After hosting nine games through the 2021 NHL season, the empty, cavernous space inside Rogers Place was never more apparent.
Had it been filled with 18,500 fans on Wednesday, most of them would’ve had lots to celebrate.
Connor McDavid earned his 500th NHL point — and his coach, Dave Tippett, his 600th NHL win – as the Edmonton Oilers (9-8-0) beat the Winnipeg Jets (9-5-1) by a score of 3-2, for their fourth win in their last five games.
The Jets never had a lead as the Oilers scored goals just 21 seconds apart early in the first period. The momentum shifted back-and-forth throughout the contest with the Jets getting the majority of the scoring chances in the third stanza, but they just couldn’t muster the equalizer.
“You walk off the bench in a bad mood every time you lose a game,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. “But it wasn’t a missed opportunity. We played hard. They played hard. Their goaler was good. Our goalie was good. The flow of the game was tough to get a handle on, but I thought we were trying to grind through it. So, we won’t spend too much emotional energy on that one.”
There were 11 minor penalties assessed in the game, six against the Jets, while the Oilers were whistled for five minors.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of rhythm to the game,” Jets forward Mark Scheifele said. “Whether it was a TV timeout coming up after a few good shifts, or a little bit of flow, it just got totally killed by the penalties. It sucks, you got to deal with that adversity, and be better for it, but it definitely was tough to get in the flow of things today.”
“It was just a weird game,” Jets forward Paul Stastny said. “The flow wasn’t there. It seemed like a powerplay one way, a powerplay the other way, one 5-on-5 shift, TV timeout.
“At times, we had the momentum and all of a sudden TV timeout. At times, they had the momentum, then TV timeout. It was one of those all night, lots of whistles, lots of faceoffs.”
The Jets’ powerplay converted on just one of the five opportunities with the man advantage.
Heading into the night, the Jets wanted to be more aggressive with the Oilers two main weapons in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But Draisaitl popped in a pair of goals, while McDavid recorded two assists.
“Our defensive zone was a little more intact,” Scheifele said. “We were playing together a little more, more support. Still a lot of things we got to do a little better. We got to start making some passes and start with those little fine details of the game. That’s got to be our starting point.”
After recording two assists in the Jets’ win over the Oilers on Monday to get point 498 and 499, McDavid didn’t allow for much anticipation to build.
His primary assist on Jesse Puljujarvi’s opening goal came just 3:45 into the first period – giving the Oilers an early lead.
McDavid achieved the feat in 369 career games, the exact amount of time it took for fellow Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby to do the same.
They’re now tied as the fastest active player to reach the milestone – but both were still a long way from Wayne Gretzky’s record of 234 games.
Just 21 seconds later, Draisaitl broke in and wired a wrist-shot past Connor Hellebuyck to double the Oilers’ lead.
The Oilers took three penalties to close out the first period – two by Darnell Nurse, for interfering with Kyle Connor and high-sticking Nikolaj Ehlers.
With 54 seconds to go in the frame, Scheifele’s shot tipped off Jujhar Khaira’s stick and through Smith to get the Jets on the board.
Scheifele extended his point streak to eight games with the goal, now with 12 points in that span.
Both teams tightened up defensively to begin the second, but Draisaitl wouldn’t be denied on the Oilers’ third power-play of the game, tucking a rebound over a sprawled Hellebuyck and under the crossbar for a 3-1 lead.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the first player to head down the well-trodden path to the penalty box in the third period, after slashing Adam Lowry.
Neal Pionk’s blast on the ensuing four-on-four play cut the Oilers’ deficit to one. Of the eight games the Jets have played in February, Pionk has points in seven of them.
The Jets ratcheted up the temperature in the final 10 minutes of regulation, spending most of it in the Edmonton end, but Smith held his ground, finishing with 31 saves on 33 shots for a .939 save percentage.
Hellebuyck stopped 27 of 30 for a .900 rate.
With the win, the Oilers evened the season series at 2 games apiece.
The two teams won’t see each other again for an entire month with their next meeting scheduled for Mar. 18 in Edmonton.
Both clubs are back on the ice Friday — Edmonton makes the trek down the QEII to face Calgary, while Winnipeg continues westward for a meeting with the Vancouver Canucks.
Kelly Moore has the pre-game show live on 680 CJOB and cjob.com at 7:00 p.m., and Paul Edmonds and Jamie Thomas have the call at 9 p.m.
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