I want to take you all the way back to yesterday. We talked about the 2017-18 season, and the difference between Connor McDavid on the ice at 5-on-5 (+20 goal differential) and McDavid off the ice at 5-on-5 (-33 goal differential). Yesterday, at 5-on-5, the Oilers were +1 with McDavid on the ice, -3 with him at rest. This season isn’t really about one game, it’s about improving the areas (McDavid on/off, special teams, No. 2 line, No. 2 RHD, goaltending) that kept the team out of the playoffs one year ago. Yesterday’s game did nothing beyond reminding everyone about the work that needs to be done. Progress? Didn’t see it yesterday. Anywhere.
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- New Lowetide: Ryan McLeod takes demotion in stride, while a Condo of Condors impress on opening weekend.
- Jonathan Willis: On AHL opening night, Caleb Jones and friends make it clear they want NHL jobs.
- Lowetide: Orange, white and blue October: In 1979, the Oilers rocked the NHL.
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: After the death of his father, Sweden trip holds special significance for Adam Larsson, and one of his opponents.
- Scott Wheeler: How the eye test fails to properly evaluate Evan Bouchard.
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Why the Nuge-McDavid-Rattie line has been so successful.
- Lowetide: The 2018-19 Oilers are in a period of transition.
- Jonathan Willis: How worried should the Oilers be about the preseason struggles of Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl?
OILERS IN OCTOBER (one game)
- Oilers in October 2015: 0-1-0, goal differential -2
- Oilers in October 2016: 1-0-0, goal differential +3
- Oilers in October 2017: 1-0-0, goal differential +3
- Oilers in October 2018: 0-1-0, goal differential -3
The 2015-16 team were 4-8-0 at the end of the month, and last year’s club (2017-18) were 3-6-1 at the end of October. The only playoff team (2016-17) went 7-2-0 in the first month of the season. Edmonton’s schedule this October suggests to me we are looking at something less than a winning record.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM OCTOBER
- On the road to: Sweden to play NJD (Expected: 0-0-1) (Actual: 0-1-0)
- On the road to: Boston, NYR, Winnipeg (Expected 1-2-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington (Expected 1-3-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Nashville, Chicago (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Minnesota (Expected 0-0-1) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Overall expected result: 3-6-2, 8 points in 11 games
- Current results: 0-1-0, 0 points after one game
Edmonton needs to find a way to get close to 11 points in October, as the strength of schedule eases come November. I considered yesterday’s game one of very few spots on the schedule where a point was more than less likely. The next time we should consider the Oilers a favorite to earn a point is Saturday against the Rangers. One area of hope: Some of these strong teams (Bruins, Penguins) appear to be experiencing wild swings in performance. If Edmonton can catch a couple of teams on a bad night, it would help the early won-loss enormously.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Klefbom-Larsson went 9-10 Corsi for 5-on-5 in 13:27, 5-6 in shots and 1-2 in high dangers. Pairing spent over eight minutes with 97, and played against Hall-Hischier-Palmieri most (6:51) and were successful (7-4 Corsi, no goals). It was an effective pairing on a difficult night, but were not deployed heavily—perhaps as a result of Larsson’s back issues.
- Russell-Bouchard were 6-4 in 9:31, 4-2 in shots and 1-1 in goals. I thought Russell should have stayed out of the way on the Palmeiri power-play goal, give the goalie that view and my guess is he stops the shot. Bouchard looked deer in the headlights in the first, but settled down later on and played well enough to earn another game (in my opinion). I like his passing, and on a night when the Oilers badly needed it, Bouchard was finding the range by the end of the night. Encouraging debut.
- Nurse-Benning were 9-19 in 15:36, 5-11 in shots and 0-2 in goals. They were 7-7 in eight minutes against the Hischier line, but got fed badly by Johansson-Zacha-Noesen (3-12). I am absolutely open to discussion on this, but for me Benning had a poor game while Nurse was perhaps guilty of not making strong decisions as opposed to making the mistakes that cost goals. That was my take, flame away. I also wonder why the coach ran this pairing so heavily, even over the Swedish duo. Protecting the third pair was understandable, don’t agree with the division of minutes.
