Whether the Edmonton Oilers won or lost their afternoon game against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, nobody was going to knock them on their effort. They eventually lost by a score of 6-5 in overtime after erasing four deficits throughout the game.
The game started with three goals in the first 3:05 and five goals in the first 11:10. It was the fourth time in NHL history that each of the first three goals of a game were scored by first overall picks as the goals came from Jack Hughes, Connor McDavid, and Nico Hischier.
It was a hard-fought game and a few Oilers’ players may have had their best games as members of the team, but they ultimately fell short, getting only one point in the standings.
3 Oilers Back on the Scoresheet
It was just the second game in the past nine where McDavid had scored a goal, netting two on Saturday. It was his 34th career multi-goal game. In games where he scores at least two goals, the Oilers were previously 31-1-1 before losing in overtime. Since the Oilers elected to go with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, it allowed McDavid to get more shifts early in the game and really get into it. His goal came while he was on a line with Ryan McLeod and Devin Shore.
Speaking of McLeod, he’s one of the players who may have had his best game in an Oiler uniform. It helps when he gets time with top players but he was also utilizing his speed the entire game. He played his first game against his older brother, Michael McLeod, and even saw time in overtime. It was Ryan’s first multi-point game of his career, recording two assists. Those assists were also his first of the season, giving him three goals and five points on the year. McLeod did all of this in 8:41 of ice time and was very noticeable. Next game, I see him at least getting more time and possibly a promotion to the third line.
Someone else who had their best game of the season was Kailer Yamamoto. He scored twice while adding an assist in the game. It was the second two-goal game of his career, the last one coming in 2019-20 when he really broke onto the scene. His only other goal in the month of December came on Dec. 1. The first two goals this month came via the tip-in before his third of the month, and second of the game, came on a delayed penalty to give the Oilers’ their first and only lead of the game.
Yamamoto had just recorded two shots in the previous nine games, dating back to when he scored his last goal and both of those shots came in the same game. He had three tonight and has played a lot better in his past three games, deserving more of those top six minutes he’s gotten all year.
A Typical Start for the Oilers
In typical fashion, the Oilers went down 1-0 early in the game, this time 1:38 in while shorthanded against the 30th ranked power play. In the first 11:10 of the game alone, the Oilers trailed by one goal on three separate occasions.
The Oilers are now on a run of allowing the first goal in 10 of the last 11 games and 19 of their last 23. Before their game against the Devils, the Oilers had gone down 2-0 in seven of their previous eight games. If not for the quick response of McDavid, the Oilers would’ve continued that trend only 3:05 into the game when New Jersey scored their second of the game.
The Oilers are 10-0-0 when scoring the first goal of the game. If something can change and their starts can be better, they wouldn’t have to change their mentality and play from behind most nights. It would allow for the depth to settle into the game and the Oilers to not have to continuously load up to try and get a goal back.
A Healthy Oilers Squad
Three players that missed the game due to being on COVID-protocol: Darnell Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi, and William Lagesson, were activated and played in the game. Because of this, the Oilers elected to go with 11 forwards and seven defencemen. This allowed Lagesson to see some playing time.
The 11-7 roster paid off in a big way for the forward depth as well as being able to get McDavid and Leon Draisaitl out on the ice more. With the success offensively of more depth players and recent struggles of the top players, don’t be shocked if we see more of the 11 forward system moving forward, especially when Markus Niemelainen and Kris Russell return from injury. It also allows the Oilers to more seamlessly try out different defensive combinations as we saw Tyson Barrie back with Nurse, Evan Bouchard on the ice a bit with Duncan Keith, and others.
It was the first time the Oilers had access to their top six defencemen in the past 15 games. Lagesson, in a seventh defence spot, was able to notch his first point of the season in his eighth game. Look for him to be that seventh defenceman if the Oilers continue to play with seven in their lineup.
Excellent Bounce-Back Performance by Duncan Keith
The third player that played what I and the commentating crew of Jack Michaels and Bob Stauffer believe to be his best game as an Oiler, was Duncan Keith. He played an excellent game from start to finish, contributing offensively and playing very solid defensively.
Keith sent McDavid off on a breakaway with a pass from his own end for his first assist of the game and later added another on the Oilers’ fifth goal of the game. There was one shift in particular that stood out to me though. It came when he and Bouchard manned the point and the Oilers kept pressure on the Devils for at least one minute and in the midst of that, saw Keith fight off three players to hold the puck in.
The Oilers are going to need to tighten up defensively because even though they may have found a key to getting their offence going, they can’t win every high-scoring affair. Their next game sees them match up with the New York Islanders in another afternoon game on New Year’s Day. The Oilers will look to break a stretch that has seen them lose eight of their last 10 games. The Islanders are coming off a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres and have found some recent success at home. With Mathew Barzal on a 7-game point streak, the Oilers are in for another tough matchup.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.
You can find more of his work here.