Kris Knoblauch’s NHL coaching career is off to a flying start with the Edmonton Oilers.
Leon Draisaitl had a goal and three assists as the Oilers got a lift from their recent coaching change, emerging with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Monday.
Connor McDavid had a goal and an assist and Zach Hyman and Evander Kane also scored for the Oilers (4-9-1) who have won two in a row. It was Edmonton’s first win on home ice this season.
Knoblauch was announced as the Oilers latest head coach on Sunday after Jay Woodcroft got the axe in the wake of Edmonton’s slow start to the season.
McDavid, who was coached by Knoblauch in junior with the Erie Otters, was happy to see him have early success.
“It’s obviously exciting for him. First win in the NHL, it’s been a long road for him. It is well deserved,” McDavid said. “He came in and was his calm self and didn’t give us too much. It was kind of like `guys go out and play.’ We will work through the details of his system as we go. Obviously you can’t do it all in one morning skate. I thought he did a great job under the circumstances.”
Knoblauch was pretty pleased with his first day on the job.
“It feels amazing to get that first win, being a head coach was a highlight, just being here and obviously it gets much better when you win,” he said. “I liked how our team played, it wasn’t a perfect game, certainly we weren’t the better team in the first half of the game. I liked how we stayed patient, we stayed the course and we didn’t do any unnecessary risks.”
Mathew Barzal replied for the slumping Islanders (5-6-3) who have lost five straight.
“When you’re facing it and you’re feeling it and things are going the wrong way, it seems to pile on a little bit,” said Islanders forward Anders Lee. “So, we’ve got to stick together, take tomorrow, find a way and come back against Vancouver. That’s all we can do. It’s frustrating, it’s not fun right now but we’ve got to find some joy in this game and enjoy the challenge that we’re in right now and come out of it together.”
Knoblauch’s tenure as coach did not start especially well as the Oilers coughed up a puck in their own end just 40 seconds into the game, allowing Bo Horvat to send it across to Barzal for a blistering one-timer that beat Edmonton starter Stuart Skinner glove-side.
Edmonton tied the game with six minutes to play in the opening frame as Draisaitl danced around defender Sebastian Aho before taking an off-balance shot that beat Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin for his sixth goal of the season.
The Oilers went up 2-1 with a power-play goal coming seven-and-a-half minutes into the third. McDavid was able to send the puck from behind the net to Hyman in the crease and he chipped home his eighth of the season and fourth in the last two games.
Edmonton got another power play goal a couple of minutes later as Draisaitl made a long stretch pass to McDavid whose shot hit Sorokin but then trickled into the net, ending an eight-game goal-scoring drought for the Oilers star.
The Islanders took a chance with two-and-a-half minutes to play and pulled their goalie while on a power play, but Draisaitl intercepted a pass and sent Kane in on a short-handed breakaway to put his fourth into the empty net.
There was no scoring in a largely uneventful second period, with the Islanders outshooting Edmonton 20-13 through 40 minutes.
Knoblauch made his NHL head coaching debut as the Oilers bench boss after Jay Woodcroft was fired on Sunday following Edmonton’s bewildering 3-9-1 start. Woodcroft leaves Edmonton with the best winning percentage of any coach in franchise history, compiling a regular season record of 79-41-13 Ironically, Woodcroft’s head coach debut for the Oilers was also against the Islanders Knoblauch, who coached McDavid in Junior with the Erie Otters, has two years as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers under his belt and has spent the last five seasons as the head coach of the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack In his 13th season with the Oilers, forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has now had nine different head coaches Since 2009, the Oilers have had 11 head coaches, tying the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets for the most among the four major North American pro leagues during that span.
McDavid entered the game sitting 130th in NHL scoring with only 10 points. The Oilers captain has won the Art Ross three years in a row, including netting 153 points last season ... The Islanders were without the services of Adam Pelech (lower body) ... Out with injuries for the Oilers were Connor Brown (undisclosed) and Mattias Janmark (shoulder). Brown did, however, take the morning skate. Forward Dylan Holloway left the game with a lower body injury late in the second.
Both teams return to action on Wednesday. The Islanders play the second game of a four-game trip against the Canucks in Vancouver. The Oilers play host to the Seattle Kraken,