Oilers’ Hot Start Makes Them Pacific Division Favourites

The Edmonton Oilers started the 2021-22 season off on the right foot with a 9-1-0 record through their first 10 games played. Despite the new faces and new look lines, the team has transitioned smoothly to begin the season, even after losing their starting goaltender Mike Smith to injury in the third game of the season. The Oilers sit atop of the Pacific Division, one point clear of the Calgary Flames with a game in hand (at the time of this writing). Edmonton appears to be the team to beat in the Pacific Division despite many people having the Vegas Golden Knights pegged to finish in first place.

Oilers Draw First Blood in Battle of Alberta

Although the Flames are off to a solid start of their own, the Oilers were the ones who emerged victorious in the first meeting between the two teams in the first game of the “Battle of Alberta.” The Flames’ 5-2 loss to the Oilers is the only regulation loss the team suffered through their first eight games of the season. The Oilers were led by their superstars, with Connor McDavid netting a hat-trick along with three assists from Leon Draisaitl.

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Although this was the Flames’ first game of the season and they’ve played much better as of late, the Oilers’ speed and skill were what helped overpower the hard-nosed, defensive-style game that new head coach Darryl Sutter has instilled since taking over in Calgary last season.

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The Flames will have to find a way to stymie the Oilers’ superstars in their next meeting in order to help make up some ground within the division. One thing is for sure with both teams battling for the top of the division, the temperature for the upcoming Battle of Alberta matchups will surely be higher than usual.

Vegas Golden Knights Dealt Pair of Early Season Injuries

The Vegas Golden Knights were the team that many had expected to lead and win the Pacific Division heading into the season, but they sit fifth in the Pacific Division through their first eight games with a 4-4-0 record out of the gate. The big story for the Vegas Golden Knights is the loss of two of the team’s top players due to early-season injuries. The team lost top sniper Max Pacioretty and captain Mark Stone to lower-body injuries in the second game of the young season.

Stone is week-to-week with his injury, while Pacioretty will be sidelined due to a broken foot and is not due back until late November. The team has also been dealt some other injuries through the start of the season to some of their depth players and has struggled at times to find consistent play early this season.

Related: 3 Reasons the Oilers Stanley Cup Window Is Starting To Open

The Oilers were able to take advantage of the injury-plagued Golden Knights when they played them in the fifth game of the season, which was on the second night of a back-to-back set. Goaltender Mikko Koskinen started both games of the back-to-back and was able to emerge victorious in both. His ability to take over the starter’s workload after the Mike Smith injury has been key in ensuring the Oilers continue to push forward and pile up wins. The Oilers were able to get a healthy lead in the division standings thanks to the Golden Knights’ early-season struggles.

Edmonton Victorious Against Pacific Division Opponents

Aside from the aforementioned Flames and Golden Knights, who pose the biggest threat to contend with the Oilers atop of the Pacific Division, Edmonton has been able to emerge victorious against several other Pacific Division opponents. The Oilers have bested the Vancouver Canucks twice in two meetings, and they also picked up a convincing win against the Seattle Kraken, as well as the Anaheim Ducks in a tight one-goal affair.

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Winning these inter-divisional matchups is key, with the NHL reverting back to its four-division format that will see three of the divisions’ top teams make the playoffs. These crucial victories help the Oilers create additional separation in the standings early on in the season and gives them a solid cushion in case the team does go through a stretch of poor play later in the season.

Oilers Offense, Defense and Special Teams Firing on All Cylinders

Although it is early on in the season, and some statistics may be skewed before they return to normal rates, the Oilers’ offense is much more balanced, their defense is steady, and their special teams are operating at insane clips. The Oilers’ new-look defense has not struggled to find their form with Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith operating as the team’s shut down pair and Evan Bouchard emerging as Darnell Nurse’s partner in an all situation role on the top pair.

The team’s defense is making the goaltenders’ job much easier this season, limiting opposing offenses’ scoring chances and minimizing shots against. The Oilers have the 12th best goals against per game played (GA/GP), allowing 2.80 goals per game through their first ten, which is similar to the 2.75 GA/GP they finished the 2020-21 regular season with. Thanks to Zach Hyman entering the fold in the team’s top-six forward group and continuous improvement from Jesse Puljujarvi, the team’s offense is leading the league with 4.40 goals for per game played (GF/GP). While it is early in the season, this is a significant improvement from the team’s 3.27 GF/GP from last season.

Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Special teams play a large role in the regular season and an even bigger role come playoff time. The Oilers can credit a lot of their early-season success to their potent power-play unit and strong penalty kill. Edmonton leads the league in power-play conversion percentage after finishing last season number one in the league in that category. McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Draisaitl have been staples on the team’s top power-play unit, with Puljujarvi, Hyman, Nurse, Tyson Barrie, and even Bouchard mixing in at times. The different looks and top-end talent are bringing this power play to another level thus far.

Related: Oilers’ Power Play Looking Deadly & Deep This Season

The penalty kill is also successfully killing 86.2 percent of its penalties, which is good enough for the sixth-best in the NHL after finishing ninth in the 2020-21 season with an 82.5 percent success rate. Bouchard is a trusted member of the team’s penalty kill after his strong early-season play put him in Oilers head coach Dave Tippet’s good books. The addition of speedy forward Warren Foegele and veteran center Derek Ryan have also been key components in keeping the puck out of the net when shorthanded.

Oilers on the Right Track

The Oilers look very impressive so far, and the team looks to have a winning mindset and strong chemistry despite many new faces. They put themselves in a good position to succeed by beating many of their divisional opponents despite battling some adversity with an injury to Mike Smith, which forced Koskinen into the crease. The supporting cast in both the team’s top and bottom-six forward group is proving to be a difference-maker on offense, and all players look locked in and ready to contribute to help the team put points in the win column. Things change quickly in the NHL, but the positive start should have both the team and fans excited for the rest of the season.

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