comfortably lead the Oilers. In between times he found time to help set up Nurse’s tally. That secondary assist broke an amazing run of 17 consecutive primary helpers dating back to Mar 15; if you like, include the 10 goals he scored during that span and make it 27 straight primary points over a six-week interval. (Stick tap to Original Pouzar for that gem of a stat.) Now has 19 points in 8 games vs. the Jets with at least 2 in every single game! Took over the league lead with his 10th game winner of the season, and extended his scoring lead to a whopping 15 points over Draisaitl and a staggering 21 more than any other NHLer. All this in just 16: 03 TOi, a season low.

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Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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