NASHVILLE — It was noted thespian Denis Lemieux who asked rhetorically, “Who hones the Chiefs? in the movie Slap Shot.
In today’s National Hockey League, when they ask, “Who owns the Nashville Predators,” we now know the answer.
It is Leon Draisaitl.
The German national notched a four-goal game in his last visit here two years ago, and carved out a hat trick Thursday in a 4-0 Edmonton Oilers win over the Preds at Bridgestone Arena.
“Sometimes you just have a team that it seems to work a little better against them than others,” shrugged Draisaitl, who has scored 19 times in 20 career games against the Preds. He now has 54 goals.
“Even more impressive,” added goalie Mike Smith, after his first shutout of the season, “Is that he can do with a stick like he’s using. I think if anyone saw the paddle he’s using, it’s like flipping pancakes with that thing.
“Then he’s going out and scoring 54, and he’s gonna keep on truckin’.”
When’s the last time you heard someone say, “Keep on truckin’?”
Well, the Oilers walked through Nashville like that guy who famously strode above that slogan on our t-shirts back in the day, controlling this game from the opening faceoff right through to the final horn. A building that is usually raucous and fun was like a mausoleum Thursday, like the locals showed up at Tootsie’s country bar and found them spinning chamber music.
There were about five minutes to open the third period where Nashville pushed — Edmonton won an offside challenge to preserve Smith’s shutout — but the rest of the time this was a clinic, and Dr. Draisaitl was the presiding surgeon.
“Good teams, they make sure they respond right?” he said, referring to a 5-1 beating administered two nights before by the Wild in Minnesota. “We are a good team, and I thought we responded really well tonight. At full 60 minutes. Every facet of the game was checked off, really.”
“As complete a game as you can have, and against a really good hockey team in their building,” said Smith. “It’s always tough to play in here.”
Not so much for Edmonton, it seems.
There was a time a few years back when the Oilers simply could not beat Nashville — in any rink — but that worm has definitely turned. This win ran Edmonton’s streak to 7-0-1 over the Predators, as they sweep the season series for the second year in a row that they have played each other.
Funny, isn’t it?
Edmonton can’t touch Minnesota this season — they’re 0-3 versus the Wild and the games haven’t been close. Yet, Edmonton owns the Preds, who are 3-0 versus Minnesota this season, beating them 6-2, 6-2 and 5-2.
Draisaitl opened the scoring from his office on the powerplay 8:56 into the game, off a sublime pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In the second period it was Hyman doing all the work before finding Draisaitl in the slot, and he picked a corner through a crowd.
After a Darnell Nurse shorthanded goal, Draisaitl capped the night on a lovely give-and-go with Connor McDavid, shelving his 32na road goal of the season, the first Oilers player to do that since Jari Kurri in 1985-86.
He was picking corners on this night, finding twine behind the five-foot-11 Juuse Saros, who never had a chance.
“(His shot) is just deadly accurate,” said Smith. “It’s heavy and he can shoot it from a lot of different positions, a lot of different angles, and he can catch you off guard. He can thread the needle pretty well and that’s why he is where he is.”
On a night where Toronto’s Auston Matthews remained stalled at 58 goals, Draisaitl climbed to within four and moved back into second place in NHL scoring with 105 points.
And to think he is doing it with a stick from Canadian Tire. “I don’t even think it’s that good,” quipped Smith.
Suddenly, with seven games to play, it’s not only Matthews who is shooting for 60.
“If I can get there, it’s great,” Draisaitl said. “I’m not going to try and stop scoring, but I’m also not going to force this, you know? So whatever happens, happens.”
Meanwhile, at age 40 Smith becomes the second oldest goalie to record a shutout for Edmonton, behind only Nikolai Khabibulin.
His biggest save came at a crucial moment, very early in the third period with the Oilers leading 3-0. Matt Duchene put a lovely deke on Smith, but was robbed by a glove save. The microphones picked up Duchene saying, “Holy (bleep), Mike!”
“I didn’t hear that,” said Smith. “I heard (Ryan) Johansen say, ‘You’re too old for that.’”
He has certainly found his game after an injury-plagued season, going 7-1-1 in his last nine starts.
“It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” said the lanky ‘tender. “It’s been a different season, but all you can control is your next game, and I feel like I’ve been really focused on that. I feel good in the net, and that’s all it counts.”