McDavid, Draisaitl work overtime to steal crucial road win against Islanders
Called out by their coach after Sunday's loss, dynamic duo team up on game-winner in Brooklyn
Talent can take a player to the edge of greatness in the NHL, but the special ones have something extra, something beyond their remarkable physical skills.
Oilers captain Connor McDavid proved that again on Tuesday when he found a creative way to steal a 2-1 game in overtime against the New York Islanders, giving his team a much-needed win and a smidgen of breathing space during what has been a tough start to the season.
Outplayed and badly outshot in the final period, the Oilers appeared to be on the ropes, the crowd in Brooklyn simply waiting for the knockout punch that never came.
Goaltender Cam Talbot was the biggest reason the Oilers were still around when regulation time ended with the score tied 1-1.
Talbot faced 37 shots on the night, and turned aside 36 of them.
The visiting team managed just two shots in the final period, while Talbot faced 13 and stopped them all.
His stellar play set the table for McDavid and linemate Leon Draisaitl, who teamed up for another highlight-reel goal 38 seconds into extra time.
The Oilers top line played poorly Sunday in a 4-0 home-ice loss against the Detroit Red Wings.
Coach Todd McLellan cut the line's ice time in the second and third periods of that game, with McDavid logging a total of 15 minutes and 55 seconds, his shortest of the season.
After the loss, McDavid told reporters it wasn't "much fun" to sit on the bench.
Challenged by their coach to play better, the top line answered the call. McDavid logged more than 24 minutes on Tuesday, including those vital 38 seconds in overtime.
Both teams put out their best in the extra period: McDavid, Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom faced off against Islanders captain John Tavares, rookie forward Mathew Barzal and defenceman Nick Leddy.
The Islanders had the first chance to end it when Tavares worked in close with the puck and tried to slip a pass across that hit Barzal's skate. McDavid nabbed the loose puck and he and Draisaitl hightailed it for the other end.
"I saw him take off," Draisaitl said afterwards. "It's obviously pretty hard to catch up with that guy."
Leddy, a great skater himself, did his best to stay with McDavid stride for stride. By the time they reached the Islanders blue line, Leddy was a quarter-step ahead.
Shielding the puck with one hand on his stick, McDavid fed a soft pass back to his linemate.
Draisaitl cut toward the middle, swivelled and fed a behind-the-back pass to McDavid, who one-timed the puck past Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss.
'Things you need to do every night'
"It was a fun goal to watch," said McLellan, who spent some time after the game outlining all the ways his team played better than it did on Sunday.
"We played harder, we did some of the things we needed to do to give ourselves a chance to win. We won some races to the puck, blocked shots — things you need to do every night."
The McDavid goal and the win shoved former Oiler Jordan Eberle right out of the opening sentences of countless game stories, including this one.
Traded in June to the Islanders, Eberle did his best to one-up his former teammates when he tied the game halfway through the second period.
With the Oilers up 1-0 on the strength of Draisaitl's breakaway goal early in the second, Eberle cashed in a wicked wrist shot high to Talbot's glove side.
It was the kind of shot only a goal-scorer can make. The kind of shot that has been in short supply this season for the Oilers. Going into the game, they were the lowest-scoring team in the league.
Two goals won't change that equation.
Had the Islanders come out on top, many game stories would have focused on Eberle's goal and the standout play this season of Barzal, taken 15th in the 2016 NHL draft with a pick the Oilers traded to the Islanders as part of the Griffin Reinhart deal.
Reinhart was claimed in the expansion draft this summer by the Vegas Golden Knights. The former No. 4 draft pick was placed on waivers last week. No team claimed the defenceman, and he is now back in the American Hockey League.
That storyline won't disappear anytime soon.
But on this night, McDavid and Draisaitl had their own story to tell. They'll now have to write another chapter against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
The 5-8-1 Oilers haven't won back-to-back games all season.