Jujhar Khaira, unlikely hero, sparks Oilers to 8-2 blowout against Vegas
'If he keeps playing like that, he’s going to get a lot of minutes,' says coach Todd McLellan
By the time a delirious crowd left Rogers Place late Tuesday, many fans had likely all but forgotten the unsung hero who started it all.
In the best game of his short NHL career, Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira got things rolling early in the first period when he raced into the Vegas Golden Knights zone on a two-on-one and fed a perfect pass to Oscar Klefbom to put the home team up 1-0.
The Oilers first short-handed goal of the season was the catalyst needed for a team that has struggled all year to kill penalties.
Khaira finished his night against Vegas with a smile on his face and a fistful of deuces — two points, two shots, two hits.
It was the first multi-point game for the big man from Surrey, B.C., who scored his first goal of the season on Sunday in a 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
'He gave me a good target'
A player who spends most of his time far from the limelight, Khaira gave most of the credit for the first goal to the guy who finished the play.
"I was fortunate enough to have Klefbom on the other side," he said of the two-on-one. "He made it easy. He gave me a good target."
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All in all, a big night for a man who was a healthy scratch in six straight games before drawing back in against Washington on Sunday.
"It's nice," Khaira said, with a hint of understatement. "Especially playing two good games. Being back in the lineup and team playing two good games. Getting a win tonight, that's the main thing. I think the more comfortable I get, hopefully I'll start producing more."
He will likely get the chance to do just that after catching the attention of the coaching staff with his recent work at both ends of the ice.
"He's played two tremendous games," said coach Todd McLellan. "He's telling the coach that he deserves to be in the lineup … and we're taking notice.
"He looks determined. If he keeps playing like that, he's going to get a lot of minutes."
Score sheet crowded with names
With an 8-2 blowout against a struggling team down to its fourth goalie, the Oilers finally gave their fans a chance to relax. They got offensive contributions up and down the lineup, and by the end of the night the list of players who didn't hit the score sheet was down to five names.
Connor McDavid scored two goals and had a third one called back when linemate Patrick Maroon was fingered for goaltender interference. Maroon had a goal of his own on a beauty one-timer from the slot and added an assist.
"Every line chipped in tonight, so that's always a good sign," Maroon said later in the dressing room. "I think right now what we're doing is we've found our identity. We didn't have that in maybe the first 12 games."
Maroon has had a streaky start to the season. He didn't score in the first five games, then notched four goals over the next five. He followed up by going goalless in the next seven games.
The one that went in
In Washington on Sunday Maroon had seven shots, including at least four from close in. He was obviously frustrated that night, but said he wasn't worried.
"When you're getting a lot of chances, when you're getting a lot of attempts … you've got to keep building off that," he said Tuesday night. "I was getting chances, so I was just waiting for one to go in."
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had another strong game. He scored twice and now has eight goals on the season as his offensive resurgence continues.
"I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "Obviously a night like tonight is good for the whole group."
After winning two games on the road last week and Tuesday at home, the Oilers are now 7-9-2 and slowly clawing their way closer to a log-jam of teams just above them in the standings.
The next test at Rogers Place will be a big one. They play the 13-5-1 St. Louis Blues, currently on top of the Western Conference, on Thursday before heading out again on the road for five games.