The big man intercepts the cross ice pass deep in his own zone, cradles it for just a moment, and then begins the drive north. He’s big and quick and has electric skill, so the defenders yield middle ground and gather for battle at the walls of the city. Three times last night, Paul Bunyan picked up his axe and dashed the opponent. On a night when the Edmonton Oilers needed two points, the big man got three. Leon Draisaitl is back, and this is a different team. You make a difference, big man, and a nod and a wink to that giant paddle you call a hockey stick. MY GOODNESS we missed you.
PIKE’S PEAK, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2015: 3-6-0, goal differential -6
- Oilers in October 2016: 7-2-0, goal differential +10
- Oilers in October 2017: 3-5-1, goal differential -8
They needed it. Connor McDavid was beginning to look at teammates in a ‘cross-eyed and painful‘ manner, much the same as Bobby Orr terrorized teammates many decades ago. This team isn’t out of the woods, the PK is a flashing “Eat at Joe’s” welcome sign and it must be fixed. That said, it’s a win and another on Saturday night means the club merely missed reasonable by three points. The Oilers are still within reach of playoffs, miles to go ’til morning.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM OCTOBER
- At home to: Calgary (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- On the road to: Vancouver (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual: 0-1-0)
- At home to: Winnipeg, Ottawa, Carolina (Expected 1-1-1) (Actual: 0-3-0)
- On the road to: Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (Expected 1-1-1) (Actual 1-1-1)
- At home to: Dallas, Washington (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 1-0-0)
- Overall expected result: 5-3-2, 12 points in 10 games
- Current results: 3-5-1, 7 points after nine games
A win on Saturday would allow this team to overcome (somewhat) a disastrous start to the season. I also think we’re probably going to see more .500 months for this team, there’s too much to overcome. Failing Andrej Sekera returning soon and a stunning turnaround for the penalty killers, it’s unwise to bet on this team winning more than they’ll lose over the next 30 days. Edmonton is three points behind Dallas for the final playoff spot, with a game in hand. Last night was huge.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Four points on the night for the blue, it’s been a slow start for the group. The late goal by Matt Benning was massive.
- Klefbom-Larsson went 12-20 together, 7-16 in nine minutes against the Radulov-Benn-Seguin line. That trio is amazing, credit to the Swedes for keeping them off the scoresheet at even strength on the evening. Klefbom is banged up as per Todd McLellan via Jason Gregor. McLellan is riding this pair, because he has to do it. Larsson was stout on the PK, his positioning is excellent and others, even veterans, may want to study the video.
- Nurse-Gryba were 17-9, were on the ice for the first GA (Nurse played it well to my eye, Nuge/Gryba late getting back or didn’t feel Benn coming up the middle). Nurse’s headman passes are becoming a larger part of the offense and keeping this duo from defending for longer periods. Nurse was 10-4 against Shore-Janmark, 3-5 against Spezza, 10-2 against Radulov. Nurse is coming on, also played four solid minutes with Benning and 2:34 with Kris Russell.
- Russell-Benning went 20-4, including 12-4 with Nuge. The goal by Benning was a monster, Edmonton badly needed the win. Benning was 14-0 Corsi for 5×5 against the Faksa line, Russell 15-2. Russell was very poor on the PK, also in photo thrice. It makes no sense to give him PP and PK time, that’s going to have to be addressed. Benning appears to be back to previous levels, wonderful passer and transporter.
- Cam Talbot stopped 28 of 32, he was excellent at 5×5 (16-17) and the whole team was poor on the PK.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl gobbled up five of the team’s 14 points on the night. McDavid’s goal was welcome, as it represented a first-period lead, something the Oilers haven’t enjoyed much this season. Short lived, but enjoyable all the same. Went 14-15 against the Benn-Seguin wrecking crew, 1-0 in GF. I know we’re all in love with the idea of LD as 2C but I don’t think it happens for some time.
- Lucic-Nuge-Strome all put points on the board and that’s news. Nuge-Strome were 2-0 together on-ice 5×5, Strome is a good passer. Lucic was in the middle of things, making fine passes and chipped in on the big RNH goal in the third period. Some luck involved but the trio was moving the puck and (imo) earned some good fortune. Went 6-6 against Spezza and 10-4 against Faksa.
- Caggiula-Letestu-Kassian went 8-1 after Letestu moved down from the Nuge line (9-5). ML took a costly and unusual penalty miles from his own net but I liked his game overall. Kassian has more jump now, his game hit a plateau for awhile. Caggiula damned near scored but also took a bad penalty. I like the line.
