Oilers Weekly: McDavid, Smith, Perfect Start & More

The Edmonton Oilers kicked off their 2021-22 season on a much better note than 2020-21. They are one of 10 teams undefeated after the first week, and one of six with more than one game played who hasn’t lost. They look to continue their perfect start with three games on tap for this upcoming week, starting with the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday for their third game in a row at home to start the season. After that, they travel to the desert and play back-to-back games against the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights.

This week should provide them with at least two more wins, if not three, and allow them to keep rolling into the final week of October with a great record.

Oilers Off to Perfect Start

Though the Oilers only had two games to kick off the first week of action, they won both and were perfect nonetheless. They took care of both the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames at home, trying to create an environment where opposing teams dread coming to.

In both games against these close division rivals, they’ve gone up early, only to see their leads slip away. The Oilers went up 1-0 just three minutes into their season opener and held the Canucks off the board until late in the third when the game got tied up. The Oilers recovered in the shootout but would’ve liked to take that extra point away from the Canucks.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Edmonton Oilers, Jesse Puljujarvi, Darnell Nurse, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Tyson Barrie (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

The Flames didn’t come all the way back against the Oilers, but they came close. They seemed to have learned from what happened in the first game and tightened it up earlier. They took a controlling lead of 3-0 around the 25-minute mark of the game. After the Flames fought back, the Oilers immediately crushed their hopes by scoring a goal right back after the game was cut to one.

They allowed a total of 86 shots in two games, the second-most in the league thus far behind the Detroit Red Wings. Pucks may start to go in more if that keeps up. They can’t always outscore their problems. A combination of both offence, solid defensive play, and goaltending has got them this far.

Top Early Performers for the Oilers

The whole team is playing well early, but some players have stepped up in a big way and helped lead the Oilers to a 2-0 start against two divisional rivals. They have four players with at least a point-per-game and six more with one point in two games. Notable names without a point yet include Tyson Barrie, Evan Bouchard, and Kailer Yamamoto. Just because the scoring hasn’t been completely spread out, players are still playing hard and creating chances.

The Oilers’ top line was projected to be made up of Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid, and Jesse Puljujarvi, with Leon Draisaitl centering the second line to create a dominant 1-2 punch up the middle. Near the end of preseason, coach Dave Tippett decided to try out what has worked great in the past and put Draisaitl on the wing alongside McDavid. This time instead of Patrick Maroon or Zack Kassian on the right side, it’s large and talented Puljujarvi who’s formed great chemistry with the captain.

Together for one preseason game and both regular-season games so far, the top line has produced a combined 13 points in two games. As long as this continues to work and the second line can produce at a good rate, they should run with it. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. This has allowed for Puljujarvi to really show what kind of player he is, meshing with the top players in the world and showing early signs of a breakout season (“Puljujarvi becoming everything Edmonton Oilers hoped”, Edmonton Sun, October 18, 2021).

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The top line is off to the strongest start of all the Oilers not named Mike Smith, led by Connor McDavid. He has increased his points per game (P/G) every season since his NHL debut, ending last season at a 1.875 P/G. Not even in the prime of his career yet, that number could continue to rise. It’s very early, but he’s already sporting a 2.5 P/G. An increase in penalties called and power-play opportunities for McDavid and the Oilers should help that along even more.

As for his linemates Draisaitl and Puljujarvi. We already knew what you could expect from Draisaitl, a former Hart and Art Ross Trophy Winner in 2019-20, a 50-goal scorer, and the second leading scorer behind the Oilers’ captain last season. His start, especially with his power-play efficiency, will continue to keep him at the very top of the league every year. The chemistry that McDavid and Draisaitl have formed over the course of their careers is hard not to always have them on the ice together.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though Puljujarvi may not get as many opportunities as Hyman on the top power-play unit, he hasn’t failed to produce for the Oilers yet. Hard to stay off the score sheet when playing with the best in the world, but it helps when he’s learned where he needs to be and what he has to do to get open and cause havoc in front of the opposing team’s net.

Last but not least, the ageless wonder Smith continues to build off what seemed like a late-career resurgence. He’s stopped 82 of the 86 shots faced in the two games and has a .953 save percentage (SV%). A very good start that the Oilers desperately needed after last season’s lapses in the crease early on in his absence.

News From Oilers’ Prospects

Not only have the Oilers gotten off to a strong start, but some of their prospects are also hot to start their seasons. First-year captain of the Oshawa Generals Tyler Tullio scored his first goal of the season in the fifth game, and it was a beauty. He has seven assists on top of that and looks to help the Generals get back to a positive record.

Stuart Skinner is 2-0 with a shutout in his most recent game. After a very strong training camp and inevitably no room on the main roster for him to start the season, he should continue to dominate and prove that he’s next in line for a goaltending job on the Oilers.

Just today, William Lagesson was reassigned to Bakersfield of the American Hockey League (AHL). He was serving as the eighth defence option for the Oilers and wouldn’t have seen very many games, if any at all, were he to stay up with the team. Better to send him down and get top-pairing minutes to further develop.

Also, after being scratched for the first two games of the season, Kirill Maksimov and the Oilers organization have agreed to terminate his contract after he clears unconditional waivers. He plans to go play in Europe. As a Russian, you would assume he’ll find his way to the KHL if he doesn’t start there.

The Oilers should continue to roll on, and along with them, the hope is that Bakersfield also enjoys winning so the youngsters are a part of a winning culture and know what it takes.

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