In the last game against the Jets, Todd McLellan's hand was forced.
Here I've documented the video evidence, to see if my first watch of the game in real time just produced an overly-positive memory like winning the game often does. There's questions, like did Puljujarvi start doing what kept him down the lineup, positionally? Was it simply that Lucic-Yamamoto was failing? Or, was it in actuality a demotion of Draisaitl? Simply a product of the 3-line blender?
As you can see, it was high event both ways. Jesse played the high forward for the majority of this game, and the first forechecker - and I credit his play for plenty of the possession time the Oilers enjoyed on his watch.
He started the night on the Strome line, with new version of Caggiula never seen before this fall. Their matchup was the Laine-Ehlers line, but when the winger-set moved up to play with Leon, they got the Copp-Lowry-Tanev line that had been caving in the previous Draisaitl line.
Puljujarvi was doing a number of things right from early on out, but with Todd McLellan responding to a question about his performance by first saying "He was good most of the night". I'd guess the goals against were a spot on his report card for the night, I'll include them in the video review.
Author's note: The video quality on these clips is much lesser than my usual. It's a problem that was unique to this game, but you'll have to bear with me through the bad pixels just for today.
First shift of the game for the Strome unit features a successful execution of one of my least favourite plays this team makes - though I still like it more than harder tip plays. The Jets don't like to have their goalie come out on anything that's not along the wall, and Puljujarvi does enough in his battle to win the puck - the first forechecking forward can still be successful without directly stealing the disc, just separating it and putting it in a good spot for the second. Strome loops around the net here, I'd prefer he stop and come out the same side to put another layer of checking into the Jets, but it's possible the coach doesn't want him to in this scenario.
Caggiula bats the puck immediately when it comes to him and clears, the Jets end up giving the puck back and one tries gliding into our Giant Finn. Repeated three times for posterity.
Later, 98 gets a good shot off on a sub-optimal pass, which has been an area he's needed to get better at. A good shift.
Here's Jesse's first on-ice goal against, which was a simply extraordinary individual effort by Jason Garrison. Where art thou, Jerabek?
(That's a joke.)
The unit gets the Jets turned around in the neutral zone once, then later Caggiula puts one of them in the trash can before carrying on his merry way, uncontested to the puck.
Jesse presents himself as an easy pass option and then carries the puck in. That's a short sentence, but both of those events have been severely lacking on this roster, and have been since October 2017. The Oilers have simply not been carrying the puck in, or even attempting to, or getting many pucks to the middle of the ice in the offensive zone - which Puljujarvi later loses the puck trying to do, after he wins two battles on the wall in a row.
Puljujarvi recycles a poor outlet pass, by chipping it ahead and once again putting his second forechecker in a very easy spot to win the puck - it doesn't happen, but later 98 reads the boards reversal, makes a pass to Strome, and Caggiula gets a legit chance on goal when the puck gets thrown in front. Another good shift.
Here's the second GA, where the Jets turn a high-cycle like point shot into a goal. 98 started just standing around about 2/3rds of the way through this clip, that's his fault. But this is simply not a high danger chance, at all. If this play was what Todd McLellan was referencing as the other side of most, it'd be the billionth time we've disagreed on this player.
Here's more effectiveness in the offensive zone, disrupting breakouts. 98's pressure leads to a pass getting read by Strome, a good play by the duo. Check the shoulder that Jesse throws after, it allows the puck to go by him and the Jet right to the streaking Caggiula.
The following faceoff, watch Puljujarvi build up some speed and come from the outside to close on the Jet, abusing him off the puck and once again creating a loose puck for Strom and Caggiula, who are in the right spot this time. The puck gets out inexplicably when Drake just kind of... fires it as if his right point man is a left shot? I guess? Jesse comes back and plays give and go on the breakout. Very complete shift.
Jesse was hounding the puck all night long.
And, going to the front of the net.
This is the first shift with Draisaitl, Jesse rescues the puck down low here, makes a cross-ice pass in the DZ to facilitate an easier breakout (as opposed to jamming the puck up the wall) and then negates the icing, makes a nice move around the Jets and feeds Draisaitl for a shot.
It's the fondly-remembered third frame now, and Jesse again corrals a puck and gets a shot off very quick on a no-look pass form Drai. These little plays give a fanbase hope for a second scoring line.
Jesse uses his reach on this one, turns the puck over and Draisaitl gets a very dangerous chance. A sphincter-torturer for the home fans. Draisaitl scores on that play many times out of ten, and you'd imagine he'd have been well set up if he played the full game with the Finn.
They'll need more time, though. I don't think Drai wanted to pass this right away, rather for Jesse to pull up in front of the net so Leon could let it go himself, or some other crossing play. But 98 wanted to do his fadeaway clapper, for which I don't blame him because he's scored some beautiful goals (including one in an Oilers jersey) doing it.
And the goal! Jesse Puljujarvi stays in front for one forever, making it an easy play for a passer like 97 to get a dangerous chance out of his position. Jesse could have had a couple points tonight, but one goal was all that was needed to chip in and get the win. Nuge makes an important play in the DZ, as he does, to get the play up and running. A watershed 3rd period, a coach-saver and just one of the more entertaining frames I've seen in awhile, from any team.
This was a terrific game from out subject, in a number of areas - and the kind of game that gives you glimpses of the player to come. He's starting up the lineup tonight and I hope he does well enough to stay. It's my opinion that based on his play here, he should get a second shot unless it's a disaster, simply because of the disaster the other options have been.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy watching the growth of these players as much as I do, even if the team might not make the playoffs this spring.