Five down, three to go.
But who’s counting?
The predictable grind that is the Edmonton Oilers pre-season rolled into Winnipeg Saturday where, as is almost always the case, the home team’s veterans were heavily favoured over the visiting team’s rookies, AHLers and depth players.
Only this time, an Edmonton team that had Devin Shore, Derek Ryan and Mattias Janmark as its first line and just one defenceman with more than 25 games of NHL experience decided to flip the script, posting a 3-2 victory in the shootout.
Tyler Benson and Jason Demers scored in regulation and Devin Shore scored the shootout winner while Stuart Skinner’s steller work in net made the upset possible.
“In the pre-season you’re trying to establish your identity, both as an individual and as a team,” said Shore. “You look up at the shot clock and it might not look great, but for the guys who were here today we had a job to do — we wanted to keep battling and grease one out. It was nice to get the win.”
Skinner had a busy start to this one, keeping it 1-1 through 30 minutes while the Oilers were being outshot 20-4.
“The guys in front of him competed our butts off but he stole us the win,” said Shore. “He was our best player.”
The 23-year-old goaltender also stopped five shots in the three-on-three overtime and blanked Cole Perfetti, Brad Lambert and Pierre-Luc Dubois in the shootout for the win.
“Being on the road in this barn it’s tough to get a win, but I thought our guys battled hard, made some huge blocked shots,” said Skinner, whose final line was two goals on 35 shots, both of them coming on the power play. “It feels good.”
To out-duel Connor Hellebuyck, one of the best goalies in hockey, is pretty cool, too.
“You always know who’s playing on the other side and it’s always fun watching Hellebuyck play. He’s an unbelievable goalie and somebody I’ve looked up to for years.”
There was plenty to digest in this one as the Oilers fought hard and had big nights on many fronts. At this point, as the evidence begins to mount, it’s hard to tell if the picture is getting clearer or foggier for head coach Jay Woodcroft.
Benson, who split the last two seasons between Edmonton and Bakersfield, opened the scoring for the Oilers in his attempt to push through and become a full-time NHLer. He whipped a wrist shot into the far top corner behind Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
He also drew a crowd in the second period after taking two minutes for boarding Winnipeg’s Mason Appleton and sent Xavier Bourgault in for a breakaway with beautiful third-period touch pass.
“I’m happy with how camp has gone, I’ve felt good out there on the ice,” he said. “I feel I’ve made some big strides over the summer and I’ve played well.
“I feel like the things I’ve worked on in the off-season, I’ve been able to apply. They’ve been showing in the games. I just want to keep continuing to build on my game through camp.”
Holloway, who wasn’t happy with his game in the road loss in Calgary, responded with a beauty in Winnipeg.
He hit the post on a shorthanded breakaway late in the second period, hit another post in the third, drew a penalty with 10 minutes left in regulation when he broke in alone and then set up Jason Demers for the tying goal on the ensuing five-on-three power play.
THAT AND THIS
Edmonton’s string of penalty killing perfection (16-for-16), came to an end in the first period when the Jets scored on a long 5-on-3 power play… Defenceman Philip Broberg looked pretty good working the power play in Winnipeg. It’s not a spot he’ll get in Edmonton with Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard ahead of him, but he can deal the puck offensively … Woodcroft won his first challenge of the year, taking Winnipeg’s 2-1 goal off the board midway through the third period because of an offside review … the Jets sat out some of their top guys — Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers, Josh Morrissey and Mark Scheifele — but still dressed an NHL-heavy lineup.
ESPO TURNING HEADS
Winger Luke Esposito, who happens to be Mark Messier’s nephew, dressed for his fourth game of the pre-season, which is highly unusual for a player on an AHL contract but he keeps giving the coaches a reason to get him more games.
He set up Edmonton’s winning goal Friday against Calgary and turned in another high-energy game that included a scrap with Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler on Saturday.
“He’s ultra competitive,” said Woodcroft. “I’ve had the good fortune of coaching him for the last three and a half years in Bakersfield. So, I feel good when he’s on the ice, even against NHL competition, because he’s so darn competitive.”
The Jets honoured the late great Dale Hawerchuk before the game and unveiled a Hawerchuk statue outside the building earlier in the day. Hawerchuk’s Canada Cup teammate Paul Coffey was among those on hand to pay tribute.