The Edmonton Oilers had one game to gear up for the play-in round against the Chicago Blackhawks starting Saturday. A 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames included some high spots, low spots, and a few things in between.
It’s not clear if any of the Blackhawks’ players were up in the designated area watching the game at Rogers Place, but if they were, there were some takeaways the team can probably note as they do their best to upset a team, that at times, looked dominant.
Here are a few of the notes Chicago might have jotted down:
Takeaway 1: Connor McDavid Hasn’t Missed a Beat
In the first period, McDavid had one shot. It was a power play goal. He was quick, ready, and willing to try things but there was a feeling he was, perhaps, taking it easy. If so, look out. What was most impressive was the second gear he hit in the third period.
The announcers had noted that McDavid might have been easing his way into the game, knowing it was an exhibition contest. He must have been because he turned things up in the third and scored another marker only a few seconds after Patrick Russell scored. He blew by the defender on the wall and then sent a no-look shot five-hole on David Rittich.
Takeaway 2: The Power Play Looks Dominant
The Oilers had the top power play in the NHL when the league hit pause and it was evident from one game that power play will be a factor in the postseason.
If the Blackhawks take too many penalties, Edmonton has the ability to make it painful. James Neal and Alex Chiasson got the looks in front of the net, while McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins kept things moving smoothly.
Ethan Bear had a great game and he was getting some prime minutes on the man advantage as well. He seems willing to shoot more and take advantage of his booming point shot.
Takeaway 3: Edmonton Is Prone To Falling Asleep
The second period for the Oilers was not strong. Calgary clearly won that period and got themselves back into the game overtaking the lead on the shot clock after two. The Oilers need to shore this up. If the Blackhawks can capitalize on those moments where the Oilers get a little relaxed, they can put Edmonton in s tough spot.
The good news is Edmonton bent, but didn’t break.
Takeaway 4: Broberg Looked Like a Rookie
While he’s been zooming up the depth chart, for most fans, this was the first real look at defense prospect Philip Broberg. He played ok, but struggled as a rookie would.
Outside of one massive save in front of the Oilers own net, Broberg seemed to have a hard time getting into the swing of things and for many fans, they wondered why he was in versus a player like Caleb Jones.
Part of the reason was that you want to get your prospect’s feet wet in a game that doesn’t mean anything. The other was news that Jones was nicked up and not available for Tuesday’s game. As Ryan Rishaug of TSN points, out, “Tippett clarified that Broberg is the only defenseman they have who hadn’t played a game in the NHL yet, so they gave him the experience in case they need him.”
Takeaway 5: There Is Still A Battle In Net
If the expectation was that the questions in net might have been answered in one exhibition game… they weren’t.
Mikko Koskinen got the start Tuesday night and seemingly won the starting job in his half of the game. He looked incredibly strong, as if to say to coach Dave Tippett, ‘If you weren’t sure which goalie to start, you can stop looking.’ Koskinen allowed no goals on 17 shots and was engaged from the start.
But, he wasn’t the only standout.
Mike Smith took his turn and faced even tougher shots, making some incredible saves. By the end of the game, it wasn’t any clearer who might be the tender Tippett relies on. Smith said of his performance:
“Obviously both guys wanna play, I really believe that I play my best hockey in the playoffs, that’s when you wanna play your best… It’ll be a healthy competition, has been all season long, coach will have a hard decision come game 1”
Tippett said after the game, “I think both guys will play, the good thing is it will be a hard decision but it’s a decision you’ll feel good about both ways…”
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Takeaway 6: How Good Is Ethan Bear?
It was previously noted that Bear got some time on the power play, but overall, he was as steady on the ice as someone who has played in the NHL for five or six seasons. Remember, Bear is a rookie. You would never know it from his poise, positional play, decision-making, and in how much Tippett looks to him so early in his career.
This is a kid the Oilers are going to need to lock up and soon. The reality of a flat salary cap is that Edmonton may be forced to look at a bridge deal but the way Bear plays and how quickly he’s improving, he could be a top-two d-man by the end of that term.
It’s all great news right now though because he’s incredible for his level of experience.
Other General Takeaways
Takeaway 7: The Arena Looked Great
Watching the game, it was surprising how little difference the arena being empty made. Obviously, it would be better if there were fans but the NHL did a wonderful job of setting up the ice surface visible on television, the crowd noise after a goal isn’t overbearing or awkward, and the game looked and felt somewhat normal.
There was more of an indoor NHL Heritage Classic vibe to the contest than one that came as the result of a pandemic. Fans should get used to this in no time.
Takeaway 8: Colby Cave Tribute
I’m not crying, you’re crying. That seemed to be the consensus sentiment online as the game got started because the Oilers showed a touching tribute to former teammate Colby Cave on the screen.
It’s such an unfortunate situation and the Oilers have really shown their support for the Cave family. One has to get a sense the team is going to gel together over the loss of a good friend and teammate.
All in all, this was a good game for the Oilers and there doesn’t seem to be any consequences to a long layoff. What was strong in the regular season was still strong and what needs works, still probably does.
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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