The first time I saw Michael Jackson, he was on the Ed Sullivan Show with his brothers, singing “I Want You Back.” We don’t think of Michael Jackson in the same way now, but back in 1969 we only knew that he could sing like Diana Ross, and was not yet a teenager. The song became something of a staple for me as I grew older (I loved the Jackson 5) but didn’t find out about Wilton Felder’s work on the recorded track until I was in my 50’s. Oh my, what a bass track, three minutes of brilliance.
In yesterday’s game, Connor McDavid had a moment I’ll remember a long time, and it wasn’t the brilliant front-man stuff he does that everyone notices. Oilers fans are a bright bunch, so you probably already know what I’m talking about here. The game in doubt, McDavid went screaming through the neutral zone crowd and drove like a torpedo to his own net. He arrived just in time to intercept a Mika Zibanejad goalmouth pass meant for the streaking Jesper Fast. Crisis averted! Beautiful music!
In a long season it becomes cliche to pick out specific moments as being important in real time. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. That said, the Oilers badly needed to win, and if 97 doesn’t go runaway train on the play, we might be having a different conversation today. Yesterday in Manhattan, the captain went full Wilton Felder to give the Oilers deliverance. I’ll remember that play for a long time.
The Athletic Edmonton is going to bring it all season long. Proud to be part of a lineup that is ready to cover the coming year. Outstanding coverage from a large group, including Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis, Lowetide, Minnia Feng and Pat McLean. If you haven’t subscribed yet, now’s your chance. Special offer is here, less than $3 a month!
- New Lowetide: College and AHL prospect update.
- New Lowetide: Panic storm on the horizon as Oilers remain a one-man show
- New Justin Bourne: How hockey has changed for the better and allowed its young stars to shine.
- Lowetide: Joel Persson’s early season performance in the SHL.
- Lowetide: Practice lines in Boston, anger in Edmonton and Kailer Yamamoto remains on the No. 2 line.
- Jonathan Willis: At 34, is Kyle Brodziak just too old to help the Oilers?
- Jonathan Willis: Why Todd McLellan’s name keeps showing up on those ‘first coach fired in 2018-19’ lists
- James Mirtle: Sizing up the NHL 2018-19 by age, height and age (Oilers content)
- Black Dog: Edmonton’s future is bright, but there are all kinds of questions in the present.
- Lowetide: Evan Bouchard survives first game.
- 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.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Klefbom-Larsson were 13-6 in 13:07, 4-3 shots and 0-2 in HDSC. I thought Klefbom was the calm one in this game, slowing the pace and re-setting as required. Brennan Klak and I were on the air during the game, and Klak wondered about Larsson’s pinches (he seems to be more aggressive). A big reason this pairing had issues, although there were no GA with the pair on the ice (the two blue on the Zibanejad goal were Larsson and Nurse). Klef-Larsson went 6-3 in 5:24 against Kreider-Zibanejad-Fast. I like this pairing. Klefbom rescued the puck from the blue line just before Edmonton got the winner. Oscar missed the net a lot, seemed to be an ongoing issue for the entire blue. Is shooting wide in the vague hope of a cool MSG bounce the new normal? Seems a poor bet, if true.
- Garrison-Bouchard were 11-8 in 8:42, shots 6-5. Bouchard has some real nice offensive acumen, he was exposed defensively more than once. Rookies gonna rookie. Garrison helped when calamity hit, but they were 1-5 HDSC (!!!). I’m not sure how long either man spends in Edmonton this year. They were 0-1 in 1:21 against Kreider-Zibanejad-Fast, two games in a row we’ve seen pairing matching lines. Bouchard is +7.94 in Rel, early days but the puck is headed in a good direction when he’s on the ice.
- Nurse-Russell were 10-21 in 16:07, this duo were the workhorse pairing for the team, that appears to be Nurse’s role (I think Larsson’s back is a worry). Went 6-13 in 8:57 against the Zibanejad line (1-1 for Nurse), it was the matchup both coaching staffs settled on. I thought Russell was far more effective than Benning has been so far, not sure where that puts the group.
- Cam Talbot stopped 23 of 24, .958. He now owns a .932 even-strength save percentage for the season. Early days, good numbers.
- NaturalStatTrick and NHL.com.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Caggiula-Strome-Puljujarvi were a dream in possession, this line is a recent compilation and I’d like to see more. They had two HDSC’s, and that’s exactly what the Strome line has been lacking. Went 12-3 in possession (8:57), 8-0 in shots, no goals but drew a penalty (Caggiula on the chance, via a JP pass). Encouraging, although we have to consider qual comp. Went 7-0 in 4:18 against Claesson-Shattenkirk, I think you have to give them credit for delivering solid performances when on the ice. A goal would have been nice, but this line performed well.
