The 5-9-0 Oilers are what we discussed in summer: Badly in need of veteran defensive help and miles from being able to compete against good NHL teams. I don’t share much of the gloom many Oilers fans felt last night—you can’t ask a defense with three rookies to cover Crosby, Malkin, Kessel et al for 60 minutes flawlessly—and of course we have to adjust our sights for this club while McDavid is away. Those are facts. If you’re mad and upset this morning, you need to go back to August and join me in being critical of management in (once again) stopping short of balance. They need defensive help, and have since Pronger left. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was. Remember Laddy Smid as a rookie? Yeah.
- Oilers in October 2014: 4-5-1
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0
- Oilers in November 2014: 2-9-3
- Oilers in November 2015: 1-1-0
- Oilers in December 2014: 2-8-4
- Oilers in December 2015:
We’re on to Chicago.
THE VERY YOUNG BLUE, LAST NIGHT
Darnell Nurse had a good night to my eye, although the Sprong goal saw him commit to helping Sekera at the exact moment the pass came from the corner to the slot on the 1-1 goal. That is to be expected with young defensemen, folks. That aside, he was strong and battled some of the NHL’s best (went 6-6 in 5:19 against Sidney Crosby; 6-3 in 4:31 against Malkin) on a night I saw him good. Fast, physical, rangy, the fact he’s easily one of the six best available to Todd McLellan is a reflection of just how far this team has to go before they have the depth to keep a player like this on the farm. Looong way.
Andrej Sekera lost a battle on the first goal, and speed appears to be an issue, but I like him more each game. He can play either side, pass the puck and play in all three disciplines. Suspect Oilers fans won’t warm to him—he doesn’t fit the Jason Smith profile—but Edmonton needs more of this, not less.
Oscar Klefbom scored a terrific goal, but he and Brandon Davidson (understandably) had a tough time with some of those fabulous Penguins. Klef was 4-8 in 6:30 against Crosby, and a ghastly 2-9 in 4:48 against Malkin. Before you go crazy on those numbers, think about the lack of experience on that pairing. It’s Everest, folks. Everest.
Brandon Davidson shared Klefbom’s night, he’s an interesting player. When a defenseman drafted 5+ years ago is still a bit of a mystery, chances are he’s made some progress since draft day. How much? No idea. He’s not an established NHL player and that may not happen here (so much youth, this can’t go on), but it’s pretty clear he’s in the mix for something.
Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba were beaten pretty consistently (3-6 in 4:48 against Malkin) but as above they also took on the most defensive zone starts and that’s a factor for sure. I don’t like this pairing, they’re too similar and their weaknesses (puck movement, flying the zone under control) leave then exceptionally vulnerable when in their own zone.
— Dustin Tkachuk (@dustrock) November 7, 2015
It’s a better idea than Reinhart—Gryba in my mind, although if you’re going to park Mark Fayne all year, perhaps cash that man for something the coach will use. Anyway, bottom line on the blue: They’re just like the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1970 or so, lots of impressive young talent and they’re going to need a number of lessons before they can play the piano. Howie Meeker used to famously say “KIDS! Don’t play like the Leafs!” during the era that team was cobbling together a young defensive unit, and that’s the issue for you, me, and all those tremendous young forwards. We wait. Unless you’re Taylor Hall, who just goes and grabs the puck and does it himself.
Leon Draisaitl was 4-6 in 6:12 against Sidney Crosby, I’d say that’s a pretty good grade for a guy who is still a rookie in terms of experience if not in fact. He had a great chance to score but his mighty oak broke at a bad time (looked like a rollover by several logging trucks on the Whitemud) and made some nice plays.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was 4-7 in 5:19 against Evgeni Malkin and 6-6 in 4:03 against Crosby. His line didn’t create as many good chances as they will in a week or two, but I thought they were good for their first game. Posts cost this line and others.
Anton Lander won’t be on this team long if he doesn’t move the needle more. He’s going to take the hit for the 3line’s failure. 2-6 in two minutes against Nick Bonino. Mark Letestu (as you can see) received the most defensive zone starts, getting what’s left of the Boyd Gordon treatment. He was 4-4 against Bonino’s trio, and frankly I thought Letestu played a decent game despite the possession numbers.
Andrew Miller started at center, then moved to wing and ended up playing one minute on a line with Pouliot and Yakupov (and they were good, 2-0 and had some things going). I think he earned another game.
Benoit Pouliot had a weird night, looked ghastly for a time but then returned to his reliable self. If the Oilers were a playoff contender, he might slip down to the third line once in awhile to really screw with matchups. He’s a load.
Jordan Eberle looked good for first time in an NHL game, his timing is off and that’s going to impact the line. I felt he played better as the game went along.
Teddy Purcell had better underlying numbers than the visual suggests, and that often happens with veterans. His 5×5 offense isn’t a factor at this point, but it needs to be, even when he’s playing with 6’s and 7’s. I may be one of the few Oilers fans left who likes him, wish he had just a little more speed.
Iiro Pakarinen didn’t show up in a good way often enough in my opinion.
Nail Yakupov damn near scored the tying goal and I was thrilled for his performance last night. Well done, young man. He was 10-17 with the Nuge, though. That needs to improve if that line is going to stay together. Nail took the hit on the Sprong goal, but for me that’s not his man. Nurse had the front of the net, made the commitment, and it cashed. The trailer is to be covered by the center, no? Don’t have an answer for you on where Nuge was, only that I would need more evidence to prove Nail was the bad man there.
Taylor Hall was flying as always, a pure joy. Played about 10 minutes total against Sid and Evgeni (4-7 and 4-6, respectively) and made good-to-great decisions for the most part with the puck. Terrific toe-drag on Letang but the goal wouldn’t goal.
Matt Hendricks put in another smart game, when this team is ready for the playoffs he’ll do all this fine work from the 4line.
If I'm the Oilers I keep rolling with Anders Nilsson… In my mind the #Oilers really have something here with him.
— Travis McMcCurdy (@traviscorp) November 7, 2015
For me, I stay with Talbot as the starter but Nilsson’s performances can’t be denied. At the very least, we have an interesting conversation. Bruce McCurdy and I will discuss at noon today on Saturday Sports Extra.