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JONES: Oilers pull out important win in first meeting between McDavid and Matthews

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Justin Holl (3) steals the puck away from Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) in the second period at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 20, 2021.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Justin Holl (3) steals the puck away from Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) in the second period at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 20, 2021.

In Toronto it was Connor McDavid versus Auston Matthews.

In Edmonton, it was the Oilers versus the Maple Leafs. Maybe even the Oilers versus themselves.

Whatever, the first of four meeting between McDavid and Matthews, between Edmonton and Toronto, in a span of 10 days wasn’t one to send you to the keyboard to make any declarations in any direction.

Matthews scored the Maple Leafs only goal but any attempt to make a comparison to the goal McDavid scored the last time these two teams met, also in Toronto, would be ridiculous.

That featured McDavid beating Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly beyond belief, was arguably the greatest goal of the season in the entire NHL.

This one, by Matthews, involved a give-away by Zack ‘He’s Still Not Back’ Kassian and the shot fired from behind the goal line and absolutely leaked in behind Mikko Koskinen who left a few inches beside the post unprotected.

McDavid assisted on Leon Draisaitl’s power-play goal that turned out to be the winner in the 3-1 tilt. But the penalty to create the man advantage was totally bogus.

The Oilers were 0-16 on the power play in a run of futility going into what was the Oilers third power play in 21 attempts this season for a team that led the league with a 30 per cent plus success rate last season. So at least that skid came to an end whether there would have been a penalty on the play or not.

The other two Oilers markers came from an own goal and an empty netter.

In their eight games against each other so far in their careers, Matthews has now out-scored McDavid 4-3 and the Oilers captain now has 11 points to the Leafs star’s six.

The Leafs went into the game in first place in the Canadian Division with a two-game winning streak and the Oilers tied for last with a two game losing streak.

But you’d hardly want to declare either the Toronto defeat or the Edmonton win as games that would turn either season around.

The game was a big event but it mostly involved non-event hockey.

Both teams came to Scotiabank Arena to play defensive hockey. And they both succeeded to make it hard to watch considering the talent and skill that was supposed to be on display.

But in the case of the Oilers, that was something to be celebrated considering the way the Montreal Canadiens exposed them defensively and particularly in the areas of being prepared to battle and compete.

Essentially the Oilers went of the road and played “a good road game.”

But give them marks for getting their act together in their own end and coming to compete.

But not to the point you’d want to hang a huge headline oin that.

As for Koskinen, while he was still an adventure on occasion and the goal he allowed was very much a stinker, let’s give him credit for not giving the soft one up early and otherwise managing to keep the puck out of the net.

“What you want from your goalie is to give you a chance to win and he did that. He’d probably want the goal back,” said coach Dave Tippett.

Fair. But spare and rave reviews or any declarations that Koskinen turned into a star to save the game.

The collective post-game quote from the Oilers after the game should have been this:
“Whew!”

The game they played may not have returned anybody to the level of excitement as after their only previous win over the Vancouver Canucks when the came close to being all they could be.

But it was a win.

And more than getting back to playing a hockey game like that was not as important as just getting the two points.

Top teams try to make it a club policy not to lose more than two in a row but with the importance of getting out of the gate in the compact 56-game schedule, not losing three in a row was the priority.

I doubt if many commentators would be raving about playing great and losing that game.

There’s one whale of a difference between 2-3 and 1-4.

Maybe when the play again Friday it’ll be the event hockey fans from just about everywhere are hoping to see.

Maybe McDavid or Matthews will put on a show.

But for the hockey fans in Edmonton, they’ll take another one just like that if the scoreboard reads the same.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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