A quick glimpse at the scoreboard would suggest the Edmonton Oilers did everything they were hoping to do in their season opener on Wednesday night. Their offense, like usual, was on, as they put four past Thatcher Demko and added a fifth on an empty net for extra insurance in a 5-3 final.
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It was a fine start to the season as wins, regardless of what time they come in the year, are important. The fact that it was a divisional matchup only adds to that. That said, the Oilers were rather fortunate to walk away with a win in this one, as they were not the better team, particularly in the early going. Nonetheless, two points are two points, and they will take them and move on. Let’s take a quick look at how last night’s game played out.
First, let’s start with the good we saw from the Oilers. As mentioned, their offense was expectedly lethal. Leon Draisaitl got things started with a second-period tally, and by the end of the night had a goal and two assists beside his name on the stat sheet. A solid night for the German forward, but it paled in comparison to Edmonton’s other superstar talent.
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Connor McDavid was flying around the ice all night in this contest, making it evident he wasn’t going to be stopped. After being kept off the board for the opening 20 minutes, he was unstoppable in the final two frames, ending the night with a hat trick and also notching an assist.
McDavid’s second goal of the evening, which stood up as the game-winner, was the 700th point of his brilliant NHL career. That is a very impressive number for any player to hit, let alone one that is just 25 years old. He becomes just the seventh player to reach the 700-point club in less than 500 career games (488), joining Sidney Crosby (497), Jari Kurri (483), Mike Bossy (469), Peter Stastny (457), Mario Lemieux (363), and Wayne Gretzky (317).
While McDavid was the obvious first star of the game, he wasn’t the only Oiler to stand out in a positive way. Darnell Nurse was excellent at both ends of the ice all evening and was rewarded with a goal and an assist, while Zach Hyman also had a multi-point outing. Also, as already mentioned, McDavid’s co-pilot in Draisaitl was outstanding as well.
Last but not least was Jack Campbell, who, after a shaky start, held down the fort and all in all had himself a solid debut, kicking aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced. He wasn’t spectacular, but made key saves at key times, something this Oilers team often lacked in the past. If he can keep that up over the course of the season, he will be heavily supported by this fanbase.
Sometimes in hockey, the less deserving team comes out on top, and that was the case on Wednesday. The Oilers, as they have become accustomed to, started the game out painfully slow. They not only found themselves down 2-0 less than three minutes into the game, but proceeded to give up a goal less than 40 seconds into the second period to go down 3-0. They were able to crawl out of the hole they put themselves in thanks to their star-studded lineup, but this was concerning given how poorly they have come out to start games in recent seasons.
While there were several culprits to blame for the Oilers’ slow start, it is impossible to look past the horrid Dylan Holloway giveaway that gave the Canucks an early 1-0 lead. Head coach Jay Woodcroft was clearly not happy with the 21-year-old’s blatant error, stapling him to the bench for the next seven minutes and then demoting him to the bottom six. We can chalk this one up to opening night jitters, as he looked more than capable of being a top-six player throughout preseason play.
Also of concern was that the Oilers gave up eight power play opportunities on the evening. A positive from this is that they allowed just one goal thanks to some outstanding work from their penalty killing unit, but that isn’t a trend that can continue if they hope to continue racking up wins. This is me being nitpicky, of course, but it was a rather undisciplined game from Woodcroft’s squad.
The last thing that needs to be mentioned, and one that could potentially turn into a problem if not addressed, is the Oilers’ lack of cap room. They currently have less than $200 in space, and it already resulted in some trouble for them in this contest. With both Kailer Yamamoto and Warren Foegele unable to suit up, they were forced to go with 17 skaters as they had no cap space to recall anyone. It didn’t seem to be much of an issue last night, but isn’t an ideal situation moving forward.
Flames Up Next
The Oilers will now have two nights off before they welcome the Calgary Flames to town on Saturday evening. This is a highly anticipated game, in large part due to the two sides meeting up in the second round of this past year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. As we know, the Oilers made rather easy work of their provincial rival, defeating them in just five games. This means that the Flames, who are a completely restructured team entering 2022-23, will have a serious chip on their shoulder. Expect a very entertaining and passionate bout between two of the Western Conference’s most talented teams.