Let’s be honest, the Edmonton Oilers’ 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night was far from spectacular. Despite that the Sens entered the game with just two wins in 13 games on the season, they not only kept up with the Oilers, but often controlled the pace. By the time the final horn sounded, the shots read 42-22 in favour of Ottawa. Had it not been for a few shaky goals allowed by Sens goaltender Marcus Hogberg, this game could have gone very differently.
However, how many times have Oilers fans said it would be nice to have players not named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carry the load? They finally got their wish on Tuesday, which was the first game since Nov. 28, 2017, against the Arizona Coyotes, that the Oilers picked up a win when neither superstar recorded a point. Not seeing McDavid or Draisaitl on the scoresheet has happened 28 times since that game in 2017, and the Oilers have a dreadful 0-26-2 record in that span.
What was more impressive about Tuesday’s win, is that none of the Oilers’ forwards found the back of the net. Their three goal-scorers were Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, and Tyson Barrie. This tied the franchise record for goals from defensemen in a single game. It also continued the trend of solid play from Edmonton’s blueliners this season.
In the last decade, the Oilers’ blue line has been incompetent and the weakest part of their roster. However, they have drafted and developed some very capable defensemen recently, some who are on the team now and some only a few years away. They have also brought in competent blueliners via free agency, none better than Barrie, who signed during the offseason.
After Edmonton’s win over Ottawa, Sportsnet dropped some stats showing how good the Oilers’ blue line has been this season, something fans haven’t been able to say in a long time. Kicking it off is Nurse, who is off to a great start. He scored his fifth goal on Tuesday, to become the first Oilers blueliner since Sheldon Souray (2008-09) to have five goals through the team’s first 15 games.
Nurse is leading the way, but he’s not the only defenseman playing well. After a slow start, Barrie has been fantastic of late with nine points in his last seven games. He has helped the blue line in a big way, as they have combined for 11 goals as a unit this season. During the 2019-20 season, they combined for six goals through 15 games, a testament to how good they have been early on.
As it stands, their 11 goals are tied with the Montreal Canadiens for first in the NHL. Though the Oilers’ blue line has improved over the years, this is a surprise, especially since they are without their best defenceman, Oscar Klefbom. They aren’t just scoring goals either; they’ve combined for 35 points, which ranks second in the league. It has been a better start for Edmonton’s defence than anyone could have imagined.
The defence’s biggest improvement this season is how much they are contributing offensively. Edmonton has scored 52 goals in 15 games this season, which gives them an impressive 3.47 goals per game average, ranked seventh in the league. The blue line is a huge part of this, as they have had at least a point on 29 of those goals (56%).
They have also played a significant role on the power play, registering at least a point on eight of Edmonton’s 13 goals (62%). Leading the way is Barrie, with five of his 11 points generated with the man advantage. When Barrie signed a one-year deal with the Oilers, he was hoping for a bounce-back season after a down year with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019-20, and so far, that has happened. Last season with the Leafs, he had registered a point on the power play in 17 per cent of their games (12 in 70), whereas in 2020-21, he nearly doubled that at 33 per cent (5 in 15).
Nurse has stepped up his special teams play as well this season, He had five points all of last season compared to three early on this year. His ice time with the man advantage has also increased from 1:04 to 1:31, but he is showing more poise on the power play, and he’s making better decisions with the puck.
While Nurse and Barrie most responsible for offensive production from the blue line, the Oilers are getting contributions from others as well. Adam Larsson, who had one goal and six points last season, has scored two goals and four points. Bouchard, who spent last season with the Bakersfield Condors, and has looked fantastic since being inserted into the lineup, has a goal and an assist in four games.
William Lagesson, who was not a lock to make the Oilers roster this season, has chipped in with two assists in his six games. Other contributors from the backend include Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and Kris Russell, who have chipped in with minor offensive contributions despite none suiting up for 10 games to this point. Finally, Slater Koekkoek, has one goal in 12 games, matching his total in 42 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
Every Bit Helps
While some of the defenceman listed above haven’t set the world on fire statistically, they have contributed which is all they need to do given the two-headed monster the Oilers have upfront in McDavid and Draisaitl. All they have been looking for is a little offensive help, and they are finally getting it. If the Oilers’ blue line, particularly Nurse and Barrie, can keep it up, the team should be in the playoff hunt right down to the end.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.