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Oilers show they can win ugly against Maple Leafs

Mikko Koskinen puts on a show with 25 saves on 26 shots, while Leon Draisaitl nets the game winner with his first of the season en route to a vital 3-1 victory for Edmonton over Toronto.

If someone told you that Wednesday’s Oilers - Maple Leafs game “wasn’t pretty,” you’d probably shrug your shoulders. After all, these are two teams who struggle in their own zones.

But, for much of the Oilers’ eventual 3-1 win against the Maple Leafs, it was ugly because of a lack of offense. There wasn’t much space, energy, or offensive creativity on display between two often-explosive teams. Hockey’s simply unpredictable that way.

An element of “Finally”

When Auston Matthews scored a funky goal against Mikko Koskinen, there was a sense of “finally.” It took the Maple Leafs more than two periods to score against Koskinen and the Oilers. Much like other moments this season, Koskinen would want this one back:

Then again, the feeling of “finally” carried over in part because Koskinen made such a pretty glove save against Matthews late in the second period.

Beyond that, there was also a feeling of “finally” revolving around the Oilers power play. After executing at perhaps an unsustainable level last season, the Oilers’ man advantage has been tepid to start 2020-21, and that continued early vs. the Maple Leafs. But Leon Draisaitl finally broke through to score a big 2-1 goal.

Do you think the Oilers care that their power play finally broke through on something of a broken play?

It’s simply tougher for stars to shine every night in hockey

While the space and energy didn’t always feel like it was there between the Oilers and Maple Leafs, it didn’t feel like there was a total lack of effort.

There were plenty of so-close moments. Sometimes a puck would hop over a stick. In other cases, there were near-misses. Connor McDavid set up Zack Kassian for a great chance, yet that shot hit iron instead of net. That happens sometimes in this high-speed game of inches.

Sure, it would have been more fun if this escalated into a game of hockey H-O-R-S-E. It would have been fun if McDavid, Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and others traded chance after chance. That’s the sort of contest many of us dreamed up when we saw Maple Leafs - Oilers on the schedule.

But for teams like the Oilers, it’s important to win games like these. In particular, Dave Tippett must be thrilled to be able to slow down a team.

(And, hey, Draisaitl and Matthews both scored goals, while McDavid collected two assists. It’s not like hockey fans got nothing from those stars, right? Maybe?)

Also: Unfortunately, Joe Thornton suffered an injury during the game, and the early word isn’t positive. It might have been rib-related.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.