Twenty minutes after the final buzzer, word filtered through the stragglers still milling around the lobby at Rogers Place.
Connor McDavid’s foot X-ray had come back negative.
It was the final piece of good news for Oilers fans who saw their team beat Montreal 4-1 on Saturday to reach the .500 mark for the first time since the second game of the season.
Centre Leon Draisaitl had three assists on the night. Goaltender Cam Talbot stopped every shot he saw.
The 17-17-2 Oilers now head into the Christmas break with a present that looks much brighter than the not-so-distant past.
The Oilers started their current rise toward respectability exactly two weeks ago, on a Saturday night in Montreal against the same Canadiens. They won 6-2 that night and are now 5-2 in the games since.
The first question coach Todd McLellan was asked, post game, was about that famous foot.
‘It came back negative’
To recap: With about two minutes left and the Oilers up 3-1, McDavid skated out to block a slap shot, turned his foot sideways and appeared to take it off the ankle. A hush fell over the crowd as he stayed down for several seconds, then slowly rose, hobbled to the bench and disappeared down the runway to the dressing room.
“The doctor’s have X-rayed it, and it came back negative,” McLellan said. “His foot’s a little sore. He’s in good spirits. The three days [off] will help him. Fully expect him to play in Winnipeg [two days after Christmas].”
McLellan was later asked if he’d rather not see his captain block shots in the first place.
“No,” he said. “When you’re on a team, it’s not fair for certain individuals to have to block them and others not to. That shot should have been blocked by everyone.”
Let that blocked shot, then, represent the season so far. The Oilers collectively dug themselves a deep hole in October and November, and have spent the past two weeks, collectively, digging their way out.
All four lines have started scoring. Talbot has resumed his stellar play. The defence has been much steadier.
Ryan Strome scores opening goal
On Saturday, the Oilers went ahead when Ryan Strome scored his seventh of the season with five minutes left in the first period.
The play was created by Jujhar Khaira, who showed great poise and patience in the offensive zone. He took a pass from Draisaitl, skated off the boards, held the puck until Strome came open, then fed a perfect pass across for an easy goal.
Strome has played well during this recent stretch and now has 17 points on the season. Fans who hated the Jordan Eberle trade this summer may soon have to get off the kid’s back.
One of the good stories has been Khaira’s development. His offensive game has grown beyond anyone’s expectations. Except perhaps his own.
During his first two seasons, he got into 25 games and chalked up a total of three points.
Earlier this year he was scratched a few times. When he got back into the lineup, the lanky winger responded with gusto. He scored his first of the season against Washington on Nov. 12 and has had 11 points in 15 games since then.
McDavid put the Oilers up 2-0 late in the first period, and added an assist later on.
On his latest goal, he didn’t turn on the patented afterburners. He simply coasted across the top of the Canadiens zone, held the puck, spotted his chance and picked a corner with a wrist shot through a screen. Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi never saw it.
Power play good, penalty kill still bad
A power-play goal in the second period put the Oilers up 3-0 on a three-way passing play that went McDavid to Draisaitl to Milan Lucic, who scored his ninth of the season.
Despite all the positive signs, the Oilers’ penalty kill remains scary as a haunted house.
With Strome off for hooking in the second period, Montreal’s power play managed to get the Oilers running around. Paul Byron fired a shot from the point with Andrew Shaw screening in front. The puck dribbled through Talbot’s legs.
The Oilers challenged the play for goaltender interference. The goal stood and woke up the Canadiens and their fans. The momentum shifted for the rest of the period.
The home team suddenly showed some cracks with passes that went awry and a few giveaways. Talbot made a huge save with a few seconds left that allowed his team to stagger off after the bell, still ahead by two.
The Oilers righted the ship in the third and played with more intensity. Talbot made several big saves before Khaira added an empty netter to finish things off.
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