The first game of the Edmonton Oilers’ two-game set against the Toronto Maple Leafs was a highly contested affair that clearly lived up to the hype involved with this marquee matchup. The Oilers suffered a difficult 4-3 loss, in which both teams played quite well and resumed the competitive intensity seen in their first two-game split that occurred earlier in the season. This article will discuss some of the takeaways that arose from the evaluation of the game and some points of emphasis that will enhance Edmonton’s chances for a victory in Saturday’s matchup.
Last Season’s League-Best Power Play Has Finally Arrived
The Oilers’ power play was absolutely elite in the 2019-20 season, leading the league in conversion percentage, and was arguably the largest contributor to their regular-season success. This season’s rendition of the power-play unit had been incredibly maligned due to a lack of quality scoring chances being generated, an inability to set up and assemble with efficiency in the offensive zone, and seemingly an absence of chemistry. However, the last two games have displayed the full capabilities of the top unit with the man advantage, especially with the matchup against the Leafs.
The forwards showed great resilience throughout a majority of the power-play situations they received by attacking the net, forechecking and winning puck battles, and maintaining pressure on Toronto’s penalty killers. Although last night’s stat line may not have been mind-blowing by any stretch, these factors along with the immediate setup in the offensive zone, and McDavid and Draisaitl displaying their brilliance exhibit the Oilers’ power play has turned the corner towards becoming once again elite. With four power-play goals in their last two games, including two last night, the Oilers will continue to feed off the momentum from their special teams unit which typically translates to their overall offensive success.
This is the Most Must-See Divisional Matchup in the NHL
Last night’s matchup had an astounding number of opportunities and momentum shifts that displayed how electrifying the contests between these two teams will continue to be throughout the season. Viewing the list of divisional matchups in this new-look NHL season, none compare in terms of storylines, a number of truly elite players, style and pace of play, and the fact that both are considered to be recognizable heritage Canadian franchises.
First, this may be a duel between the two best dynamic duos in the NHL today, especially considering both duos still remain relatively young with an immense amount of promise and supreme talent, in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Furthermore, all four of these players listed have legitimate shots to receive multiple awards, so a memorable meeting between these teams could make a significant difference in their respective award races.
When incorporating secondary players such as John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Morgan Rielly, these two teams contain a number of players with the potential to take over a game and generate high-quality scoring chances consistently. These players and their style of play often lead to back-and-forth affairs, with critical moments making the slightest difference between a win and a loss in the already hotly contested North Division.
This is exacerbated by these teams containing elite power-play units that generate a significant portion of their offenses and goaltenders who have both played well despite receiving a lack of support from their defensive units. Finally, both teams have also shown the ability to play a rugged style and display physical toughness with players such as Wayne Simmonds and Zack Kassian. Generational talents, high-octane offense, and famous Canadian teams are typically the biggest draws in the NHL and this one is by far the most must-see TV in the league right now.
The Oilers Miss Riley Sheahan on the Penalty Kill
The Oilers’ penalty kill was arguably the biggest surprise and strength of the organization last season but has experienced a considerable dip in performance this season, decreasing to the bottom half of the league. This isn’t solely based on statistics, as last night evidenced the level of ineptitude that the team is displaying when the opponent has the man advantage.
There seems to be a clear lack of communication, as there were numerous times in which multiple players traveled to the corners or points, thereby exposing the front of the net and the slot. This occurred on both power-play goals that the Oilers allowed against Toronto, with Simmonds parked in front of the net with no resistance whatsoever, enabling him to score a relatively easy tip-in. On the second power-play goal, Matthews was given virtually all day to shoot, which is unbelievable considering his shooting prowess and scoring knack on the power play.
Sheahan was last season’s clear leader on the penalty kill, as he ate up a significant number of minutes and contributed the most of any of the forwards on last season’s second-best penalty kill. There seems to be an overall lack of determination in terms of winning puck battles and gaining the puck, along with the overall fervor to immediately push the puck out of the zone, aspects that were completed exceptionally by Sheahan in 2019-20.
With Jujhar Khaira being sent to the taxi squad, another major cog in the Oilers’ penalty kill, the Oilers need to find another source of penalty killing to go alongside the respectable option of Devin Shore to ensure this isn’t a prolonged issue throughout the season.
The Oilers’ Defence Continues to Fail Koskinen
General manager Ken Holland and the Oilers have made a complete mess of the goaltending situation, thus far, and have placed Mikko Koskinen in an unbelievably precarious situation. This has been further negatively impacted by the inability of the defense to provide him with even adequate help and coverage. Considering the circumstances and heavy workload, something that he has never been able to handle or perform well under previously, Koskinen has been up to the challenge and made key, timely saves to provide the Oilers with a consistent chance to win.
Despite his stats not being outstanding, many goaltenders would perform similarly with this defensive core, which has dictated these results. He has definitely outperformed the expectations of many so far this season, although one wonders how long this stretch can last.
In terms of the Toronto 4-3 loss, the first goal was undoubtedly Koskinen’s fault due to his unnecessary giveaway, but the next three goals could be directly attributed to the lack of defensive coverage, as has often been the case with most goals he’s allowed this season. There was no chance on the Simmonds’ tip due to him being left alone near the crease for an extended period of time on the power play with no pushback and the other two goals were both wide open snipes, where Matthews and Nylander had all day with the puck to make their decision and get a clear shot at the net.
There is a clear lack of defensive communication among pairings, and the injury to Klefbom is clearly showing its impact on the stat sheet on a nightly basis. There has been no coverage in front of the net for entire stretches in the defensive zone, to go along with the aforementioned penalty-killing difficulties that have plagued the lineup and Koskinen’s results thus far. Furthermore, the overall positioning of the defensemen and their quickness and readiness in moving the puck out of the zone swiftly and effectively has been subpar.
Outside of Adam Larsson, none of the other defensemen showed anything impressive over the last couple of games, including last night, and this is especially the case with Tyson Barrie who has been a major letdown in Edmonton. Overall, one could argue that he has been a liability when considering his one-sided offensive style of play, which has not been present. In a matchup against Toronto, the team that had virtually written him off last season, Barrie should have had added motivation to perform exceptionally.
He has struggled to coordinate and anchor the power play and has not been enough of a factor on the offensive end to compensate for his extreme defensive deficiencies. The Oilers need to hope for development from the younger defensemen and further integration of Barrie within the power play, otherwise, fans should expect a rough stretch of hockey.