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LAS VEGAS — Vegas coach Pete DeBoer, who believes in cutting to the chase, says the high-pitched, high-stakes divisional games like Wednesday’s battle with the Edmonton Oilers are “where the rubber is hitting the road at this time of year.”
He could read the standings in the Pacific Division like everybody else.
Vegas: 76 points. Edmonton: 74.
At his morning briefing, DeBoer stayed with the driving analogy.
“We have a chance to put the Oilers in the rearview mirror with a win. I love game-planning and I know (Oilers coach) Dave Tippett is doing the same with his team. We lose and we’re back in the mud with everybody else in the division,” said DeBoer, who took over the Golden Knights on Jan. 15 after Gerard Gallant, a month after DeBoer was shown the door in San Jose for Bob Boughner.
Or in the ditch with those mud flaps.
As it turned out, Vegas ran their winning streak to seven with Marc-Andre Fleury getting his 61st shutout in a 3-0 verdict, taking the special-teams battle, something the Oilers have been feeding off all season long with their No. 1 power play and No. 2 penalty kill.
In this one, though, the Oilers were 0-for-3 on the power play, without a shot to start the third when Vegas was caught for too many men to end the second period, and their penalty kill, which had only allowed 11 goals in 33 road games, gave up another a few minutes later.
“Yeah, it’s won us a lot of games. It’s been great but let us down tonight,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “The one they got was the back-breaker, if we come out to start the third with a power play of our own and score, but we couldn’t find a way.”
The Oilers only had one power-play shot in six minutes, while Vegas had eight in their 5:42.
“We had some really good chances in the first we whiffed on,” he added. “Most games those have been going in for us and the power-play goal they got the puck bounced around about six times and found its way in.”
Nick Cousins, who didn’t get to Vegas until Wednesday morning after a flight from Montreal, delayed by visa issues following his trade, lifted one over Mikko Koskinen for the insurance goal.
“Long day, I don’t know what time he got up in Montreal to fly here, then he gets to the rink and he doesn’t skate and comes out and plays a game. I guess you play on adrenalin in your first game,” said DeBoer, who then watched Chandler Stephenson pound one off the post and in off a face-off win by Paul Stastny in the third to put it away.
Tippett wasn’t happy with his team’s foul effort against the Ducks in Anaheim on Tuesday, figuring they missed the start time by about an hour on the way to losing 4-3 in overtime. And they were made of sterner stuff here, but they’ve now lost four of their last five, picking up four of 10 available points. And they not only lost the game, they lost winger Andreas Athanasiou, in his second Oilers game since coming over at the trade deadline, with a lower body injury.
He seemed fine in an interview with Sportsnet after the second period, not appearing hurt, but he wasn’t skating while host Gene Principe was talking to him, either.
“I don’t think it’s serious,” said Tippett. “I didn’t see it because of any one play. He was hurt in the second and tried it in the third but couldn’t go.”
Tippett’s pre-game message was clear and concise. Nothing lost in translation.
“Play a solid road game, that’s all.”
And they did but Vegas was better in a game that belonged in April or May in the playoffs, a fantastic piece of theatre, no place for a nervous person with the Knights on a six-game heater having beaten St. Louis, Tampa and Washington in that winning stretch. The Oilers were playing without five injured players as well as Zack Kassian, sitting out the last of his seven-game suspension.
“Played a really good first period, but we came out down one, then they put a hard push on in the second, pinning us in our end for long periods of time. I think the fatigue factor came into it,” said Tippett.
It was their third game on the road in four nights.
“They were just better than us,” said McDavid, applauding the effort of Fleury. “He’s been a really good goalie for a long time.”
Koskinen gave up a shake-your-head goal to Max Pacioretty with four minutes left in the first, a period the Oilers thoroughly dominated, he but made up for it in the second. Sixteen shots, 16 saves, including stoning Tomas Nosek, while Fleury, who came into the game with a 10-4-1 career record over the Oilers, had an easy second but stood on his head and got lucky once on a Usain Bolt-like out-of-the-blocks dash by Connor McDavid around Shea Theodore with the puck going off the crossbar.
They were 6-0 on the second of back-to-backs. Now, they’re 6-1.
Pacioretty scores a ton of goals from the same spot he beat Koskinen late in the first, with a bolt down the wing and a wrister from outside the face-off dot, which is why that was his 30th of the year. But Koskinen wasn’t square to the shot, ruining a strong first period for the Oilers. As coaches usually say when asked about a goal: “I think he might want that one back.” Polite code for mouldy.
ABOUT THOSE SHUTOUTS
This was the fourth time the Oilers have been blanked, all on the road. They lost 1-0 in a shootout in Winnipeg and 3-0 in Minnesota in late October, 3-0 in Arizona Feb. 4, and now this one. Fleury has posted shutouts against 26 different franchises, only the sixth goalie to have that at least 26. The others: Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, Marty Brodeur, Tomas Vokoun (all 27) and Roberto Luongo (26).
This ’n’ that: Chris Chelios was at the game after playing in Bernie Nicholls’ charity celebrity golf tournament here. He came as a guest of his old general manager, Ken Holland. He watched McDavid roar up the ice on a power play and laughed softly at the thought of stopping his zone entry. “Drop the puck 40 feet to a guy who skates 800 miles an hour,” said the Hall of Famer … Anaheim defenceman Hampus Lindholm, who looked in rough shape when he crashed into the end boards after getting tangled up with Leon Draisaitl, is out day-to-day with a possible back issue.
On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty
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