Player grades: Too little too late as Oilers leave two points behind in Buffalo

Author of the article:

Bruce McCurdy  •  Edmonton Journal

Publishing date:

Nov 13, 2021  •  3 days ago  •  8 minute read  •  8 Comments

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) makes a save on Buffalo Sabres left wing Vinnie Hinostroza (29) during the second period at KeyBank Center.
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) makes a save on Buffalo Sabres left wing Vinnie Hinostroza (29) during the second period at KeyBank Center. Photo by Timothy T. Ludwig /USA TODAY Sports

Oilers 2, Sabres 3

On talent alone, this game was a mismatch. The Edmonton Oilers came to Buffalo with their potent top six in good health, fresh off a stirring 5-3 win in Boston on Thursday night.

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The homestanding Sabres on the other hand, were down a few quarts. No Jack Eichel, traded to Vegas last week. No Alex Tuch, received in return for Eichel, out with injury. No Victor Olofsson, out with injury. No Casey Mittelstadt, also hurt. And while those aren’t exactly the biggest of names, on paper they may be the best the Sabres have to offer.

No matter on Friday night, though, when the understaffed Sabres took care of business against a disjointed group of visitors to break out of a five-game losing slide. They protected their own net with determination, and took advantage of the wide open spaces behind Edmonton’s mistake-prone defence to score on three different jailbreaks. That was just enough to win, 3-2 in regulation. All of the goals came in the second period.

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It was the fourth straight game the Oilers had allowed the first goal, and the fourth straight that they trailed after 40 minutes. Twice in those four games the Oilers scored enough down the stretch to win; in the other two, in Detroit Tuesday and Buffalo Friday, they spent the whole third period scrambling to overcome a 3-2 deficit and couldn’t get it done.

Oilers outshot the Sabres 35-23 and held a 13-9 edge in Grade A shots according to our preliminary count at the Cult of Hockey. They did in fact turn it on down the stretch, outshooting Buffalo 13-0 in the last 6 minutes and change, but it was too little, too late.  On a night where the visitors won the special teams battle 2-0, they got whipped 0-3 at 5v5 and that, folks, was the hockey game.

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Player grades

#2 Duncan Keith, 3. Made a nice cross-ice feed to Draisaitl in the game’s first minute, but that was the highlight of his night. Had his struggles on the defensive side of the puck. Too late recognizing the danger on Ceci’s turnover on the first Buffalo goal. Made a terrible turnover of his own on the 2-2, then was slow to recover as the scoring thrust came back down his side of the ice. Got turnstiled on a couple of other occasions. 0 shots and seemed a step behind for much of the game.

#5 Cody Ceci, 3. Good as he was on Thursday, he was that poor on Friday. Made a bad turnover at the offensive blueline on the 1-0 and lost the subsequent race. Was in the mirror image position on the 2-2 when he was caught too high up-ice to recover from Keith’s errant pass. Make it a dash-2 on the night for both partners of the veteran pairing. 0 shots, in fact the Oilers as a team mustered just 2 in his 12+ minutes at evens. Did draw a penalty, but got away with a foul of his own in the third with his team down a goal and a man.

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#6 Kris Russell, 4. Fairly quiet night, other than one lost battle which resulted in a pair of splendid scoring chances in rapid succession that Skinner rejected. Did collect 4 of Edmonton’s 6 blocked shots on a night the squad as a whole didn’t spend enough time getting down and dirty.

#10 Derek Ryan, 4. Stretched his offensive drought to 11 games without a point. Made a puzzling play when on a delayed penalty, he spun and fired a blind back pass in the general direction of Edmonton’s gaping net, fortunately it didn’t get through. 0 shots, 1 giveaway, -1, though a very good 5/6=83% on the dot. Played just 8 minutes, 1: 49 of that on the penalty kill which had a solid night.

#13 Jesse Puljujarvi, 6. Earned the primary assist on Draisaitl’s first goal with a fine one-touch pass. Strong on the puck and along the walls in his customary fashion. 2 shots on net, one of them forcing an excellent save by Dustin Tokarski in the Sabres cage. Took a penalty.

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#16 Tyler Benson, 5. The one fresh Edmonton forward had a fair bit of energy, playing a moderately effective 9 minutes. 2 shots on net and a dangerous cross-crease pass that Sceviour couldn’t convert. Made a strong backcheck to thwart one Sabres thrust. Among the few Oilers who engaged physically. Drew a penalty.

#18 Zach Hyman, 4. Had enough great chances to score at least once, but was unable to convert. A couple close-range shots into Tokarski’s breadbasket. Had a great look of an open cage off a fine McDavid feed in the very late stages but fired high and wide.