- Nuge-McDavid-Rattie were 13-14 in 14:04, 9-7 shots, 1-0 goals, 3-0 in HDSC. McDavid belongs in a higher league, the words we have at our disposal can’t really describe his impact. I did think both wingers played well, Nuge grabbed the points but Rattie made some good plays to keep the play moving. Went 12-8 against Skjei-mostly McQuaid, 3-7 against Marc Staal, 7-9 Brendan Smith (I can’t figure out the pairings for these events) against 97.
- Khaira-Brodziak-Rieder were 6-7 in 8:18, 2-2 in shots. I liked the line overall, for me JJ and Rieder are going to be the Pisani’s for the group this coming season. Notice how close the fourth line (8:18) is to the third line (8:57) in 5-on-5 icetime together. McLellan is rolling rolling rolling rawhide. Went 5-1 against Claesson-Shattenkirk in 3:24.
- Lucic-Draisaitl-Yamamoto are a headache. Went 6-14 (Lucic) in 10:39 (6-9 Yamamoto), 1-8 shots, 0-1 goals, 3-11 scoring chances, 0-7 HDSC. This is insane. Seriously. Yamamoto grabbed two penalties through working hard and keeping his feet moving, Lucic and Draisaitl were noticeable on the power play. Todd McLellan should run Rieder-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi until they fire him, but he won’t do it. The second line is a mess, Leon is apparently going to score all of his points while spending time with 97. Lucic, too.
OILERS IN OCTOBER
- Oilers in October 2015: 0-3-0, goal differential -6
- Oilers in October 2016: 2-1-0, goal differential +1
- Oilers in October 2017: 1-2-0, goal differential -1
- Oilers in October 2018: 1-2-0, goal differential -5
The Oilers are in league with the 2015 and 2017 teams, goal differential has 2 EN goals and three on the PP so there’s a story to tell. I don’t think this year’s team is a more (or less) promising playoff contender but the 5-on-5 goaltending is better in the early days.
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 1-1-0)
- 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: 1-2-0, 2 points after three games
Huge win for the team, they haven’t won a lot in Manhattan in recent seasons. The Winnipeg game will be interesting, we’ll discuss their chances of getting a point tomorrow. This Oilers team, as currently constructed, is more about building for the future than winning a playoff spot now.
MCLELLAN AND PULJUJARVI
- McLellan post-game: “Jesse’s had some moments where he’s played very well, and he’s still learning in some other moments where he’s got caught doing things that affect the team at the other end, or maybe the teammates coming on to the ice. We’ve talked and talked and talked to him about it, and he’ll have to just keep working at it.” Source
I’m parsing words here, but it seems to me that quote, compared to previous ones on the same subject, expresses frustration in a more pronounced way. Perhaps I’m missing this completely, but the coach said ‘talked and talked and talked’ and there’s an edge in the way he said it. Where I come from (same place as McLellan), the end of the sentence is usually “and dammit I’m done talking” but the coach measured his words carefully. There does seem to be a little more freedom in his words there, not exactly MacT discussing Dustin Penner but it caught me when listening.
By the way: There are only two reasons for a coach to be more open than previous avails about a specific player.
- Elliotte Friedman: “Yesterday Daryl Katz was at Oilers practice, today he was at the game, he spends a lot of time in New York City. It just ratcheted up the intensity and the nerves in Edmonton. It’s three games into the season, you hate to call it a must-win, I think in a lot of ways that was for Edmonton. I think Katz let it be known how frustrated he was with the way things were going, and the Oilers needed this win today, badly.” Source
The win helps, the pressure remains. I am convinced keeping the young talent is the right thing to do, but there are a lot of “Catch-22” bullet points on this roster currently.
Jesse Puljujarvi is a central figure in an internal organizational battle right now. He has talent, they believe in him, but JP is banished to the bottom-six forwards. Is that a coaching decision? Do the centers on the skill lines have trouble playing with the young Finn?
Sometimes there’s a breaking point (Glen Sather used to browbeat the young Oilers until Mark Messier stood up to him, and in that instant the world changed for team and player) and sometimes there’s a breakthrough on the ice for the player.
I’d stay the course, damn the torpedoes, keep those coaches teaching and keep pushing for wins even if things get more difficult. Daryl Katz may have a different approach. This feels like something has to give, perhaps it will.