NEWARK, N.J. — Entering Thursday night’s tilt, Connor McDavid had scored against every team in the NHL except the New Jersey Devils.
Scratch that off the list — and in memorable fashion, too.
McDavid’s power-play goal, with 1:06 remaining in regulation came not a moment too soon, a mere fraction of a second before the whistle went to tie the game and force overtime — a game his Edmonton Oilers would go on to win in a shootout, 4-3, over the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark.
The game-tying goal late in the third period gave the Oilers a shot to remain undefeated, a shot Leon Draisaitl nailed down as the lone scorer in the shootout to keep Edmonton perfect at 4-0.
All four of the Oilers’ wins to open the 2019-20 season has seen Edmonton battle back from behind to secure the victory, a feat only the 1988-89 Los Angeles Kings and 2005-06 Nashville Predators have done to start a season.
“We’re a resilient group,” Draisaitl said. “We said that before the season, we’re not going to stop until it’s over. I’m happy to be part of this group, I think we’re building our game in the right direction.”
The Oilers, who have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons, will take it any way it comes. Comeback wins over the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders is an early proclamation Edmonton is back in the mix.
Three times the New Jersey Devils took the lead: 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 on goals from Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev and Damon Severson, respectively — and three times, the Oilers battled back to tie off the sticks of Draisaitl, James Neal and McDavid.
Blake Coleman tripped McDavid with 1:16 to go and McDavid made the Devils pay picking up a loose puck in the crease and banging it home just 10 seconds later. A whistle was blown — and heard — but despite a challenge from New Jersey the game-tying goal stood.
After a wild overtime with multiple scoring opportunities on both sides and a combined five shots on goal, it came down to a shootout and Oilers’ goalie Mikko Koskinen (28 saves) didn’t flinch halting Gusev, Jack Hughes and Taylor Hall one-on-one.
“We never stopped believing — three times behind and three times we fought our way back and earned the win in the shootout,” Koskinen said. “I think we are believing in each other and that’s a huge thing on a hockey team. We just have to be focused every day and we have a chance to win every game.”
New head coach Dave Tippett likes the resiliency he has seen, but after 1,118 games behind the bench, he knows it will take a lot more than four games to send Edmonton back to the post-season.
“I’m really happy with the start. If you would have said you’d be 4-0 after four, I’m good with that. But it’s a process,” Tippett said. “We’ve got to continue to get better.”
“I didn’t think we played near as well as we played the other night, we looked a little sluggish out there,” Tippett, who was hired as the 20th coach in franchise history in May, said. “But I like the way we hung around and battled. Special teams ended up being the difference in the game. Our PK was pretty good (two-for-two) and our PP got us a couple of goals — They can’t all be masterpieces, so we’ll take the win and move on.”
James Neal, acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames this off-season in exchange for fan favorite Milan Lucic and a conditional 2010 third round pick, has been nothing short of spectacular in the scoring department for the Oilers. Neal’s second-period power-play goal, with 28 seconds left, tied the game at 2-2 sending Edmonton to the locker room with a chance to steal another game on the road. Neal’s goal was his team-leading seventh — the most in franchise history through the first four games of a season — surpassing Wayne Gretzky and Glenn Anderson with six.
“Winning makes everything easier and better, but we’re working for it,” Draisaitl said. “We’re playing the right way. We’re working hard for our wins. It’s great to see. It’s great to see different guys contribute and make a difference every night.”
New Jersey drops to 0-2-2. The shootout loss was their second straight at home following a 5-4 setback to the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 4.
After a trade for perennial All-Star P.K. Subban and No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes falling into their lap, it has been an inauspicious start for the Devils, who will look to get one in the win column Saturday night in Boston against the Bruins.
“They’re a fantastic 3-on-3 team with Draisaitl and McDavid,” Taylor Hall said. “The fact that we were able to hold them off and get some chances ourselves speaks to the fact that we are playing with some purpose. Some stuff we were planning on and the structure we want to play with, you saw a lot tonight, which is good.”
”I commended our guys,” Devils coach John Hynes said. ”They were a rested team. We were coming off a back-to-back. Obviously, it was a tough loss last night but if you look at the way we competed and the way we played five-on-five, we played a lot to our identity. I think everybody on the team showed up on a gut check game. If you look at that, that’s certainly something to build on.”
Count Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse among the Oilers who see a culture change under Tippett in the dressing room.
“There’s a culture change within the room where all anyone thinks about is winning, that’s all that really matters,” Nurse said. “It’s that belief within your structure and belief within your team that you can get it done. That’s what we have right now. That belief needs to continue because we’ve shown through four games that we can win any type of way.
“We couldn’t really find our A game for the whole night,” Draisaitl added, “but it’s great to see that we can find different ways to win games.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Photos by Mark Carosiello / @SnapthePicture6
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