The Oilers ran their record to 5-2-0 last night with a solid victory over a (mostly) NHL squad. Whatever lies ahead, we can say this team is a stronger exhibition troupe than the Dubnyk Disasters of 2013 fall. Those Oilers were so poor in a Texas exhibition that season you could feel the impending doom all the way from Lubbock.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Reinhart—Gryba had the best possession numbers but I did not see them good. Against an NHL crew, both men struggled with mobility and at times appeared plodding. Gryba can defend, and Reinhart did good work on the PK (4:09 there), but this was the weakest pairing by a wide margin. I think Gryba gets a contract, and Reinhart leaves on a jet plane for California.
- Sekera—Benning were really good in my opinion. Both men made impressive outlet passes (Benning made a fantastic headman pass to send McDavid away on a sortie that was genuinely breathtaking) and played solid blue for the most part. Some wobbly moments, but I like this pairing better than Sekera—Fayne and you know I like that duo. Matt Benning can make this team, ladies and men.
- Klefbom—Larsson were absolute music. Klefbom skating is a symphony for Oilers fans, he is just so good at closing a gap or taking the puck anywhere. Larsson is a strong addition to this team, also skating miles, defending well and passing the puck effectively. I bet they play 22+ minutes a night, and there will be nights Todd McLellan asks for more from this tandem.
- Sekara had an assist, two shots on goal; Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom played 6:11 on the PK; Eric Gryba had three shots and four hits; Oscar had four blocked shots.
- Jonas Gustavsson had a strong game last night, left some rebounds but grabbed most of them. Easily his best game as an Oiler goalie this fall.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Milan Lucic is still not at normal levels, he seems a step slow and unable to make plays. I am sure it will come, but you would like to see him have more of an impact by this point in the pre-season. Two shots, two hits, but the passing I know has not yet appeared.
- Connor McDavid is incredible. It is amazing to see NHL defenders go from ‘under control’ to ‘all is lost, the day is ruined’ in a split second. He has gears to his game that shock the eye and delight the brain and watching him in real time is a special thing to see. Incredible. Two assists, three shots and 2:44 PK—he is going to get time on the 4×5 and may play 22+ minutes some nights this year.
- Jordan Eberle had some good looks, but he stands out as a guy who doesn’t win many battles on his line. Picked up an assist and three shots, but if he were stronger on the puck this line would be more effective.
- Jesse Puljujarvi showed well last night to my eye, had a few shots at net, a takeway and marked his man well. There are things he needs to improve, but the issue with Eberle (winning battles) may be solved eventually on the Mcdavid line by this guy. He works to make himself useful as well as ornamental.
- Benoit Pouliot brought his usual brilliant game, two assists, blocked shots, takeaways and his normal effectiveness in curtailing opposition breakouts. Sortie interruptions/60 isn’t a thing, but it should be, and this guy is all world in that category.
- Leon Draisaitl got a really good look in the first period and unleashed an excellent shot. After that, it was a somewhat quiet game from him but he did some good things all the same. He needs linemates who are more than complementary types—at least at this point in his career.
- Nail Yakupov had an assist, two shots and made some plays. He can pass well and his shot is good enough to score goals, but his wonky sight on the barrel is going to cost him millions. Yak also fails to contribute enough in board battles, there was a sequence last night where Maroon was working like a bugger and needed just a little help from Nail. The young Russian didn’t react at all on the play, and the puck turned over and bam! Instant 200 feet trip and an opportunity wasted. He can make those plays, but has to do it more often imo. This is not the same as saying he cannot do it.
- Drake Caggiula looked good again—including PK—until his injury. It happened on the breakaway chance that got him a PS. I saw him adjusting his (I think right) leg in preparation for the PS, seemed like a tweak or a nag. We shall see, he has been strong strong this camp. Effective on PK, anticipates well and is quick, two things that work on the 4×5.
- Mark Letestu is a good NHL player. Honest. There are people who will tell you different, do not trust them. Scored a goal, grabbed an assist, 64 percent in the dot, two blocked shots, takeaway, over four PK minutes.
- Patrick Maroon appears to be trolling Milan Lucic by doing what Lucic normally does. My goodness his goal was a nice one, showing good, quick hands and some real skill. What in hell was Anaheim thinking?
- Tyler Pitlick is putting the finishing touches on his best training camp, something that we have been waiting about six years to see. No matter, he is still young and can have a career. A goal, two shots, two hits, two blocked shots. What I have noticed from him this year is that he is inside more plays and rarely on the periphery. Aggressive player at this point in his career, the man is locked and loaded and I hope he is successful. He is playing now—in Edmonton—the way his AHL coach told us he was playing last season in Bakersfield. Gerry Fleming: When ‘Pitter’ is at his best, he’s on loose pucks, he’s moving his feet, he’s protecting the puck, he’s going to the net. The biggest part of his game is his physicality. He hits like a train, and when he’s hitting and starting and stopping on pucks, he’s an effective player. I think he’s starting to grasp the concept of the way he has to play in order to be effective and that’s using his speed on the outside, protecting the puck, and bringing it to the net. It comes back to his physicality. When he’s finishing his checks, being physical in front of the net, and winning battles in the corners, he can help the team and be an asset.” Source
- Zack Kassian had a shot, three hits, and kept the puck going in a good direction most of the night. He also penalty killed effectively. I think he is a good addition to this team.
I like Nail Yakupov, he is an easy player to cheer for and most stories surrounding him as a human are positive. I also blame the Oilers organization for much of what got us here. However, it is undeniable that progress has not been made in some important areas—consistency, responsible play—and the Edmonton Oilers owe coach Todd McLellan 23 men who he feels comfortable with for the coming season.
It is time to turn north. Can it be done with Nail? I think McLellan is the man to answer that question, and the rumors suggest we already have our answer. There’s no bad guy here, anyone blaming Nail needs to review his handling from draft day to this one. Sometimes in life things don’t work out. Nail turned 23 yesterday and the truth is both sides made mistakes and had things to learn. Edmonton ignored Russia forever and perhaps a more informed organization would have known there is a cultural difference from Moscow to Minsk to Neftekhimik.
I think it is time to let go. Allow this young man to sail on down the line and find his place in life. Surely it is not here. I don’t think there is any joy in knowing that, or in this story. None.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
10 this morning, TSN1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, Big Mouth Sports. Jays with a massive win yesterday, McDavid as captain.
- Guy Flaming, Pipeline Show. Oil Kings update and college hockey kicks off this weekend.
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. Point/Counter Point talking Jays, McDavid and trading Nail.
- Paul Almeida, SSE. Paul will chime in on the Jays and Oilers roster decisions.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Friday!