Get used to seeing sophomore phenom Connor McDavid playing alongside Jordan Eberle and newbie Milan Lucic on the Edmonton Oilers’ marquee line.
The threesome dominated several shifts and scored twice as the Oilers clipped the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in Kraft Hockeyville NHL exhibition play Sunday night before 3,000 fans at Kal Tire Place in Vernon.
Oiler head coach Todd McLellan loved what he witnessed from the trio as Edmonton improved to 3-2 in the pre-season.
“I thought they took a step forward,” said McLellan. “They created those types of opportunities last game (against Winnipeg Jets) they played but they couldn’t finsh. Tonight, they had a little more polish around the net and they were very responsible defensively. We gotta get ‘em going on the powerplay…”
Jesse Puljujarvi, McDavid and Eberle scored for the Oilers, who were the home team. Eberle realizes the chemistry of the No. 1 line is for real.
“Even last game, I thought we had lots of O-zone chances; we were playing in their end a lot,” said Eberle, 26, entering his seventh year with the Oilers. “Both our goals were on the rush tonight, but we still need to find a way to work each other’s cycle. With Looch (Lucic) there, he’s a big body who’s gonna open up a lot of space so if we can find a way to get some offence with the stuff we have on the rush, we’ll be a real good line.”
The Oilers lost defenceman Brandon Davidson, from a blow to the head by Kings’ forward Tanner Pearson midway through the second period and winger Iiro Pakarinen, who hurt his left knee on a hit by Matt Greene, deep in the L.A. zone in the opening 20.
Pearson will have a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for the illegal check. As of press time Tuesday, the hearing had not been scheduled.
Veteran forward Patrick Maroon (leg) and minute-munching blueliner Oscar Klefbom (elbow to his head by Dustin Byfuglien) are already on the Oilers’ injured reserve list.
Edmonton rolled five defencemen — Darnell Nurse, Eric Gryba, Matt Benning, Mark Fraser and Jordan Oesterle — for the last half of the game, with the Kings getting 17 third-period shots on Laurent Brossoit, who won a Memorial Cup with Vernon’s Curtis Lazar (currently on IR with Ottawa Senators) and the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014.
“L.A. plays a hard, heavy game so they (Oiler dee) were worn out by the time the game was over so they will need a rest but it was a real good evaluating tool,” said McLellan. “When you get short, you can see who can do what. A guy like Matt Benning (a Northeastern Huskie NCAA grad), he’s into his second or third exhibition game and that’s a lot of minutes so good for him.”
Puljujarvi, an ultra-skilled Finnish winger chosen fourth overall in the 2016 entry draft, wired a wrister from the left sidewall past L.A. goalie Jack Campbell at 9:32 of the first period.
Puljujarvi used Greene, a former Oiler, as a partial screen. Anton Slepyshev and Benning drew helpers.
The Oilers went up by a deuce at 3:26 of the second period when McDavid tapped the puck in from the right side of Campbell. Linemate Jordan Eberle and Benning earned assists.
University of North Dakota grad Paul LaDue scored for the Kings on a wrister from the point 4:50 into the third period. LaDue put the puck past forward Kris Versteeg’s shot block attempt.
The Oilers restored a two-goal lead when McDavid tipped the puck past L.A. d-man Brayden McNabb at the blueline, cruised deep inside the zone and deked d-man Tom Gilbert before feeding Eberle for a sweet finish.
McNabb went top cheddar on Brossoit from the left hashmark at 9:45 to make the final 10 minutes fast and furious. Jeff Carter rimmed the puck from the right corner to an onrushing McNabb. Michael Mersch posted the secondary assist.
The Kings, who had another training camp squad shut out the Anaheim Ducks 1-0 Sunday night, were without veterans Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik.
McLellan loved the atmosphere and was stoked about the buzz during the red-carpet welcome and the team’s game-day skate earlier in the day.
“It was a tremendous experience for both teams to play in front of a passionate crowd like that and know we were doing it for a real good cause,” said McLellan. “Lumby can have an improvement to their arena and maybe there will be a kid from Vernon or Lumby five or six years from now who will play in our Kraft Hockeyville game somewhere.”
Said Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter, who rarely says too much in post-game scrums: “It was a good, solid game. We had some chances to tie it up. We gave up a couple of young guys’ mistakes for goals against.”
ICE CHIPS: Lumby, a village of 1,731 people that rallied around the death of popular player and coach Peter Catt to win Kraft Hockeyville in his memory, had hundreds of minor hockey players wearing Stars’ green and white colours. Catt’s two sons, Jace and Linden, handled the ceremonial puck drop…Puljujarvi shot wide of Campbell six minutes in and then collided with McNabb, who gave him a jab in return…Campbell recorded a solid save off Eberle early after a crushing check by Lucic on Greene along the side boards created a loose puck…Vernon’s Tom Kowal, a longtime NHL referee, called Eberle for hooking late in the first period. Carter struck the post 40 seconds into the ensuing power play with Brossoit registering a stellar save off former Oiler Teddy Purcell from the slot late in the same PP. McDavid drove the net and almost scored shorthanded in the dying seconds of the penalty kill…Opera-trained Melina Moore sang the American national anthem, while Lumby rock stars Tim Reardon and Brad Krauza performed the Canadian anthem…Edmonton opens the regular season Wednesday, Oct. 12 at home against the Calgary Flames, while L.A. visits the San Jose Sharks…Retired NHLers Eric Godard, Aaron Volpatti, Tyler Wright and Dave Oliver, who all live in the Vernon area, were in the house…The Kings outshot the Oilers 32-26.