EDMONTON — There was a time when the Sedin twins were the cycle and the Edmonton Oilers were the track.
When the Vancouver Canucks needed a goal, Henrik and Daniel simply hopped over the boards and furnished one. As simple as putting together a Billy bookcase.
Either Danny pumped one past some faceless Oilers goalie, or Henrik bounced one in off of Alex Burrows’ pants.
Whatever, the two points were an “on-demand” item for Vancouver during the years that they were a Western Conference powerhouse, while the Oilers were in the midst of their multi-decade rebuild.
Well, isn’t the skate on the other foot now?
The Oilers walked into Vancouver and won two straight this week, while resting a few regulars and throwing some minutes to some taxi-squad players to shake off some rust with the playoffs around the corner. There wasn’t a minute in either game where it appeared as if the Oilers wouldn’t win.
Not even a shift.
The Oilers fell behind 1-0 just 34 seconds into Tuesday’s game and didn’t sweat a bead. All that early deficit meant was that they had 59 minutes to erase it, and that the Oilers did in a tidy 4-1 win.
And really, all they wanted to talk about afterwards was the icing on hockey’s regular season cake — the playoffs, which can’t begin soon enough for goalie Mike Smith.
“It’s everything. That’s why we play,” said Smith, after a clinical 28-save performance that raised his save percentage to .925 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.25. “The last quarter of the season has gone by so slow. It’s nice to see the end in sight and be playing good hockey going into the most important time.”
Oh, boy. Are they ever.
Edmonton has won five straight on the road, nine of its last 12, and is playing .710 hockey since its 3-6 start to the season. Now, the Oilers get the luxury of throwing some ice time at the taxi squad — Evan Bouchard and William Lagesson — a pair of youngsters who replaced Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones on Tuesday.
“You work really hard off the ice. To finally get back in a game was a good feeling,” said Bouchard, who faked a slapshot, side-stepped a defender and lasered home a wrist shot for his third career NHL goal.
“It’s part of getting shots through to the net. It doesn’t always have to be a slapshot. When you can throw a wrister through with guys in front, I just wanted to give the guys a chance to get a rebound. Luckily it went in.”
Bouchard is the fourth defenceman on head coach Dave Tippett’s right side, behind Tyson Barrie, Adam Larsson and Bear. He’s been hanging around on the taxi squad all season waiting for an injury that has not come, but Tippett knows that a player like Bouchard can be a major actor once the playoffs begin.
“You’re going to need a lot of bodies,” Tippett predicted. “Playoffs, knock on wood, you never know when injuries come along, and the different mix of your lineups you’ll be looking for. So we try to have everybody stay engaged.
“I give the taxi squad guys a great deal of credit. They work. Sometimes they don’t play for a while, but they stay ready. You saw that tonight with a guy like Bouch jumping in and playing a real solid game.
“We’re going to need a lot of bodies,” he repeated. “You can never have enough depth, especially on defence.”
In between the introductions of Bouchard and Lagesson, and the continuing auditions of young Ryan McLeod and the buzzing second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Kailer Yamamoto and Dominik Kahun, the usual happened for Edmonton.
Connor McDavid set up a pair of Leon Draisaitl goals, to bring the former’s point total to 93 with five games left to play.
Draisaitl, who scored twice in the second period, was asked primarily about McDavid after the game, a topic he is happy to discuss. Even when he’s the guy scoring the goals.
“It’s fine,” he shrugged. “I had my shine in the summer. It’s all good.”
Draisaitl told Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy between periods that, even though McDavid hasn’t been overly verbose concerning his run at 100 points, it has become his teammates’ goal to help him get to the century mark. The big German is happy talking about the guy he calls “the greatest passer in the world,” an admirable trait for a superstar who is second in NHL scoring and is coming off of a Hart and Art Ross Trophy campaign.
“He does so much for our team,” Draisaitl said of McDavid. “He does so much for us on a nightly basis. The least we can do is help him out as much as we can. It might not be that important to him, but it’s sure important for us.
“If there is a two-on-one, a three-on-two, you’re trying to get him a touch. Our team really wants it to get it.”