- Cam Talbot stopped 22 of 25 (.880) at 5-on-5, 22 of 26 (.846) overall. I think he was quality at times in this game, the final score could have reached seven goals if he had been a lesser man. That said, his muff behind the net is exactly the kind of thing he needs to avoid, can’t have those lapses, and he’ll need to be better as the season rolls along. I am not worried about the starting goalie.
- Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Khaira-Strome-Puljujarvi went 5-6 (9:25 Khaira), 9-6 (9:22 Puljujarvi) 4-0 (1:39 Yamamoto) in what was an on-again, off-again trio. I think they can use these four in some combination and be successful, but the coach has a shorter rope for this group than others. Yamamoto is best on this line, but so are Puljujarvi and Khaira. Not sure of the answer, but there’s a good line here somewhere.
- Nuge-McDavid-Rattie were 13-10 in 17:19, 6-7 shots and 1-4 high dangers. McDavid’s even strength point came with Leon and Lucic and I wonder if we see that line more in the days to come. McDavid won the head-to-head against the Hall line, both coaches seemed fine with the idea (McDavid v. Hall: 11-6 Corsi 5-on-5 in 9:43, 1-0 goals).
- Lucic-Draisaitl-Yamamoto went 6-13 (13:04 Lucic, goals 1-1), 3-9 (10:28 Yamamoto 0-1 goals) and 1-3 (2:13 McDavid, 1-0 goals). To my eye, Draisaitl was out of position on the first goal, although many blame Lucic on that play. I thought the line looked slow overall and LD was ineffective without 97 at 5-on-5. He needs to be a big contributor this season at 5-on-5, if he can’t do it McLellan may be forced to move Nuge back to No. 2 center. Again.
- Rieder-Brodziak-Kassian went 2-12 in 6:55, oh my goodness the numbers are ugly, including 0-2 goals. Were dominated (0-10) by Wood-Quenneville-Dea and two of the goals scored by NJD came against this trio. The second line and this line bled all over.
WHAT TO DO?
Stay the course. Peter Chiarelli has a team with young and unproven types in several areas, but one game isn’t enough blacktop to prove (or disprove) one damn thing. Reading twitter and the comments, seems as though we’re slipping into the gallows humor a little too quickly. I also notice the folks who want to watch the world burn on high alert, and that makes me chuckle because Edmonton has been the gift that keeps on giving for so many years.
Cam Talbot made some great stops but also had enough poor moments to put the game in doubt. That’s the position and sometimes the goalie doesn’t help you enough to win. I’ll bet on him having a better game next time out and a rebound season. If he doesn’t, nothing else matters.
Matt Benning struggled badly, but the Oilers asked him to play a lot of minutes. Perhaps the second pairing is better suited to second pairing minutes. I’d like to see Nurse-Benning play two fewer 5-on-5 minutes than Klefbom-Larsson, see how they shine.
Leon Draisaitl was poor. He didn’t get close to coverage on the first goal and his line had a terrible time getting to the offensive end under control. LD has to find a way to be effective. It is reaching a point where Todd McLellan may have to move his $8.5 million center to McDavid’s right wing in order to save his $8.5 million center. That’s wack, as the kids say. I checked the spelling, wack is correct. Whack is to strike something, or to kill someone. If you’re watching a mob movie, guys get whacked in those films. Wack. I’m using it correctly.
Bouchard settled in after a time, I would absolutely run him again in the next game and would also run Nurse-Benning and Cam Talbot in goal. I do think the team needs to find a No. 2 line that has Leon Draisaitl at center and wingers who can make a difference. Related: Leon and Jesse spent 34 seconds together 5-on-5, had two shots on goal and nothing going the other way. Lucic was the winger for that half a minute. Maybe that’s something worth trying.