The Edmonton Oilers did you a favour. You may find yourself with some time on your hands. Forget Netflix, or maybe you’ve already watched everything. It’s time to rewatch some of the best games of the season. Here are the Oilers’ top five games of the 2019-20 season.
5. Opening Night: Canucks at Oilers, Oct. 2, 2019
Without fail, the Oilers faithful are always buzzing for Opening Night. But this time, there was a nervous tension in that buzz. The last time we saw Connor McDavid, he had to be helped off the ice. Would he be 100 percent? This game was also the first look at general manager Ken Holland’s version of the roster.
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Despite inheriting books that didn’t offer much cap space, Holland was able to transform the roster. More than half of the opening night roster was different than last season’s team. And it was Dave Tippett’s debut, the ninth coach in 12 seasons – could he do what Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do last season?
This game against the Vancouver Canucks is a fun one to rewatch, not only because of all of those questions heading in, but the game was fast, had a tonne of skill on display and delivered a hard-fought Oilers’ victory.
4. McLellan’s Return: Kings at Oilers Oct. 5, 2019
Todd McLellan returned to Edmonton as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. He was behind the bench for one of the Oilers’ most exciting seasons in recent memory, coaching the team to the 2016-17 playoffs, the first postseason appearance since the 2005-06 season. The Oilers followed up that playoff run with a horrendous 2017-18 season with just 36 wins. The Oilers gave McLellan a month and a half to right the ship in the 2018-19 season, but it was clear the magic was gone, and McLellan’s merciful termination took place on Nov. 20, 2018. His return to Edmonton not only gave us a storyline to watch but the game was action-packed with a bunch of excellent goals and a come-from-behind win.
3. Koskinen Shutout: Devils at Oilers, Nov. 8, 2019
Anytime a shutout happens in the new NHL, it’s worthy of the list. Mikko Koskinen takes a lot of heat due to his big contract (a going away gift courtesy of Peter Chiarelli), but every once in a while, you see a $4.5 million goaltender.
If that’s not enough, every time Taylor Hall returns to Edmonton, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Remember, this was a New Jersey Devils team that went out and got P.K. Subban – they were supposed to be good.
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This game didn’t disappoint. The Devils had several scoring chances, Hall did ring one off of the iron in the first period, and the Oilers defence played well. Add a highlight-reel pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to spring Driasiatl for a pretty goal, and you’ve got a game worth watching again.
2. Connor Wins at Home: Oilers at Maple Leafs, Jan. 6, 2020
For the majority of hockey fans in Canada, you either love the Toronto Maple Leafs or hate them, I mean, despise them. The Oilers only get to play in the centre of the hockey universe once a season. It’s also the one time Captain Connor returns home to play in front of family and friends – in an arena he had yet to win in.
Not only did this game give McDavid that first win in Toronto, but he also scored one of the best goals of his career. It was a thing of beauty and likely still haunts Morgan Rielly. Did I mention the Oilers beat the Leafs? What other reasons do you need to rewatch?
Dynamic Duo – Colorado Avalanche at Oilers, Nov. 14, 2019: 11 points put up between McDavid and Driastial.
Goalie Battle – Oilers at Winnipeg Jets, Nov. 20, 2019: Mike Smith and Connor Hellebuyck put on a show, as both goalies did not allow the puck to cross the line during regulation or overtime.
Win in Boston – Oilers at Boston Bruins, Jan. 4, 2020: The Bruins were the team to beat all season and were especially tough to beat at the Garden. The game was broadcast nationally in the U.S., and the Oilers showed everyone they are for real.
Beat the Champs – St, Louis Blues at Oilers, Jan. 31, 2020: Edmonton put up one of their most complete games of the season against one of the league’s best teams.
Four for Leon – Oilers at Nashville Predators, March 2, 2020: It’s not the closest game but anytime a player scored four goals, it’s worthy of your time to watch again.
1. Battle of Alberta: Flames vs Oilers Rounds 2, 3 & 4, Jan. 11, 29 & Feb. 1, 2020
It wasn’t three games – it was ten periods of hockey that fans (especially in Alberta) have been waiting to see for a long time.
It’s rare in sports when the game lives up to the hype. Even more uncommon is when the hype is exceeded. The Calgary Flames and Oilers renewed the Battle of Alberta to an epic clash on Feb. 1, 2020. What made that game was the lead up to it.
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To get the full impact of Feb. 1, you need to go back to Jan. 11. These two teams had been close in the standings all season; they have speed, grit and oh yeah, Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. The game was moving fast, both teams exchanged three goals, and then it happened – again. Tkachuk lined up Kassian for a second monster (but questionable) hit. Kassian saw red, and Tkachuk covered up (some may say turtled). Kassian took a double-minor and a game misconduct, the Flames scored what proved to be the winning goal on the ensuing power play.
After serving a two-game suspension, Kassian was back for Round 3 of the Battle of Alberta on Jan. 29. This game was full of fireworks, and Tkachuk did answer the overdue bell and dropped the gloves with Kassian. It was another tightly contested battle with some great plays; the Flames won in a shoot out when David Rittich poke-checked Draisaitl’s attempt – and then it happened. Rittich tossed his stick in the air, Jose Bautista bat-flip style.
Three days later, Round 4 of the Battle of Alberta reached a fever pitch. The Oilers scored two goals in the first 1:05 of the game and never looked back. They got their revenge for the stick flip by chasing Rittich from the game three minutes into the second period after he allowed his fourth goal. But that didn’t put out the fire. With just 24 seconds to go in the second, all hell broke loose, including a goalie fight.
The Battle of Alberta Is Back
Until this season and specifically that game, the Battle of Alberta was a lazy promotion to sell tickets. For years, if not decades, this game barely registered above the usual contest. The Battle of Alberta had turned into one of those “when I was your age” stories right up there with walking uphill both ways to school. Finally, this generation of hockey fans saw the real Battle of Alberta, the ones we’d heard about from the 1980s. As Kailer Yamamoto said during the intermission: the hate is real.
Every hockey fan wants the season to resume. Fans of these two teams don’t want the season to resume; they need it to return! It would give us the fifth round of the Battle of Alberta. It would most likely mean a first-round playoff matchup, or better yet – a meeting in the second round.
I am aware that this list has well over five games. Truth is, I could easily add more games to this list. The Oilers have the best player on the planet and are playing exciting hockey. I also warned you this list is incomplete, and if the season resumes, I’ll happily rewrite it.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.