ANAHEIM, Calif. – It’s not common for Adam Larsson to show an offensive touch. The Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman is known more as a heady all-around player than a scorer.
But in Edmonton’s 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 of their second-round playoff matchup, Larsson scored two goals by jumping into the play twice and showing off some skill. It was the first two-goal game in Larsson’s NHL career that had spanned 353 regular season contests and 11 playoff games.
“He’s definitely not Bobby Orr but tonight he sure looked good on that last one skating,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “He has the ability and the skill to do it but the amount of minutes and the heavy type of minutes he plays, often he’s distributing the puck and letting others.”
When the Oilers added Larsson last summer, the trade to acquire him was heavily criticized for them because Edmonton gave up young offensive winger Taylor Hall. The Oilers needed to add a top-four defenseman, but Larsson didn’t seem to have a similar value as Hall, the top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft who was coming off a 65-point season last year and had an 80-point year in 2013-14.
At that point, Larsson had never scored more than 24 points or three goals in a single season.
The Oilers didn’t want Larsson to be an offensive dynamo and instead wanted a guy who could give them about 20 steady minutes per-night. During this past season in 79 games he scored four goals and notched 19 points while averaging 20:09 per-game. He also finished third on the Oilers with 2.0 blocked shots per-game.
“We’ve been asked this an awful lot, the trade and how it affected people. We needed to improve our blue line, we needed to have an anchor back there, and Larsson’s become that,” McLellan said. “We could’ve kept floundering without fixing that hole. I think (general manager) Peter (Chiarelli) and his staff did a tremendous job of addressing the issue and not necessarily taking a chance, but what he did to change the complexion of our team takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy thing to do. When you’re trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and his popularity in the community, Taylor is a tremendous player, but Larsson does solidify things back there for us.”
Still, there is a skill side to Larsson’s game that gets lost in his defensive responsibilities and this was on display Thursday.
First at the 8:03 mark of the third period, Larsson took a feed from Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl on the power play and buried an opportunity in the slot past Ducks goaltender John Gibson to put Edmonton up 3-1.
Then on the game-winner with the score tied 3-3, Larsson zipped into the Ducks zone, went around the Anaheim net and banked a shot off defenseman Josh Manson at the 15:20 mark of the third. Larsson finished the game with two goals and one assists in 18:47 of action.
“I was just trying to get a scrum there in front of the net and I was lucky they kicked it in,” Larsson said of his game-winner. “I mean, it’s nice now and tonight but tomorrow is a new day and they’re a good team over there and a veteran team and they’re probably going to come even harder next game. We can’t really take our foot off the gas. We have to keep staying sharp. That’s what we did last series and we have to keep doing that.”
Larsson’s teammates seemed happy to see him play the hero. They understand the sacrifices he makes on the defensive side of the puck and liked the fact that he got a chance to shine offensively in a big game.
“It’s nice to see him get rewarded because he wears a lot of ice bags for the way he plays,” Oilers forward Mark Letestu said.
Larsson’s strong outing for the Oilers continued a playoff-long trend of the team’s depth flexing its muscle despite some offensive struggles by captain Connor McDavid. One Wednesday, McDavid had one assist, but wasn’t a huge factor. Draisaitl notched three assists and scored the empty netter as he found open ice while Ducks center Ryan Kesler keyed on McDavid all night. Letestu scored two big power play goals.
“That’s games where other guys have to step up,” Larsson said. “(Zack) Kassian had a couple of goals (last series) and that’s what you need in the playoffs. You can’t just rely on the top guys all the time.”
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