Edmonton - October 28, 2014 - Much of the praise for the Edmonton Oilers recent run of finding ways to win hockey games has been given, right or wrong, to netminder Ben Scrivens.
While the twenty-eight year old Spruce Grove native has rebounded quite nicely from an absolutely dreadful start to his 2014-15 campaign, as a collective unit the Oilers are playing a far more disciplined style of game in their own end of the rink and in turn, give themselves a far better chance of earning two points on a nightly basis.
Scrivens has surely done his part, making a number of timely stops in each of his last five starts, but Dallas Eakins has also watched this group drastically cut back on the number of quality looks they are giving up and scoring some timely goals of their own to boot.
Having said all of that and taking into consideration the much improved all around play of the Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins line, there is little doubt who has been Edmonton’s best player through the first two and a half weeks of the season and that player would be none other than Boyd Gordon.
After being dismissed as nothing more than a “fourth-line guy” from many within the Oilers fan base and local media, the veteran pivot has once again shown to be far more than that. While some may feel more comfortable referring to the trio of Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Jesse Joensuu as Eakins fourth line, it is quite obvious the head coach does not feel the same way.
One could argue that aside from the Oilers top line, the Gordon-Hendricks-Joensuu trio has not only been this groups most important line at even strength but they are clearly the one this head coach has complete faith in. Anyone who watches Edmonton play with any sort of regularity has seen these three almost exclusively start shifts in their own end of the rink and more often than not, they have been forced to go up against one of the opponent’s top two scoring lines.
While the thirty-one year old currently sits seventh on the club in even strength ice-time among Oilers forwards, Nugent-Hopkins has been the only centre iceman to have consistently played more minutes at 5-v-5 than Gordon over the last four games. Plain and simple, when this team isn’t playing catch-up, few play a bigger role upfront than they guy wearing #27 on his back.
His contribution during last night’s 3-0 win against the Montreal Canadies was par for the course for the former first round pick of the Washington Capitals. He was his usual proficient self in the face-off dot, going 60% on the night, did yeoman’s work on the penalty kill in helping hold the Habs power play in check and showed absolutely no fear in routinely dropping in front of one PK Subban blast after another.
There is certainly nothing flashy or glamorous about the sort of game Gordon plays but the overall importance of his role and physical sacrifice he makes is something which is not lost on his teammates or this coaching staff. Watching this guy continually pick himself up off the ice to only put his body in harm’s way time after time, does not go unnoticed on that bench and it certainly isn’t lost on whomever Edmonton has playing goal.
It was obvious part of the Canadiens game-plan was to crash the net to try and make life miserable for Scrivens and he had great difficulty in tracking the puck on more than a few occasions. With that being the case, the rest of Gordon’s teammates decided to follow his lead. Edmonton were credited with blocking a total of twenty-one shots against the Habs, with eleven different players jumping in on the party, while forcing Montreal into adjusting a number of other attempts on goal.
While that sort of thing can sometimes be overlooked by the masses, it is also something which allows teams the opportunity to win more hockey games and as of this moment, the Oilers are scoring enough goals to get the job done. Does that mean it will continue all season long? Not at all and the same applies to whether or not Gordon can keep this up over an entire 82 game schedule.
Just think back to last season when the former Phoenix Coyote was among the Oilers best players over the opening couple of months of the year but the continually punishment started to take its toll and he was not nearly as effective down the stretch. In a perfect world, the so-called “second and third” lines will find their way and become more consistent as the season moves along and allow the head coach to spot Boyd Gordon and company in order to keep them fresh because as of this moment…they are more than holding up their end of the bargain.