- Jokinen-Khaira-Slepyshev had a good game too, seven shots on goal and some intelligent play. Jokinen was quiet in the offensive zone but made some good decisions with the puck elsewhere. Khaira had four shots after having none for the season, he made a weird play late that could cost him another start. JJ wheeled back into his zone for no reason, got caught and yada yada yada Darnell ended up in the penalty box. Slepyshev was effective and has earned a trip up the depth chart that doesn’t appear to be coming. He needs to score badly in order to get noticed.
- Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.
— Steve Ewen (@SteveEwen) October 26, 2017
One of the things Peter Chiarelli has been doing since arrival is building up prospects in the system. I think you’ll agree the goalie pipeline (Nick Ellis, Dylan Wells, Stuart Skinner) has improved markedly and the defense is stocked very well. Best representation is the gang of four blue in Bakersfield (Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Ziyat Paigin and Ryan Mantha), we may see some results at the NHL level in the next year or so.
The forwards have been a tougher hill to climb. Grabbing Connor McDavid No. 1 overall in 2015 changed the franchise but Chiarelli’s forward choices after that (Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyler Benson, Graham McPhee, Aapeli Rasanen, Kailer Yamamoto, Ostap Safin, Kirill Maksimov, Skyler Brind’Amour) are decidedly a mixed bag. Jesse Puljujarvi looks like he’ll be a quality NHL player, perhaps shy offensively compared to expectations on draft day. Kailer Yamamoto has tremendous skills but appears to be a year away.
Tyler Benson was a quality prospect on his draft day but hasn’t played enough to maintain his status as a blue-chip future. He’ll play his first game of the WHL season tonight, the hope is the young man will be able to complete the season schedule, perhaps get a job on the WJ team. If he’s healthy, the boxcars should shine.
They’re celebrating the big man over at Post Media today, here’s one of his articles looking back on an amazing career. The relationship between media and fans has changed over the years, gone are the days when a columnist owned eyeballs and had the universal viewpoint simply due to access. Credit to Jones he’s been able to negotiate the rapids through all kinds of change and he’s still here. I know many of you will gloss over this paragraph, or write something nasty in the comments section. But, someday people your age will look back on a long career with pride and my guess is you’ll acknowledge that moment while also contemplating your own accomplishments. It has been a wonderful experience to read Terry Jones, Jim Matheson, Joanne Ireland, Cam Cole, John Short, Robin Brownlee and others over the years. I enjoyed my reading experience immensely, and considered every paragraph time well spent. Congratulations Terry Jones, hope you enjoy a rum and Coke (or two) today.
Edmonton’s 2016 draft, forwards division, is showing well. Kailer Yamamoto made the big club and has three points in seven games (NHLE: 35.1 points), and the others in the group show early promise. Here are some NHLE’s from early days across the prospect group:
- Tyler Vesel 42.3
- Kirill Maksimov 27.06
- Graham McPhee 24.92
- Ostap Safin 21.87
- Jesse Puljujarvi 17.38
- Aidan Muir 15.11
- Skyler Brind’Amour 7.32
- Aapeli Rasanen 6.2
I’ll look at the defensemen tomorrow (including Ethan Bear, 34.7) and of course it goes without saying this is miles too early to make sweeping statements. I think the most talented offensive forward in the system is Kailer Yamamoto.
- Nick Ellis: “This year I’m trying to learn how to stay grounded with the highs and lows. It’s a long season, there’s going to be highs and going to be lows. You just kind of have to stay even-keeled, come to work every day and try to have as much fun as possible.” Source
Another bona fide NHL goalie to the pile is most welcome, even if it’s only as another trade asset heading out. If Ellis matriculates well, maybe he gets a look later in the year and emerges as an actual option. Peter Chiarelli is going to be shopping for savings down every aisle in the coming summers, an inexpensive starting goalie would be a dream outcome. Not saying it’s Ellis but he’s a fine prospect.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
Friday on my mind and a fun, happy show at 10 this morning, TSN 1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, Big Mouth Sports. Oilers, Leafs, World Series! Plus Christmas shopping in October.
- Paul Sir, The Basketball Show. NBA weekend and a show preview.
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. Should Kailer Yamamoto head back to Spokane or has he earned more games?
- Paul Almeida, SSE. We’ll look at the weekend for the Oilers and discuss the importance of strength up the middle.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!