#22 Tyson Barrie, 6. The best of a so-so lot of blueliners, Barrie pushed the play north (a team best 14-6 shot share at 5v5) and had his moments on the powerplay as well. 11 shot attempts, 8 of them on goal, tied with Draisaitl for the team lead in both categories. His pairing with Russell was the only one to keep a clean sheet at their own end of the ice.

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#25 Darnell Nurse, 4. Played his customary 24+ minutes with 7 shot attempts, 3 of them on goal. Made a couple of excellent defensive stops in one-on-one situations. But he made a key mistake on the game winner when he took the puck deep in the ozone only to get stripped of possession in the corner and caught out on the subsequent jailbreak. Took a penalty.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 7. The best of the Oilers once again, scoring both Edmonton goals on consecutive second-period powerplays to give the club a short-lived 2-1 lead. One was a nifty conversion of a second chance shot on the backhand side, the other a one-timer off a McDavid feed that overpowered Tokarski. But he along with McDavid were unable to cover off the point for Nurse on the game-winner. Impressive numbers across the board including 8 shots and 11 shot attempts, including a pair of drives that Tokarski somehow kept out with under 5 minutes to play. 16/23=70% on the dot, though he lost the last chance draw in the last 30 seconds. Oilers dominated possession to the tune of 22-9 shot attempts and 13-6 shots on goal during his 15½ minutes of 5v5 play. Overall he led the team with a massive 25: 20, drawing 2 penalties in the process.

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#37 Warren Foegele, 5. Some robust work in the offensive zone, though in providing traffic in front he was unfortunate enough to block a pair of drives off of teammates’ sticks. Made one good hustle play on the backcheck. But had a complete clean sheet on the event summary: no points, no shot attempts, no hits, just an entire row of empty cells.

#42 Brendan Perlini, 5. Played a season-high 10: 20. By far the most physical Oiler with 4 hits, literally half of the entire team’s paltry total of 8, but took an untimely third-period penalty.

#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 6. Did his best work drawing a pair of penalties, with both of them leading to Edmonton powerplay goals. At least one of them was an effective sales job. Active on the puck, but just 1 shot on net. Led the forwards with 2: 05 on the penalty kill.

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#70 Colton Sceviour, 5. Paid a physical price with a couple of hits and a courageous shot block, but had nothing at all happening offensively. 0 shot attempts, and was late to the party when Benson made a dangerous feed across the goal mouth.

#71 Ryan McLeod, 6. Played the 3C role on this night with 10: 33 at even strength, over 4 minutes more than Ryan. A couple of shots on net and an impressive 10/13=77% on the faceoff dot. Moved the puck effectively at times, beat it square at other times.

#74 Stuart Skinner, 4. His second start on the road trip, and the second time his team responded with an iffy effort. Made a few decent saves on close-in plays, but didn’t have the answers in one-on-one situations. Beaten across the net by Anders Bjork on the 1-0. Appeared to lose his posts against Dylan Cozens on the 2-2. Did make the first stop on Vinnie Hinostroza’s breakaway in the final minute of the second, but leaked the rebound right into the slot where Cozens pounded it home. 23 shots, 20 saves, .870 save percentage.

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#75 Evan Bouchard, 4. A few decent breakout passes and a couple of sharp keep-ins, but far from his offensive best. 0 shots on net. Made a critical error on the game winner when, with Nurse taking the puck all the way to the corner, he pinched all the way up to the faceoff dot on the weak side. When puck was turned over he was in no position to cut off the Hinostroza breakaway, and in full pursuit mode couldn’t deal with the rebound nor the man who cashed it.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 5.  2 assists, both of type secondary, as he ran his league leading assist total to 17. But continues to fire blanks on the goal front, and is clearly starting to squeeze his stick when the chances present themselves as they did a couple of times on this night. Just 1 of his 5 shot attempts was on target. Spent parts of the game playing centre but went 0 for 5 on the dot.

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#97 Connor McDavid, 6. Was out of synch with his mates at times, sending more than one pass between teammates and right on out of the offensive zone. Did generate some good scoring chances including a splendid cross-ice feed off the backhand side to Draisaitl on the 2-1. 4 shots of his own but unable to solve Tokarski. Clearly hauled down in the corner on an Edmonton powerplay that would have resulted in a 5v3, just at the moment the heretofore generous zebras decided to pocket their whistles. Had 2 hits, 2 takeaways and solid shot shares. But on the winning goal was covering the point for Nurse but rotated out of the position just as the play went the other way.

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Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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