EDMONTON - More than a few National Hockey League scorers would kill to have their skill set include that slick and lethal backhander Edmonton Oilers sniper Jordan Eberle shrugs off as no big deal.
You know the one by now, don’t you? It’s just one of the signature moves the 22-year-old right winger relies on, along with that toe drag, for example.
He linked both signature moves together on Oct. 7, 2010, producing a highlight-reel first NHL goal, scored as he cut from the right wing across the crease in the Oilers’ home opener against the Flames.
On Sunday night in Vancouver, Eberle took a feed from linemate Taylor Hall and, cutting netward from the left-wing side this time, flicked a bull’s-eye backhander over Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo’s glove, catching the far top corner with just three seconds left in the second period.
Like the 2010 masterpiece, this wasn’t just a highlight-reel goal, it was a game-changing one. It cut the Canucks’ lead to 2-1 and provided a jolt of energy to the Oilers that fed their third-period surge to tie the game 2-2, a prelude to the club’s shootout victory.
Not to mention delighting a TV audience of fans anxious to get a load of this year’s version of the Oilers, which has added defenceman Justin Schultz and sniper Nail Yakupov to a growing cadre of highly skilled players out to bedevil the opposition.
This is a team that has now achieved a quorum of skill players whose signature moves are on the minds of their opponents throughout the league.
So, for example, what about that backhand, Eberle was asked, what’s that the product of?
“I had one (backhand attempt) early on in the second, that he saved short side,” Eberle said. “I’ve got a few goals like that and hopefully, lots more.”
Eberle said there was no mysterious backstory about how he developed the backhand shot. It’s a weapon that has been in decline in hockey since Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita bent their stick blades in the early 1960s and took Bernard (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion’s slapshot to another level, as they say.
Like former Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray with his pinpoint passing accuracy he will tell you has always just been there, Eberle has no charming story about practising backhand shots until his hands bled as a kid. Or until the garage door needed to be replaced, or, like Sidney Crosby, firing pucks off a swatch of linoleum in his parents’ basement until the dryer was totalled.
Or, at least, if Eberle has such a story, it’s not one he’s prepared to share.
“You know what, it’s just, uh, I don’t even know if I’ve worked on it, really,” Eberle said, after the Oilers’ uptempo, upbeat workout at Millennium Place. “With my curve (slight), I’m able to do it.
“A lot of guys use a big hook nowadays. For me, I kind of use a straightened (blade). There’s pros and cons to every curve, but it’s just something that it’s tough for a goalie to read.”
That it is. It is hard for a goalie to read where the shooter is aiming, and when he’s going to release the shot, making it doubly difficult to defend.
“I’ve just always had it,” Eberle said. “It’s a shot — I mean, you watch a guy like Sidney Crosby, he’s got a great backhand, too. It’s tough for a goalie to read where it’s going.
“I’ve scored a lot of goals with it, so I keep using it.”
Sunday night’s season-opening 3-2 shootout victory was no scoring festival, yet it still managed to put the Oilers deep reservoir of easy skill on display.
If that game was even close to being a template for the way the Oilers will play this season, they are going to give their opponents fits. You might shut down one player, even one line. But three lines? That’s an imposing challenge. And it will become more and more difficult, you’d have to think, as the young Oilers wizards mature.
“Everyone has strengths in their game and you play to your strengths, that’s what’s got you here,” Eberle said. “Justin Schultz and (Nail) Yakupov, it was their first game in the NHL (Sunday), they asked me what the biggest key was and I told them, ‘Play what got you here and that’s your strength.’ ”
On Sunday night, at least, all it took was one period for the Oilers to chip off some rust and let their talent flow. For Eberle, the Oilers’ depth kicked in the second and third periods.
“It’s tough to defend against that,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s one game.
“We’ve got to focus on the next game. We were a team last year that would play really well some games and the next two, not so well.
“We’ve got to be a better team and turn things around.”
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