It seems like no team can slow down the Edmonton Oilers right now, as they are a perfect 5-0-0 to begin the season for the second time in three years. They remain as one of four unbeaten teams in the NHL with the most goals scored.
The week kicked off with a back-and-forth game between the Anaheim Ducks to end the three-game homestand to start the season. Then the Oilers flew out to the desert to play a back-to-back in Arizona and Vegas. The team outscored their opponents 10-4 and flew back home after they enjoyed the weekend in Vegas.
On tap for this week, the Oilers only play two games, the first against a Philadelphia Flyers team that looks like a new team compared to last season. They close out the week with a Saturday night clash with the Vancouver Canucks in the second meeting of the season. The question is, can the Oilers build off of the early success they’ve had with this rejuvenated squad and pull further into the lead in the Pacific Division?
Dave Tippett Optimistic About Oilers’ Start
A game early in the season is just as important as a game late in a season. Some wise words to remember when talking about how “it’s early”. Compared to two years ago when the team also started 5-0-0 under Dave Tippett when he first joined the team, the head coach speaks to what’s different about this season.
“I like some of the things we’re doing as a team. We’ve found different ways to win. Our goaltending has been solid. The added depth we have is really having an impact on our lineup.”– Dave Tippett
Regarding the team aspect, the Oilers have won their games this year by not only scoring but by defending and making timely saves in a game. They have come back in multiple games and used special teams to turn the tides of games very quickly.
It helps a ton having another line that Tippett can turn to and throw on the ice to be a scoring threat and create chances. The first game of the season is the only game this season that a player on the third line has failed to score a goal for the Oilers.
The Oilers’ depth at forward isn’t the only one putting in work, the defence has been overlooked and underrated for what the general consensus was about them heading into the season. Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci have been the pairing that Tippett had hoped for. They are out there to kill penalties and play a defence-first brand of hockey around otherwise more offensively-minded stars on the back-end.
Evan Bouchard is a big addition to the Oilers’ defence from last season. He has shown early on that he is leaps and bounds ahead of where anyone had hoped he’d be when being slotted into the third defensive pairing. In the fifth game, Tippett already played him on the first pairing with Darnell Nurse for the entirety of the game, and he didn’t disappoint. It was the second time this season we’ve seen Bouchard elevated up the lineup in this young season. The first was in Anaheim for the second half of the game. Not only that, but he was out at key moments late in the third to protect the lead.
However you look at it or feel about it, one of Bouchard or Tyson Barrie will be playing on the third pairing, and that gives the Oilers a weapon lower in the lineup on the back-end. On top of that, the goalies also have a combined save percentage (SV%) of .930, a stat that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“It feels a little different this year. It feels like we’ve had a good training camp, gone into the season ready to go, and able to find some wins.”– Dave Tippett
This speaks about the training camps from the forwards fighting for playing time on the fourth line. Tyler Benson finally made the team with his play early on in training camp. Brandan Perlini had himself a showing, scoring more goals than Tippett could keep track of. While Kyle Turris showed that he wants to stay in the NHL and Colton Sceviour earned himself a 1-year deal after coming in on a professional tryout.
Zach Hyman Playing his Role to Perfection
Tippett has switched up the top-six line combinations for the Oilers a bit this season, so far. But whichever line Zach Hyman finds himself on, he’s doing what he does so well. He’s retrieving pucks and going to the net. Whether this is at five-on-five, on the power play, or shorthanded, it is paying off early.
“He scores a lot of goals from about the one-inch line, which is good because somebody’s got to be there.”– Dave Tippett
A lot of goals he scores indeed. Hyman has five goals in five games, and four of them coming in the past two. On each night of the back-to-back, he put two in the back of the net. Tippett was swapping between Jesse Puljujarvi and Hyman on the power play at the very beginning of the year to try and find what works best. But it seems like Hyman has come out on top, at least for now (“Zach Hyman impresses in his Edmonton debut, as does the Oilers’ new-look second line”, Edmonton Journal, 10/15/21).
Hyman has scored three power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, and one goal at five-on-five this season, making him an early threat in all situations. As Tippett said, Hyman gets his goals right in front of the net. He has been able to get himself into the perfect position and have his stick on the ice for tap-ins.
The increased enforcement of the cross-checking rule has and will continue to play a larger part in allowing him to stay close to the net without getting beat on. As long as that keeps up and opponents are worried about Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl when they have the puck, Hyman will just be able to get lost in front of the net.
Mikko Koskinen Helps Oilers Stay Perfect
Many Oilers fans like me probably had a thousand thoughts running through their mind when Mikko Koskinen got the call to come into the game. We all remember that start of last season that didn’t go well at all having Koskinen as the starter while Smith was injured.
The Oilers allowed less than two goals against once in the first 13 games of the season. Once Smith returned, they allowed less than two goals against five times in the next nine games. They thought that they were getting a healthy Smith and would be able to repeat their success once he returned from injury. But after two and a half games, Koskinen assumed the starting role once Smith landed on the injured reserve (IR).
Koskinen’s play was not what anyone expected, but it was exactly what the Oilers needed. His first bit of action saw him make some key saves in the comeback win against the Ducks, stopping 20 of 21 shots faced. That was a good start, but it continued into the games where he was forced to start back-to-back.
In those back-to-back games vs. the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights, he stood tall and stopped 63 of 67 for a .940 SV%. This helped the Oilers to a 5-0-0 start and was huge in keeping the team in the game when the Golden Knights were dominating play. For however long Koskinen holds the crease while Smith is out, he’s given everyone a reason to believe in his play this season.
McDavid has the chance this week to tie Wayne Gretzky for the most multipoint games to start a season by an Oiler at seven. Not only that, but the team looks to stay undefeated after spending the weekend bonding in Vegas and lots of rest between both games.
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.