Well, Edmonton Oilers fans…THAT is more like it.
A lot of Oilers players filled their roles well, tonight. The fighters (Luke Gazdic) fought. The scorers (Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov) scored. The goaltenders (Cam Talbot) goal-tended. And in the end, all of that and a few other strong points from complimentary players added up to a 5-2 road win over the rival Calgary Flames. 9 Things:
9. You don’t have to like fighting if you don’t want to. I happen to think its a part of the game, it was when I played (and trust me, I was NOT much of a fighter), and I still think it is, today. Ask the Edmonton Oilers players if they were pumped up to see Luke Gazdic drop ’em. The didn’t stand up and bang their sticks on the boards for him because they were disappointed.
8. With 5 minutes to go, and the Flames still with a pulse, the Edmonton Oilers iced the puck at the end of a long shift. The McDavid line was caught out there, in it’s own zone, and #97 the lone centerman. Todd McLellan had the presence of mind to call a time out and let his players breath. Then, Connor McDavid (who had struggled at the dot all night), tied up his man, allowing the Oilers to eventually chip the puck to safety.
7. What do you do with your line-up tomorrow? In the 2nd of back-to-back road games, it would typically make sense to start Anders Nilsson tomorrow, and probably re-insert Anton Slepyshev and either Andrew Ference or Brandon Davidson. Fresh legs. But if it were me, I would march the exact same lineup back out there Sunday. You are just 5 games into the season, and you ARE still 1-and-4. It won’t be “o.k.” to lose in Vancouver. This team isn’t in that position.
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6. The Defence was not great tonight, but when you look at the possession stats, with the exception of the 1st 6-7 minutes of the 2nd Period, the Edmonton Oilers were in command all night. And what better way to compensate for a weak D-core than to play with the puck more? Andrej Sekera WAS walked on the Flames 2nd goal, but otherwise was probably the Oilers best defenceman tonight. He has NOT been good. Saturday night was (mostly) what they are paying him to do.
5. Matt Hendricks. This has been his best 5-game stretch as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. To me, the highlight of his night was a series of blocked shots on the penalty kill, where Matt Hendricks laid his body on the line, and stepped in front of 3 different Flames shots. Then, minutes later at 4:55, Hendricks drew a penalty along the boards which led to an Oilers power play. He was also rewarded with an assist on the Hall goal, and was a net-front presence on the Nugent-Hopkins goal.
4. Cam Talbot. There has not been one game this year that the Edmonton Oilers lost because of goaltending. We have not been able to say that in this town for a very long time. And while Talbot did not steal the game Saturday night, he played a significant role in the victory. I am thinking specifically of the 3-on-1 that the Edmonton Oilers gave up, on the power play, where Talbot came up huge. The Flames score on that break-down, and this game may have ended differently.
3. Face-offs. The Edmonton Oilers were 57% in the face-off circle tonight. As I’ve mentioned before, I have friends who think face-offs don’t matter. Well, I’m here to tell you that the job Anton Lander and Mark Letestu did on the dot tonight contributed significantly to the edge the Oilers enjoyed in possession. And when you have the puck, as an Edmonton Oiler, you are taking advantage of a strength, and staying away from a weakness. Thy won 15 of 21 in the 2nd.
2. Taylor Hall. Few things give me more satisfaction that to see Taylor Hall play the way he has the past two games. Had it not been for some 18-year old Saturday night, Hall would have been the best player on the ice…again. If you believe in that sort of thing, Hall had a Corsi of +24 on the night. But if you are like me, and you let your eyes determine quality…then your eyes were opened wide by one of the best Left Wingers in the game. 1 goal, 2 assists, 2nd Star.
1. Connor McDavid. Sweet mother of all things holy, can this kid play hockey. McDavid was nothing short of spectacular tonight. He made a VERY good Calgary D-core look like a bunch of AHL-ers. His best moment of the night was the one rush where he didn’t score, robbed by Jonas Hiller on a play that otherwise would have run on TSN until June. As I have told many who have asked me, Connor McDavid has a LOT of really impressive traits. But none more so than his absolutely phenomenal speed. I’ve covered hockey for 27 years. I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone faster, with the puck. It’s stunning. 2 goals, 1 assist, 1st Star. Bam!
Sunday will be tough. It’s back-to-back road games, against a Canucks team which has traditionally given the Edmonton Oilers fits.
On the other hand, suddenly, the Oilers have confidence & a little momentum.
Should be fun!