EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers had a surprise for Kris Knoblauch following his first win as an NHL head coach Monday.
“After the game they did something really special — they had a video on the TV, they presented the puck and they had my wife on the TV, just saying a few words, and that was very nice of them to do,” Knoblauch said after a 4-1 victory against the New York Islanders at Rogers Place. “Usually I go in [the dressing room] after a win and say a few words, and I walk right out and they said, ‘No, you’re not going anywhere,’ and they presented me the puck.
“I was in the middle of the room, and they turned me around and I saw my wife on the screen. My kids weren’t there, they were already in bed, it’s a two-hour (time) difference, and they just arranged it with three minutes left in the game and made it work.”
Knoblauch’s wife, Autumn, and children are back in Hartford, Connecticut, where he coached the New York Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate before being hired by the Oilers.
On Monday morning, Knoblauch’s voice cracked while talking about the people who helped reach the NHL as a coach, a career that began as an assistant with Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League in 2006-07.
“First, it’s my wife,” Knoblauch said. “I’m just a little emotional leaving my family to get here and being here.”
Knoblauch replaced Jay Woodcroft on Sunday and met his players in person for the first time Monday. He saw one familiar face; Knoblauch coached Edmonton captain Connor McDavid when the two were together at Erie of the Ontario Hockey League from 2012-15.
The Oilers’ new coach received a patient, workmanlike performance against the Islanders. He also got a good goaltending performance from Stuart Skinner, who made 32 saves. Edmonton limited the defensive mistakes and scored two timely power-play goals in the third period to break 1-1 tie, which have all been issues this season. It ultimately led to Woodcroft’s dismissal, along with assistant Dave Manson, who was replaced by Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey.
McDavid scored for the first time since Oct. 17, ending an eight-game drought, and Leon Draisaitl had a goal and three assists.
“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,” Knoblauch 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.